A short history of the Napier Golf Club (1896-2021)

Napier Golf Club Inc is the third oldest Club in NZ and the oldest in Hawkes Bay. The original site of the Club was located on Napier Hill. This course was on land, which was owned by the Hon J.D. Ormond, where the Central School is, and Hukarere School used to be located. The Club was incorporated in 1896.

The first course had no putting greens, simply the natural growth of grass and weeds. The greens were marked by using jam and tobacco tins. An example of course difficulty was the 7th hole. The tee shot needed to be hit up an almost vertical cliff face. A local rule permitted the player to pick up their ball if they failed to reach the top after 3 shots. The ball could be carried to the top and the card adjusted to record 5 shots.                                                                       

The first subscriptions were ten shillings for men and five shillings for women. Women have always been a part of the Club. At the first meeting in 1896 68 members were listed; 26 were women. It became obvious that for Club to progress it needed a more suitable location and many areas in and around Napier were considered.

Kurupo Tareha, paramount chief of Ngati Kahungunu, together with his brother Te Roera Tareha were landowners at Waiohiki. Kurupo had visited St Andrews in 1897 and returned to NZ with a passion for the game of golf. On his return he persuaded his brother to agree that they should offer some of their land to the Club for a golf course. In 1898 the Club accepted the brothers’ invitation.

Within 2 years paddocks and swamp were transformed into a golf course.  It is a testament to those early course developers that the Club held: the NZ Amateur Golf Championship in 1903; the first New Zealand Open in 1907 and again in 1919.  In the early days, the course was considered remote without public transport. For some years, a five-horse dray was run by Harry Dillon on Saturdays from the middle of Napier to Waiohiki for the weekend golfers.

The course has progressively evolved. Today, it is a beautiful and challenging; the Club is fortunate and proud to be able to showcase it for use by members and visiting golfers.

The Club House has beautiful Maori carvings inside the entrance and tukutuku panels at the top of the stairs commissioned for the present Club House opening in 1972. The carvings were crafted by Taka Walker and pay tribute to Kurupo and Kapi Tareha; described as the patriarchs of Maori Golf in Hawkes Bay.  The top figure holding a putter represents Kurupo and the lower figure, holding a driver, represents his son Kapi.

The tukutuku panels were designed by Sandy Adsett. Initially St Joseph’s Maori Girls College and Hukarere College were tasked to fashion the tukutuku panels however school exams delayed completion. A team of Club ladies who had no prior experience volunteered to complete the tukutuku panels under the guidance of Mrs. Butcher from Hukarere.

The first Club House was small and originally located near the 17th Green. In 1904 it was replaced with a building on the site where the Club House now stands. The 1931 earthquake knocked this Club House from its foundations and seriously damaged much of the course.  Many of the Club’s early records were destroyed at this time. The present Club House was built in 1972.

Photographs hung in the Club House foyer provide a permanent history of the dedicated presidents, who together with their committees and boards, have given freely of many hours of time and energy to ensure smooth running and the success of the Club.

The Club has permanent loan of the Kurupo Tareha oil painting prominently displayed above the entrance to the upstairs Club House area. When the Club reached its centennial year 25 years ago Albie Gray (a member and artist) painted a picture of the Club House. This picture is hanging in the foyer and sealed in the back are 6 letters which are to be kept unopened until the Club’s 200th anniversary in 2096. They are then to be read either by either the writer’s descendant or the holder of their equivalent position in the Club.

Without our Green keepers and their staff, the Club would not have such a wonderful course on which to test our ability to play golf. Some of those Green keepers who are remembered for their contributions to the Club are: Mick Thornton, Merv Ashton John Doreen, Norm Cummings and currently Ingrid van Steenburgen, whose dedication to the upkeep and improvement of the course means that there are very few days when she isn’t seen working out on the course, accompanied by her little dog Millie.

The Club has also been ably served and assisted by some wonderful professionals. The late A.J Shaw is remembered as “a powerful Scotsman who was regarded as one of finest iron players New Zealand has ever seen.” Others who served as the Club professional in the 30’S included Gerry Melvin followed by Alex Brown, however during war years and up until 1950 the Club did not have a resident professional.

In 1950 the Club was most fortunate to recruit Ernie Southerden as the professional. Ernie had been the professional at the Lamberton Golf Course in Tunbridge Wells, England, for 14 years and was found and recruited by the late Ed Stewart (under instruction from the Club committee). Shortly after his arrival in New Zealand Ernie won the professional championship and established himself at the top of New Zealand Golf. Ernie was the Club professional for 43 years and retained his interest in Club membership and Club affairs until he died in 1996.

Ernie’s respected and loved son, Kim, continued in his father’s footsteps as Club professional. Kim is also a very successful golfer who turned professional in 1976. Many Club members have benefitted over the years from his empathetic and skilled tuition. He is still regularly seen at the Club supporting Andrew, the current professional, and sharing his wisdom and skills with the members.

Andrew Henare also brings a wide range of skills and golfing prowess to the job. This can especially be recognized in his dedication to the development of junior golf. We have several very promising young golfers who are progressing well with his support. This must bode well for the future of the Club.

It is clear from studying Len Anderson’s History of the Club that the Napier Golf Club has an enduring ability to draw in a wonderful group of supporters. A Club cannot thrive without the tireless contributions from Board members, Committee members, staff, volunteers, and members.

Over the last 125 years the Club has enjoyed the benefit of these contributions and its association with the Tareha family and descendants. It is this history that has made the Club so successful today and will be the basis to continue for the next 125 years.


Complied by Terry Fraser

Board Member, 2021