Psst! Have you heard about Summerhill Estate golf course?
WORDS DANIEL DUNKLEY / PHOTOS AMANDA AITKEN + SALINA GALVAN + SUPPLIED
A top the breathtaking Papamoa Hills is an almost-hidden treasure you might not have experienced yet, but it’s high time you did. Making the absolute most of the beautiful rolling landscape, Summerhill Estate golf course is one of the Bay of Plenty’s best-kept secrets among golf fanatics, but not for long – word is beginning to get out.
It doesn’t get much more scenic than Summerhill Estate. On a clear day, the grounds have panoramic views of the coast from Ohope and Whakatāne right up to the Coromandel. The course is close to Tauranga and the Mount but, complete with lush native bush, its surroundings give the impression you’re teeing off in the middle of nowhere. The only sounds you’ll hear as you play are the breeze, the birds and the swoosh of your shots.
For the past four years, the sweeping 26-hectare estate has been under the stewardship of husband-and-wife team Mark and Tonia Procter. The elegant golf course, built on a former orchard and farm, was created about two decades ago, but has been transformed in recent years into a top destination, through investment, hard graft and a whole lot of landscaping.
“It was pretty undiscovered,” says Tonia. “We were surprised to learn there was a golf course up here when we first found it. It’s such a unique place, a fabulous country course with amazing views. It’s the hidden gem in the Bay of Plenty crown.”
Both originally from Matamata, Tonia and Mark spent many of their teenage summers around Papamoa and the Mount. After 15 years of living in the Bay, they fell in love with Papamoa’s picturesque green hills, so set about looking for an opportunity. “We were searching for a new challenge, so we took it on, planning to keep the bones of what was here before, but build on it,” says Tonia.
“We feel passionate about this place,” she continues. “People ask, ‘Why on earth would you buy a golf course?’ but we saw this beautiful spot and really felt we could reinvigorate it and share it with the community. It’s such a tranquil destination. You haven’t got loads of noise or traffic, you’ve just got beautiful birdsong.”
Summerhill Estate’s nine-hole, 36-par (and New Zealand-affiliated) course doubles as an 18-hole par 72, with alternate tees as you replay the nine. Its rolling terrain offers a challenge to big hitters and seasoned players, yet is gentle enough for those looking to fine-tune their game. It has plenty of character, with hazards, trees and water features all tucked into the hills, and its lofty position means it’s ready to play on even after heavy downpours.
Although some golf courses can feel a little bit intimidating, the Procters are keen to ensure Summerhill Estate is inclusive for locals and tourists alike. It has a relaxed dress code and the grounds are dog-friendly. Throughout the year, the course is open to players of any age and level of ability. People can join upas members, or pay a one-off fee of $20 a round for adults or $10 for kids under the age of 16.
Even people who have never picked up a putter can take in the atmosphere here – Summerhill Estate’s kiosk café is open all weekend for those who prefer a flat white to a front nine. Meanwhile, however, the golf never stops. “The course can be self-service, so it’s open all year round,” says Tonia. “We’re even open on Christmas Day.”
The course is a labour of love, but Tonia considers the whole estate a winner. The sprawling grounds are just as popular with cyclists and hikers enjoying the nearby trails as they are with golfers. “Cyclists love coming through, and access to the Otawa Scenic Reserve DoC track is right out the back gate,” says Tonia. “All manner of people use the area for its open spaces and native bush. It’s a great place to come to get a view of the whole area and take a breather.”
Summerhill Estate is also a destination venue. It opens its grounds for lots of functions: company events, mini-tournaments, private parties. It hosts big events including the Malaghan Institute charity golf tournament and December’s Summerhill Classic, plus twilight events in summer, adding barbecues and a more social element to the game of golf.
“We love to see people out there enjoying the views and the course,” says Tonia. “Golf can be daunting for beginners or people getting back into the game, but in this environment, you don’t feel pressured, so you can just go and enjoy your golf.”
Having spent so much time building their wonderful course, the Procters can finally have fun on it too. “We’ve still got lots to learn,” says Tonia, scanning the 180-degree view. “Now our plan is to get out there, continue to work hard on the course and enjoy playing ourselves.”