Nicklaus Design’s Chris Cochran has completed a new 27-hole layout for the Royal Auckland and Grange Golf Club in New Zealand.
In 2017 the adjacent Royal Auckland and The Grange clubs merged, each of which had an 18-hole course and limited practice facilities.
Cochran had first visited the Royal Auckland course in 2014 and submitted renovation plans. Before leaving, he visited the neighbouring Grange club, where some members were talking about the possibility of a merger.
“They were both shortish golf courses, but had great bones,” said Cochran. “The Grange had some nice land with Middlemore [Royal Auckland] having some very nice trees. I strongly recommended that the clubs join.”
Following the merger, Cochran developed a new plan to transform the 36 holes into a 27-hole layout with a new clubhouse, short-game area and a state-of-the-art practice facility. Around 20 hectares of land was sold to finance the project.
“There was talk of having a full-length eighteen-hole course and a short nine, or maybe a par-three layout,” said Cochran. “However, I felt they had enough land to have three equal nines. Although the Grange nine is the shortest, it still has some great golf holes. The Tamaki nine goes around the estuary, so you play across and alongside it. Then the Middlemore nine is more of the old rural Auckland property, kind of a big domey hill but with stately trees that you play in and out of.”
Construction started in October 2018, with the Grange and Tamaki nines completed in 2019, with the Middlemore nine completed in early 2022.
“There’s a lot more elevation change on the Grange in comparison to Tamaki,” said Cochran. “There’s fewer trees and it’s a little bit hillier and open. Architecturally, the holes on both nines are quite similar. Middlemore is a bit different.”
Middlemore was the last nine to be worked on, with the Covid-19 pandemic impacting Cochran’s ability to visit the site. “A couple of local guys did the bunkers and so the bunker style on the third nine is a little bit different,” said Cochran. “It’s a little bit more distressed, but it’s beautiful.
“The 27 holes are a really good test of golf. There’s a huge amount of variety in terms of green contours, sizes and shapes, as well as bunker depths and placement.
“On the Grange, the second hole is a favourite of mine. It’s a short par four with plenty of interest and strategy. The seventh and ninth on Tamaki are very interesting and different golf holes. The par-four seventh has a double fairway. Naturally the holes that go along the estuary – six, seven and eighth – are great.”
On Middlemore, the second hole is a mid-length par three. “It is very interesting,” said Cochran. “It’s kind of like a punchbowl. If you miss the green, you have a pitch or chip over these mounds that are inside the green. Middlemore’s ninth is a driveable par four that goes back to the clubhouse and ties into the practice putting green.
“It has been a total transformation. We pretty much stayed within existing corridors – for example, on the Middlemore course, the third hole is the old Royal Auckland eighteenth, but in reverse – the fourth and fifth on Middlemore are the only two holes that stayed in the same corridor and played in the same of the entire property.”
Cochran wanted to realise the property’s full potential. “There was wasted land,” he said. “The old Auckland didn’t go to the estuary, so there was probably 30 to 40 metres of dead space there, so we cleared the bamboo and other trees and moved the golf holes to the estuary. This helped to fit everything in.
“Because of the estuary, there are some force carries, which add some spice and variety to the round. Like I tell an 18-handicapper, it’s my job to ensure you can make 18 bogeys. If players hit from the correct tee; it is very playable.”
Middlemore and Tamaki combine for the longest eighteen-hole round, playing up to 7,200 yards. Tamaki and the Grange combine for the shortest round, which can play between 4,600 and 6,850 yards. Cochran says if the club hosted a tournament, it would play on a composite of all three nines.
Since opening in 2022, member reaction to the new holes has been very positive, with tee sheets fully booked, says Cochran. The new short-game area is proving popular too. There are four greens, two that are fairly flat and two with plenty of contour.
Cochran remarks on the great leadership and communication throughout the project. “There are countless people who have been a big help on the project,” he says. “General manager Rob Selley, who was the GM at the Australian Golf Club when we renovated it several years ago was at RAGGC when we did the work – he is now at New South Wales. His experience has been very helpful.
“Paul Garvie, who I have worked with all around the world since 1997, was the project manager and has done a great job putting a team together, including shapers Greg Stringer, Bob Ramos, Scotty Dansmuir, Gordy Johnstone, Cliff Hamilton and Scotty Wells; contractor Grant Puddicombe; Steve Marsden, a Kiwi superintendent, who was super helpful; and Mark Hooker, our director of agronomy.”
This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.