Michael Hill’s Walk In The Farm

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A winter wonderland was in store for around 90 members from the STMA region who ventured into the home of mythological statues and snowy mountain peaks at The Hills golf course in Arrowtown last week.

Despite the frosty start to the day, the hospitality was anything but as new president Justin Rawcliffe welcomed everyone with a beanie giveaway in the greenkeeper’s shed as a giant gas heater helped thaw the blue blood among some.

Course Superintendent turned General Manager Brendan Allen enlightened everyone on what it takes to manage a high-profile tournament venue as well as the ongoing expectations of not only members but the owners – jewellery moguls Michael & Christine Hill and family.

While most attendees might have set foot in the place before – whether as a paying patron or lending a hand for the New Zealand Open, it was the development of the new par 3 course that was the unseen highlight of the day.

The idea behind the project originated from Christine Hill who would spend hours walking the dog across what used to literally be a farm.

The original 18 hole championship course is somewhat secluded between 2 ridges, those being the Arrowtown township and a ridge through the heart of their property. However, venture over to Christine’s “walk in the farm” where the new 9 hole par 3 course is nearing completion and the vista is quite breath-taking where one has a view over Lake Hayes in the southwest direction and beyond.

Planet Golf’s Darius Oliver was called upon as a consultant to drive the project. His meticulous thought process meant he was known among his peers as the Scarecrow, often standing on a hill for a period of time before moving to the next vantage point while trying to piece together a design that fits the landscape in front of him. The 9th green is a prime example of Oliver’s persistence which has been modified 8 times.

The course itself is one of kind. The marquee golf courses in the area are known for immaculate bunkering and well-defined collars and tee boxes but this is far from that ideology – there are no tee blocks, no bunkers and in line with the rest of The Hills philosophy – pretty much no rules. Despite The Hills being renowned as an attractive destination for the high flyers of the world, believe it or not but members can play in beach shorts, singlets and bare feet should they choose.

The new course will be off limits to carts and open to members and their families and is designed for all levels of golf. One unique feature is the fact you could take your putter and putt yourself around the course as there are no canyons or gullies – unless you choose to but don’t be fooled by the gentle rolling slopes with green speeds likely to mirror the championship course at the standard 10 ft.

The tee blocks have been simply pressed into slopes while the greens have had minimal excavation to ensure the course maintains a mown in look.

Look at it as a simple 9 hole course construction but with a 2.3 million dollar budget including $400k of sand shipped from Dunedin, however the final number is on target to be well under the 2 million dollar mark upon completion.

Brendan estimates that despite the added 9 holes, only 2 extra employees will be needed. Most of the fairways – like the tees, have had minimal work done and simply had their nature species mown into the landscape at a very tight 8mm with over-sowing expected to take place in Spring.

STMA members were stunned by the turf quality considering the recent spell of freezing weather including a layer of snow the week prior to visiting.

Despite Central Otago feeling the onset of winter where temperatures are struggling to get above 6 degrees on a fine day, the new greens containing 5 different blends of colonial bent are already showing signs that they are well and truly on track to be ready for opening a week before Christmas.

Despite the green sowing beginning in mid January an last sown in March, it’s easy to see the long arduous hours fighting one of the hottest summers in recent years whilst dealing with the prevailing south wester are finally paying off. 93 mls of rain at the start of February was described as a “drought breaker” by Brendan and signalled the end of the pain-staking night shift duties from the grow-in crew. Until that point the guys where doing everything in their power to keep the sand down particularly on one of the exposed greens.

Brendan expects the course to realistically take 3 years to fully matured once the implementation of native swamp land plants grown in to add the final touch within an environment the will hopefully resemble that of an untouched natural piece of paradise for not only the Hill family but the members and guests.