The history of NBS Waahi Taakaro Golf Club

For 17 years until 1954 golf was played on a nine-hole course further down the Maitai Valley on land leased from a local farmer. After that arrangement ended it wasn’t until 1971 after the Nelson City Council purchased 1729 acres of land from Miss Ralphine Richardson at Nelly’s Flat between the motor camp and the site of the original golf course that the idea of a municipal golf course emerged on the reserve renamed Waahi Taakaro, meaning place of recreation in Māori.

The project gained the support of several Nelson city councillors, most notably Eric Pearce who would later become the club’s first patron. They were keen on seeing a public golf course established within easy reach of the city as an alternative to Nelson Golf Course. A steering committee was established after a public meeting in early 1973 and architect Doug Leng-Ward hired to design a course.  However, it wasn’t until late 1974 that the course got the go-ahead after fierce debate among councillors over whether the council should provide funding for its initial development. Eventually $30,000 was provided and along with some public donations this allowed work to start in 1975. In the meantime, another public meeting had been held to form a golf club and an interim committee was elected headed by Ken Sharland.

After many working bees by club members to clear gorse, pick up stones and plant trees, green fee players and members were playing six holes by the end of 1975. By then the club had held its first AGM, electing Sharland president and Tom Langley vice-president, and had procured its first clubhouse, which was later added to several times. Club members also helped build the public toilets situated alongside the clubrooms.

The course was officially opened on May 7, 1977 with just seven holes because of drainage problems on the hillside, with the other two holes becoming operational later that year. A footbridge was installed that year, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the Kearns Bridge was opened giving access to the new 18th hole. A stopbank to better protect the club and course facilities from flooding was built in 1996.

The popularity of the course was such that the club had a membership of 120 a year before it opened and by 1979 this had grown to over 300 with a waiting list.

Since those halcyon days the club has built up an impressive record in inter-club golf, been a nursery for some of Nelson’s finest golfers and attracted some big names to its annual Maitai Masters tournament which began in 1981.

While membership has waned as lifestyles change and golf faces more competition for people’s leisure time, it is now on the rise again. The club continues to punch above it weight and the Maitai Masters remains one of the most popular tournaments on the local golfing calendar. 

In 2017, after almost two years of negotiations, the club signed a contract with the Nelson City Council to take over the running of  the golf shop and day-to-day management of the course. It also set out in detail for the first time the club's course usage rights and responsibilities and those of the council. Taking over the shop has so far proved a financial success, while usage of the course has also increased.

After almost five years of lobbying, the club entered a new phase in 2022 as the centre of a recreational hub designed to attract more golfers, bikers and walkers to the Maitai Valley. This saw the construction of a public track around the golf course to link in with other tracks in the valley, which is already a premier place for mountain biking in the country. A large pump track, another carpark and bike washdown area, extensive landscaping and paths, extra golf practice nets and a large new clubhouse deck were also built as part of a $1 million development jointly funded by the Government and Nelson City Council. The club also spent its own funds upgrading the clubhouse to cater for more visitors and to make it more attractive as a function and event venue.

In August 2022 - just three month after the recreational hub opened - a 1-in-100 year flood swept down the Maitai Valley causing substantial damage to the golf course. The main bridge was washed away, the footbridge damaged beyond use, the pump track and bike/walk track around the golf course largely destroyed and three holes covered with debris and gravel. A massive clean-up operation by contractors and club volunteers had the course re-opened in two months to the public, while club members waded or drove across the concrete ford to play golf. A temporary bridge installed just before Christmas saw course usage quickly return to normal and allow work to widen and rock-line the river and further repair the course to proceed. 

Unfortunately, another 1-in-30-year flood in May 2023 closed the course for a month while another big clean-up was undertaken. It lead to the removal of the badly damaged temporary bridge, forcing golfers to use a concrete ford to access the course while the council made plans to construct a new permanent steel bridge which was opened in Feb 2024. It immediately led to a surge in course usage.