Under fire Hagley Park management bite back

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2012
Hagley Park
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
PURE PLEASURE: Doug Edgecombe plays a round in Hagley Park.

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It's been rubbished, called a waste of space and, most insultingly, a joke "pitch and putt" course.

The Hagley Golf Course sits on tranquil and prime real estate in the northwest corner of Hagley Park but the course has come under siege from a prominent leader in the sporting sector and critics in rival code cricket.

Questions over its purpose, location and even if there is a need for a course in the middle of Christchurch have risen in a city where even the biggest golfing tragics agree there are too many courses.

Hagley members and management, however, are fed up with what they call "unfair and uninformed" criticism of their little slice of inner-city golfing paradise.

Club captain Peter Macintosh said: "We're just sick of it." It's frustrating. We're sick of people who haven't played here and have no idea, criticising the golf course. It's not a pitch and putt course, it's more than 5800m long off the white tees. That makes it the third longest course in Christchurch [off the white tees]."

President Geoff Druery said Hagley is the oldest golf course in Canterbury and second-oldest in New Zealand. His other major gripe is that Hagley Golf Course isn't given a chance, even though it is probably the most driven-by course in the South Island.

Yet minds are made up and uninformed comments made.

In October, Ian McKendry, Sports Turf Association of NZ chairman and general manager of grounds and facilities for New Zealand Cricket, said in The Press the course was "nothing more than a pitch and putt" course, adding, "which is not a great use of this space".

Also earlier this year the boss of Sport Canterbury, Geoff Barry, called for the course to be removed from Hagley Park, saying it was being propped up by ratepayers.

Macintosh's response to McKendry is the same as it is to all of Hagley's haters: "Don't knock it until you've tried it."

The argument over the difficulty of the course is a subjective one but the fact the club is growing can't be disputed.

In the 12 months from June 2011 to June 2012, Canterbury Golf show memberships in the province dropped 3.6 per cent. Hagley's grew 14.9 per cent. The club has attracted about 160 new members, mainly through online deals and follow-ups since March.

"We're a great, friendly club," Druery said. "And we're trying to build our membership, and keep them, and also build our green-fee numbers."

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Those are on the rise too.

Hagley has always been a destination for the twice-a-year type golfer but with QEII's Ascot course out of action and a westward population shift, those casual numbers have risen.

While Hagley lost its links with inner-city hotels post-quake, they still have links to several high schools, a comprehensive junior programme and a popular teaching professional in Toni Batey.

At $20 a round, Hagley is one of the cheapest golf courses in the province, but then having no rent to pay helps make that possible.

Hagley has just 2 staff in the summer and 1 in the winter but the course is in fine fettle.

The greens are soft, mainly because of the soil base rather than sand base other courses use, but they're in good nick and the rest of the course compares favourably with others in the city.

They realise their public perception isn't great but are lifting their game in self-promotion despite council-enforced rules on signage on and around the course.

They say they are not propped up by loans or handouts by the council as some believe, though the free rent and low interest loans from CCC over the years could be seen that way.

The only "handout" the club has received was following last year's February earthquake.

More than 700 cubic metres of silt had to be moved and the club was closed first because of that, and then because their car park had been taken over making access impossible.

"This was very gratefully received [but] was provided from the earthquake relief fund, not Christchurch City Council rates."

While some question whether the course should be there at all, Druery said the 119-year-old club wasn't going anywhere.

Let us know what you think. Write to us at sport@press.co.nz

- The Press

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