It’s tight nine-hole quirkiness has long been the talk of travel-hardened golfers across the golfing world.
It’s a rite of passage to hit one of the several massive wireless masts in the middle of the fairways, as much as it is to shoo the roosters off the greens while dodging golf balls pounding down from the high back tees.
These all make great golfing stories but there’s always been a little disappointment voiced at the club house facilities.
Even new club manager, Dominic Johnson, back on the island after 14 years working in hotel management in Australia, admits the clubhouse had become “tired”.
But there’s been a wake up call this year – there are big plans on the books with much work already going on and much more planned.
Over the last three months the clubhouse has been expanded, with an expansive, covered outdoor area added on, new bar facilities and new locker rooms for members.
The idea is to make changes to suit existing members as well as tourists, while developing a profit-making functions hosting business.
The work has only just begun, and its all being paid for by members’ fundraising efforts, private donations and visitor green fees.
The Rarotonga Golf Club has a current membership of 300 – of which 80 per cent consists of local Rarotongans and 20 per cent expats, and locals who live overseas and visit the country regularly.
A solid steam of revenue also comes in from the tourist trade with, on average, 40 green fee players paying $40 for a round every day and more if they hire clubs.
More improvements to the club to happen soon are the re-tiling of the interior clubhouse, renovations to walls and fixtures, and the renovation of various areas and offices within the existing structure to accommodate a trophy room and shop for the selling of golf items, a separate locker room for junior golfers, a new crèche area for children, a new shower and toilet for members that are separate to the larger functions area.
An old outdoor kitchen hut is being pulled down and replaced and a new toilet block added.
Already near completion is the members’ locker room housing eventually 100 large lockers in which members can store their golf clubs and trundlers securely.
With most of the club’s Rarotongan members coming to the course on motor scooters this should be well received.
One of the most ambitious concepts of the overall redesign is that the roof over the outdoor seating area can be removed to allow the clubhouse to go up a second storey in the near future.
This will give members a new upstairs lounge and balcony, with a view over the course and separate facilities so the downstairs complex can be used exclusively for functions when needed.
However, its not all about buildings and raising money at the Rarotonga Golf Club.
Manager Johnson and the new youthful committee executive of president Stuart Henry, vice-president Daniel Webb and club captain Henry Napa are also working on concepts that will increase club membership with the focus on attracting junior members and nurturing young people into the sport.
Like all golf clubs worldwide, the golfing population is aging and decreasing – with young people having wider sport and leisure options.
The club runs golf programmes for school students each week and the new juniors’ locker room is aimed at, not only allowing equipment to be stored securely, but to give the juniors a sense of ownership.
The club is committed to making the most of the natural talent and wants to give young golfers the best possible opportunities to succeed, Johnson says.
For golf is both a leisure activity and a fiercely competitive sport.
And Cook Islands has a rich history of competitive golf with the country having two courses, with many of the nation’s top players coming not only from Rarotonga but also the nine-hole course on Aitutaki.
Two current high achieving Cook Islands amateur players are ranked in the top 20 men and top 40 women respectively in New Zealand – they are William Howard and his sister Rotana Howard.
William Howard still holds the course record – an historic feat that saw him score a 12 under par 70 for 58 gross during a tournament in 2014.
Another well-respected golfing professional is Elmay Viking, originally from Aitutaki,who now lives in Australia and plays professionally on the LPGA tour.
Rarotonga’s golfers have always been highly competitive at regional events – including gold medals in individual men, individual women, and men’s and women’s teams events at the Pacific Mini Games, hosted by the Rarotonga Golf Club in 2009 – as well as silver medals in individual mens’ and individual women’s events at the Pacific Games in 2015.
The Rarotonga club has always been a sports and social venue for local members first and foremost, and tourist golfers have for a long time had to take the facilities – or lack of them – as they have found them.
While golfing purists have done just that, the new management is now looking at ushering the club, and the course, into the 21st century with a new look and management culture that will be more what overseas visitors now expect of a golf course in a popular tropical tourist destination.
While the course itself is a tight, nine-hole miracle of course design, hemmed in by the sea, the airport and the hills, there is no room to ever bring the facility up to a full 18-holes.
For now, the radio masts remain – the land was originally acquired by the government as an aerial farm – and are in their own way, part of the charm of the course.
The course is kept immaculately by greenkeeper Jojo Karati and is always a pleasure to play in all weathers.
When the refurbishments to the club house and its facilities are completed, the Rarotonga Golf Club will soon herald in a new, more sophisticated, era for both members and visitors alike.
Now, about those roosters ...