Golf courses remain havens for bird life even with rain falling on their beaks
OPINION: Most New Zealand golf clubs are enduring hellish conditions because of the rain that never stops.
Most courses have had preferred lies through the green, meaning golfers can clean and place balls even in the rough because the wet has meant mowers have been off-limits.
Even our usually free-draining sand-belt courses from Rangitīkei to the Kāpiti Coast have been inundated, Foxton particularly troubled by the high water table. The region is badly in need of a summer drought to lower the tide mark.
Golf courses provide green belts in cities and promote birdlife, unless they're in Auckland where councils want to cover them in houses because of the crazy population influx. Manukau Golf Club in Manurewa has been swallowed by houses and replaced by Windross Farm next to Ardmore aerodrome.
Some of the top courses, though, are doing their bit for conservation. Take the swish Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary at Taupō, where course superintendent Sinclair Hogan, formerly of the Manawatū Golf Club, has just constructed two small lakes near the club entrance.
The likes of Wairakei and Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay have predator-free fencing, out of the reach of most club budgets unless they have a million or two to spare.
I had a wheel around Wairakei recently and Hogan pointed out that, being pest-free and having 130,000 trees, it is now a safe habitat for the rare takahē, North Island brown kiwi, guinea fowl, ducks and pheasants under your feet everywhere. They also have fallow deer hinds on the course to take golfers' minds off the trauma of playing the game.
Just my luck during our reconnaissance, the deer and takahē stayed hidden.
Wairakei is owned by Auckland foods tycoon and bird-lover Gary Lane, who employs a gamekeeper to keep an eye on the 5.5-kilometre fence he put up around the 180-hectare property.
Kidnappers golf course, owned by American hedge-fund billionaire Julian Robertson, is part of Cape Sanctuary, which has a 10.6km predator-free fence protecting 2500ha of headland. Inside the fence are kiwi and brown teal ducks and others, while below the cliffs the world's largest gannet colony is safe from overshot golf balls.
Just save your pocket money to get past the sliding gates at these places.
Recently, around Manawatū courses we have heard the call of the shining cuckoo, fresh from long-haul flights from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, to add to the familiar songbird orchestrals of tui and less-welcome magpies.
For those ornithologically inclined, also common around the place are blue herons, those squawky spur-winged plovers, fantails and the eastern rosella. While it is an Australian import, the rosella is colourful and common around the trees inside the gate at the Manawatū Golf Club.
Pillaging off country schools
It was heartening to see a couple of rugby players from relatively obscure schools in action at Massey University last week.
In the New Zealand Barbarians Schools side was Simon Parker from Otamatea High School, located in the very rural Northland hamlet of Maungaturoto.
And in the New Zealand Maori under-18 team was Coel Kerr from Paeroa College in heartland Thames Valley.
How on earth did these two elude the tentacles of the poaching schools, notably those from Auckland (who deflower Northland first XVs every year) and Waikato?
The Barbarians also had a giant wing, Siave Seti, from Hamilton's St John's College, which hasn't been a big rugby school, but has a rugby programme under way.
Of the 49 New Zealand schools trialists this year, Parker was the only one from a country school.
Many other players would have started in the backblocks before receiving scholarship offers they couldn't refuse. A St Kentigern College prop who was picked for the full New Zealand Schools team had previously attended Whangaroa College in Kaeo (Northland).
Hastings Boys' High School had nine national trialists alone. That is far from a normal annual crop for any school on the planet.
One of them was burly prop Josiah Tevita-Metcalfe, a fine player from Levin.
The South Island top-four qualifiers, Southland Boys' High School, presumably were largely homegrown, but were dwarfed by Hamilton Boys' High School's first XV and swamped in their national semifinal.
Back in the day, Southland would have been competitive against the North Island sides, but not against the super schools sides of today.
St Kentigern turned up with a team that looked bigger than the Turbos'. How does that happen?
I have pursued this crusade ad nauseam because poaching is out of control in schools rugby and everyone seems powerless to stop it. Schools are independent of New Zealand Rugby and most schools do it at great cost to boost their image. The boys' education seems secondary.
There are restrictions on new-to-school recruits, but schools get around that by recruiting a year or two earlier.
Many people told me they didn't bother watching the recent games at the national finals at the Sport and Rugby Institute because they involved "bought teams", and those finals included Manawatū's own Feilding High School.