Nelson Golf Club
"Golf is a game in which able bodied men and women, otherwise sane, take savage swipes with a queer blunt instrument at an inoffensive little ball then walk miles looking for it."1
During 1897, Nelson witnessed the birth of its first golf course, known today as the Nelson Golf Club. Interest in golf began with a small group of ladies, accompanied by two men, who were determined to acquire grounds where they could play golf. Soon enough interest had spread around the settlers of Nelson and the records show that the first golf orientated meeting was held on July 8, 1898. The action of gaining ground to play on followed promptly and Mr. Edward Green's farm land was rented for an annual fee of ten pounds. The golf course ran from the intersection of Rocks Road and Beach Road to Rawhiti Street. Over the years the club has experienced some difficulties with the and the irrigation system. It was even used as an air force base in the Second World War, which caused a lot of damage to the course. The ownership of the course has also been a source of debate over the history of the Golf Club; for the majority of the time it was owned by the Nelson Golf Ground Company and it was only in 1983 that the Club regained full ownership of the course.
The Cock family had a major influence on the establishment and day to day running of both the Nelson Golf Club and the course. Joseph Henry Cock was the Club's first president and largest shareholder in the Nelson Golf Ground Company. In 1915 Joseph's son, Harold Chynoweth Cock, was elected to the committee and his wife, Mabel, was appointed as ladies' captain with his sister taking up a position on the ladies' committee. In 1921, following the death of J.H.Cock, Harold took over as Club captain and was elected president in 1923. He also took over his father's shares in the Golf Ground Company and actively participated in the running of the Club until his death in 1956. The Cock family were heavily involved in the Nelson Golf Club from the very beginning and provided stability for the Club over the years.
Along with the Cocks, there have been two other influential families in the history of the Nelson Golf Club. The first of these is the Coote family. Records show that Mr. C.H.Coote's involvement in the Club began in 1906 when he played a big part in the creation of the Golf Ground Company and was a shareholder for many years. After his death, his son, Eric Coote, followed in his father's footsteps and remained a shareholder until his resignation in 1970. In addition to the Coote family's influence, was the life long commitment of Jim Moulder. Moulder returned to Nelson in 1935 and was automatically a "force to be reckoned with."2 The break out of war meant he was forced to take a break from golf, instead focusing his time and effort on the war. After the war, Moulder became an even bigger threat on the golf course, winning the championships in 1946, 1947, 1949 and 1953. Along with this golfing talent, Jim was president from 1966 to 1969 and served as club captain. Jim Moulder was made a life member in 1977 and remained involved in the club until his death. Both of these families have played a major role in the establishment and running of the Nelson Golf Club over the years. Today there are still members of the golf club who belong to the Coote and Moulder families.
During the history of the Nelson Golf Course, events have taken place which have affected the course both negatively and positively. The biggest problem the has been water supply for irrigation. Through the hot summer months, the course has dried up and the grass has died due to the lack of accessible water. The present manager, Peter Hay, says that over the years the course has tried every possible solution.3 "They've attempted divining sticks, digging wells and finding their own source of water, but nothing has fixed our problem." The Club has found a source of water, but as it does not flow at a very high speed, the only choice is to store it. That solution would be good in theory but the Airport has told the club that they cannot make any more surface lakes as it would attract bird life which in turn would cause problems for the aeroplanes. The Club has had to settle with buying water from the Nelson City Council for a large sum of money, which makes it hard for the club financially.
Since the development of the Nelson Airport in 1940, there has been some friction with the Nelson Golf Club. As a major neighbour of the golf course they share boundaries. One of the biggest problems that has arisen between the two is the trees that were on the boundary of the course. These trees had been there since the early days of the course and had been used as obstacles to make the course more challenging. Unfortunately, the airport requested that the trees be trimmed every second year as they required a safe air spot for landing. The Golf Club obeyed their request, but as time went on the trees became misshapen, rotten and were financially costing the club a lot of money. It is because of this that the course decided to convert back to a true links course (no trees) which has also been expensive and time-consuming. Another problem that has troubled the Golf Club is the possibility of the Airport expansion. Under the Public Works Act the Airport can take land from the golf course, if they compensate the club with land from somewhere else. The Council Reserve on the coastal strip could be available for the Golf Course if the Airport ever wished to expand. Although this sounds straight forward, it would require four new holes to be developed and a brand new clubhouse to be built. Fortunately for the Golf Club the Airport board has declared that there will be no need for expansion in the near future, so the Golf Club can continue on as normal for the time being.
In 1939, when the Nelson Golf Club was finally becoming a stable business, World War Two broke out causing dramatic problems for the Club. Many golfing members enlisted in the Army and membership numbers declined hugely. This caused financial problems for the Club and the Nelson City Council suggested closing down the course for good. Talk of this eventually died down, but the Government soon announced that the new aerodrome and golf course would be taken over as an Air Force base. The members and staff of the Nelson Golf Club were witnesses to a Vincent Aircraft crash on April 10th 1941. The aircraft crashed on the golf course, killing two people instantly with the third dying the next day.
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After this incident the golfers became very aware of war and, following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, panic hit the Club as the war was no longer "away over there,"4 instead it has been brought closer to home. Dispersal and servicing bays were set up along the southern boundary, gun emplacements were put all around the course and roads leading to the bays took over the majority of the land. Golf was scarce over the war years, not many people played and those who did only played occasionally. At the end of the war the course had to be redeveloped as most of it had been destroyed. Fortunately the Club was able to use some of the destruction as obstacles on the course to make it more challenging. To say thank you for the use of the land, the air force donated their mess to the Club. This was used as a clubhouse for over fifty years.
For the last forty years the Nelson Golf Club has been host to many national championships. These events included the New Zealand Amateur and Interprovincial Championships for both men and women. In addition to these national events, Sir Bob Charles (1963 British Open Winner) has played at the Nelson Golf Course on various occasions over the years. Both of these events have had a positive impact on the Golf Club, as they have lifted the status of golf in the Nelson Region and helped the club financially, by increasing membership numbers and bringing in tourists to play at the course. These events have also put Nelson Golf Club on the map nationally and have shown the country the quality of the course.
The organisation of the Nelson Golf Club has been questioned time and again over the past years. In the early days, after the relocation of the course to the present ground, the Nelson Golf Company was formed. This was made up of six main shareholders who brought the land for a total of two thousand pounds. An agreement was made with the Nelson Golf Club which allowed the club to lease the land from the Golf Ground Company. Records are not clear on how much the club paid to lease the land but they do say that the club did not catch up on their financial obligations until 1911. It was suggested by Mr. J.H. Cock that the club should be the sole owners of the land and become their own company. This was thought about but nothing was put into action until much later. Following the war, hardly any of the original shareholders remained; instead the shares had been left to the families of the founding directors. As the club was struggling financially, they were in no position to purchase the land, let alone form their own company. Instead they asked the Golf Ground Company to take complete control of the course and all its finances for five years. In 1960 the Club's desire to own the land was noted and slowly the shares were transferred to the Golf Club. This process was long, as it required a great deal of money that the Golf Club did not have. This meant that they were only able to buy out shareholders one at time. The last shares to be handed over to the club were those belonging to the Coote family. This took place in 1970, but the assets of the company were not transferred to the club until much later on in 1983. "Thus, 70 years from the first suggestion made by Mr. J.H. Cock in 1913, the club became its own master."
Over the course of the history of the Nelson Golf Club there have been many influential people and events impacting on the day to day running of the course. Families like the Cocks, Cootes and Mulders have been a stabilising influence on the club and have provided great support over the years. The impact of the war has been used to the club's advantage, "making it more difficult to have the perfect round of golf."5 The other problems mentioned above are ongoing, but the Club is dealing with them the best it can. Overall the Nelson Golf Club has been economically influential for the Nelson Region over the years, bringing in golfers from afar. It is now in the process of redeveloping the course into a more traditional links course and is looking to become one of the better links courses in New Zealand. They are doing this in the hope of bringing in more links golfers and once again increase membership numbers.
Jess Allen, Nelson College for Girls, 2011. Updated May 2020
Sources used in this story
- Ross, J. (1997) Nelson Golf Club Centennial. p. 19.
- Ross, p. 5.
- Hay, Peter. Interview. 14/06/2011.
- Ross, p. 13
- Allan, Ken. Interview. 21/06/2011.
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Further sources - Nelson Golf Club
- Ross, J. (1997) Nelson Golf Club Centennial 1897-1997 , [Nelson, N.Z.] : The Club
- Barnes, Phil, (24/04/2005), The Leader.
- Unknown Author, (11/07/1987), Grand day for Golf Club, Colonial Album, Nelson Evening Mail.
- Unknown Author, (28/05/1928), New Zealand Certificate of Title under Land Transfer Act.
- Allan, Ken, (21/06/2011), Former Head Professional, Present Assistant Professional. Nelson
- Delany, Glyn, (14/06/2011), Head Professional. Nelson
- Hay, Peter, (14/06/2011), Manager of the Nelson Golf Club. Nelson
- McQuade, Mike, (14/06/2011) Nelson Golf Club Historian. Nelson
- Advertisements (1900, August 17) Colonist, p.3 [Bisley Bros - auction of property known as Sands Estate]
- Golf and other things (1909, March 29), The Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
- History of the Nelson Golf Club and Course, Early Days (2008). Retrieved 20/05/2011 from Nelson Golf Club.
- Golf (1898, September 20) Colonist, p. 2
- Golf in Nelson (1906, May 18) Colonist, p.2
- Tunnicliff, S. (2010) Cock, Joseph Henry - Biography. From the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand