At 3pm on 11 April 1895 a group of Palmerston North citizens met at the residence of Mr L.A.Abraham. Mr R.S.Abraham moved “That a golf club be formed to be called the Manawatu Golf Club”. The motion was carried and the club was born. The first President was C.J.Monro and the first Secretary was L.A.Abraham.
Numerous similar meetings were held up and down the length of New Zealand in the 1880’s and 90’s and with a desire to get golf started as soon as possible, unfortunately, for one reason or another most of the original sites chosen for play proved to be unsuitable. However, the founders of the Manawatu Golf Club were more fortunate in choosing Hokowhitu as the site for their club. Championships are therefore being played on the oldest course in New Zealand.
Nine holes over 2773 yards were established for play on leased land and in 1904 this was increased to an 18 hole course by including the neighbouring polo ground. In 1908 the Club obtained freehold title to some 116 acres which included the polo ground and since then various land sales and exchanges have taken place and the present layout is on about 106 acres.
Although there were a few clumps of stunted native bush on Hokowhitu in 1895 the parkland course of today belies the original barrenness of the land which was strewn with stones in some parts and bog-like in others. Converting land which had been grazing cattle and sheep into a golf course was a slow and often difficult process. In this conversion the Club was fortunate to be closely associated with turf scientists working in Palmerston North from the 1930’s, some of whom were members of the Club. Successive green keepers have enthusiastically embraced the evolving techniques of turf management and, as a consequence, the greens and fairways of Hokowhitu can now withstand all but the most adverse climatic conditions.
Early fears of flooding have been confined on a number of occasions and the worst occurrence was in 1941 when floodwaters swept through the main gates and immersed more than half the course. Fortunately for the Club the need to protect much of Palmerston North’s residential areas has led to the construction of a substantial stop bank along the golf course boundary and the value of this was evident as recently as February 2004 when the Manawatu River came within a few feet of the top of the newly heightened bank. However, the 16th hole which was on the river side of the stop bank remained at the mercy of the flooded Manawatu River and was inundated in 2004.
Initially the Polo Club’s pavilion located between the 12th and 14th fairways was used by the golfers as their Clubhouse and in 1903 the first modest building solely for golfers was cited on the present first tee. In 1910 the Club engaged Natusch, a prominent architect of that time, to design a substantial Clubhouse. Remodelling and reconstruction followed a hurricane in 1936, major additions were made in 1965 and further renovation and reconstruction was carried out in 1984. In 2009 the club rebuilt the it’s clubhouse virtually from scratch after raising $1.2M in member debentures, gaining trust grants and raising a bank loan to pay for the new $2.3M Clubhouse. The only part of the old clubhouse was the back block which included a basement and upstairs lounge. In 2014 the club renovated the old upstairs lounge to the quality of the new downstairs area which completed the clubhouse.
Three golf course architects have had major inputs into the Hokowhitu golf course. First, in 1928, C.H.Redhead, an Irish engineer at the time domiciled in Rotorua, was engaged to redesign the course layout which included extensive bunkering which remains a feature of today’s course.
In 1955 H.G.Babbage of Te Awamutu, engaged on the recommendation of the NZ Golf Council, made further substantial alterations to the arrangement of the course. These incorporated the Defence Department’s disused Rifle Range as the15th hole. Land exchanges with the City Council, to permit the widening of Centennial Drive, led to altered 10th and 11th holes. In the 2000’s a new par three 4th hole has replaced a par three hole which had been played as the 8th. This hole is still at the club and is located towards the end of the practice fairway. This re-routing of the course prevented two par 3’s being played consecutively (7 & 8) and also allows the practice range to play a longer length.
In 2012 the club contracted architect Tommy Cushnahan to re design the 16th and work with Horizon’s Council while they realigned the stop bank and increased its height again. This meant the 16th hole would now be inside the stop bank and protected from the river. This new Par 3 was opened in November 2012. Cushnahan has also created new bunkering on 2 & 15 as established trees have been removed from these holes.
Hokowhitu hosted its first New Zealand Open Championship in 1922 with others following in 1930, 1946, 1957, and in 1973 when Sir Bob Charles, our renowned New Zealand left-hander, won the title. Many major championships have been played on the course, including seven New Zealand Amateurs, five New Zealand Ladies Amateur Championships and several North Island Amateur Championships and Interprovincial Championships. The Lawnmaster Classic has been a regular feature since 1985 and in 2013 became a Professional tournament as part of the Charles Tour of New Zealand.
Grant Waite, Craig Perks and Tim Wilkinson are notable professionals who were junior members at Manawatu before making their way onto the USPGA Tour. This makes the Manawatu Golf Club the only course in New Zealand to foster and develop three players through to the pinnacle of professional golf. Manawatu has seen a number of world class players stroll our fairways with the likes of Vijay Singh who played in the 1982 Pro-Am and the 2004 Open Champion, Todd Hamilton, who was here in 1984 as a member on the University of Oklahoma Golf Team which played in a 36-hole Team Event. In 2014 Manawatu Golf Club member Joshua Munn won the New Zealand Amateur Championship in Nelson. Josh continues the legacy of great players to have come out of the club.
From its beginnings over a century ago, continual development has converted Hokowhitu into a course which now provides a stern test of golfing ability in attractive park like surroundings.