Neighbours saving Gulf Harbour Country Club from 'wreck and ruin'

7:05 am on 29 May 2024

Neighbours of the abandoned Gulf Harbour Country Club have taken matters into their own hands, with some buying their own ride-on mowers and using weed whackers to maintain the greens.

The golf club on Auckland's Whangaparāoa Peninsula, which once played host to the World Cup of Golf and two New Zealand Opens, closed abruptly in July 2023 due to financial issues.

Since then the course has become neglected, overgrown and home to several squatters while its fate is determined.

Jason Knapp has lived on the 11th hole of the Gulf Harbour Country Club for three years.

After watching in frustration as the grass and weeds got out of control, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work on his push mower, eventually spending $4000 to get a ride-on to keep the grass near his house trimmed.

"I was planning to just do the paths, because the paspalum was about a metre high, and the weeds were about knee-high. I mowed all that down flat. I'm just trying to help everyone out."

Knapp was joined by several other residents getting stuck into course maintenance. He said it was obvious which holes had received love from locals.

Apart from the odd $20 donation for fuel and a bottle of whiskey from his neighbour, Knapp has been paying for everything himself.

He said he was happy to do so, because he was hopeful the course will one day be playable again.

"I don't want to see it in wreck and ruin. If you go around and see it, you'll see the waste and the vandalism and everything. You just want to keep it up. So if someone does come around and buy it, well, at least they've got a head start."

Gulf Harbour Country Club has been hit by a fire for the second time in a week

Two fires gutted the pro shop and the club house at the Gulf Harbour Country Club. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

Elsewhere on the 89-hectare course, a resident on the 6th hole said the fairway was covered with "hundreds and hundreds" of weeds, which were well over head height.

His neighbour was having a tough time reigning in the growth, so he lent a hand.

"I thought 'ohh he'll have this knocked over in 10 minutes', but an hour later it looked like he hadn't made a dent. I went down there with a weed whacker and started knocking over the weeds while he was mowing."

Last week, two separate fires gutted the pro shop and then the club house, both of which had already been vandalised. Twisted, charred metal is all that remains, as diggers demolish what is left.

Bill Bell, 75, moved to Gulf Harbour nearly 30 years ago, in anticipation of the course opening.

He met RNZ on the overgrown 18th green, and watched on as 27 years of history got torn down before his eyes.

"It's really difficult. I've actually tried to stay away from it. This is the first time I've stood on the golf course since it closed."

Bell was the original club captain at Gulf Harbour, and even held the course record of 64 back in the early 2000s.

He remembered the course in its heyday.

"A lot of people would say the tees were better than most people's greens. They were so pure and fabulous."

Bell has pictures of the club's honours boards on his phone, and like Knapp, is optimistic of the course one day opening up again under new ownership.

Plans to redevelop the land into a housing development have been up in the air since the club was purchased by Long River Investments in 2021.

An application was made to put the owners into liquidation, but was abandoned earlier this month after delays to the hearing process.

Former real estate agent Karen Franklin lives on the 9th green at Gulf Harbour Country Club.

She said she bought her property with peace of mind, due to the 999-year covenant that was established with Auckland Council back in 2006, which prohibits the land from being used for any other purpose than a golf course.

"Should the council decide that they are going to let the covenant go on the Gulf Harbour Country Club, you potentially have anarchy right throughout New Zealand. Because it will become a precedent when people want to argue covenant or people just will have absolutely no regard for covenants.

"They will do whatever they want and will say 'take me to court'. And then when it goes to court, [it would mean] 'The Auckland Council, let that covenant go, so covenants mean nothing'."

Lisa Cruse lives just down the road, and is a member of the Keep Whangaparāoa's Green Spaces group.

She said a housing development was not feasible on what is essentially a finger of land, especially with the local ferry service being wound down.

"You can only build so many houses because you've got sea bordering on either side. It's got one very narrow road in and one road out, so we're restricted to what sort of density we can do."

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