The Amberley Golf Club was founded in 1922. A block of land opposite Amberley House on State Highway 1 was leased from Mr Harry James and nine holes were formed in the sheep paddocks. The layout included a gully that resembled the Grand Canyon, a blind par 3 over a steep bank and a long par 5 along the roadside to finish.
Soon after the club opened, membership was opened to women. In those days men wore plus-fours, hats and always a tie. Ladies wore long skirts, ties and hats. A small weatherboard clubhouse was built under Pine trees near the road. Greens were mowed with a push mower.
In 1940 the number of members increased from 58 to 63, and with more income available, electricity was installed in the club-house. With the advent of World War 2, any members who enlisted for active service were retained as members on the books without charge.
On March 18, 1942, with many members serving the war effort, the club went into recess, and the course reverted to sheep paddocks. However, 6 holes were formed at the Amberley Domain for social golf.
After the war several properties in the district were considered for a new course, and part of Mr D Russell’s property at the end of Lawcocks Rd was chosen. In due course lease arrangements were finalised, and working bees started to construct a new course. The land consisted of rolling hills, a gully and the odd tree, and the players would once again share it with sheep, but it enjoyed great views out to the sea and of Mt Grey. The old clubhouse from the main road was cut in half, transported to its new site and re-assembled under some gum trees. Nine holes were formed utilising the natural features, and a small part of the adjoining Starkey property.
Opening day for the new course was in July 1947. The golf season was usually from April to September and for the rest of the year the land was grazed and hay taken off site for sale. Eventually the greens were fenced and the tees improved but because the land was leased, it was not possible to make other improvements such as forming bunkers and planting trees. The clubhouse never had electricity. The enthusiastic members were soon looking ahead again.
In 1954, a special general meeting was called to consider a proposed new course at Amberley Beach. The land being considered was part Crown Land and part owned by Mr J A Courage. Much of it was swampy and covered in knee-high Nassella tussock, cabbage trees, native bush and rushes but members could see potential and sowed a trial crop, which showed the land would grow good grass.
The Amberley Beach Domain Board had jurisdiction over the Crown Land and supported the venture and Mr Courage was very generous in agreeing to sell 88 acres of his land at a very generous Government Valuation. While still playing golf up at Russell’s, members worked hard on the new course. The first task was to form half a mile of road to access the property using slab wood to cross the swampy places before the shingle truck could be used. Once reasonable access was obtained, a swamp plough was used to plough fire breaks around areas of tussocks and vegetation, which were then burnt to clear areas for the new holes. The result was heart breaking in that it exposed huge areas covered in large stones and rabbit burrows. However, with a huge amount of voluntary effort and the use of larger equipment, 13 holes were eventually formed and opened for playing on 23 April, 1955. The old clubhouse was again moved onto yet another new site.
To help establish the course, water was essential so 3 wells were dug by hand, pipes laid to the greens and petrol driven pumps installed. Several attempts at planting trees were unsuccessful due the sea spray from the prevailing easterly winds but eventually lupins planted by hand from seed gave sufficient shelter to establish the Pine trees that are enjoyed by players today.
Aside from all the working bees, members enjoyed playing golf on the 13 holes until 2 more were added in 1957 and the final 3 in 1959. A new club-house comprising 1400 sq. ft was built by outside contractors and officially opened on 7 March, 1959. The old clubhouse was moved for a third time further up the course for use as a greenkeepers’ shed. A bar was built behind the new clubhouse, using old car cases. In 1962 mains electricity was connected.
The standard of the course continued to improve and a full-time greenkeeper was employed in 1963. Club membership grew fast and watering of tees and greens was updated at a large cost. In 1970, a 2500 sq. ft upstairs extension of the clubhouse was completed. For Saturday competitions at that time, fields of 140 were common. In 1973, there was a waiting list for country members.
In 1974, the pond at No17 hole was excavated, as the expected answer to the then watering problems. The hole filled quickly from groundwater and supported an adequate pump flow. Irrigation was extended to four fairways, again utilising willing volunteers to lay the pipes. That same year the whole course was badly affected by flooding from the sea and the access road was washed out at the lagoon outlet.
1978 saw a new greenkeepers’ shed built beside the old clubhouse (thrice shifted!), membership continued to increase and reached a peak of 382.
Water was still a major priority for the course and from the late 1970’s, considerable effort went into fundraising to obtain a reliable water source and the large length of pipe required to irrigate all fairways. A sponsored watering tournament was first held in January 1991 and continues annually to this day. Weekly raffles, sales of trees and debentures raised enough funds for a new watering system to be installed in 1992.
In the mid-1990’s a long and complicated negotiation involving the Department of Conservation, Ngai Tahu and the golf club resulted in the club securing freehold title over some unformed roads which crossed the course and a section now used for car parking at the rear of the clubhouse. This secured the entire course for future members of the club.
Since that time, many other improvements to the course have been made, including construction of an attractive barbeque area, planting hundreds of trees and progressively improving the quality of the playing surfaces with careful addition of fertilisers and sprays and good course management. While the membership has declined over the years, there is still a good number of willing volunteers to follow the example set by those who went before.
It is a wonderful legacy that our forbears have left in the Amberley Golf Course that we all enjoy today. Their foresight, hard work, sacrifices and enthusiasm will never be forgotten.