It’s not Queenstown’s cheapest club to join but it sounds like one of the best. With Millbrook Country Club to the fore in organising two events this week to celebrate the golf resort’s 25th birthday, Philip Chandler asks what drives it.
For 48 golfers playing Arrowtown’s Millbrook Resort on Tuesday, it wasn’t any old golf day.
Dressed in vintage golf attire, they were Millbrook Country Club members proudly celebrating, to the tee, the resort’s 25th birthday.
Appropriately, the field included Kiwi golfing great Sir Bob Charles, who designed the original 18-hole course, and local course designer and ex-pro golfer Greg Turner, who designed the nine-hole extension.
And aptly, Turner’s son Jack was in the runner-up pairs team.
The celebration also threw a spotlight on Millbrook’s little-known country club, which is also organising a black-tie silver anniversary ball this Saturday.
To listen to members committee chairman Kevin Peterson and his predecessor Chris James, it sounds like one of the best clubs in town.
Currently it has about 480 family memberships, comprising roughly half Millbrook home owners and half non-owners, who are mostly locals.
Membership for the 240-odd owners is compulsory.
The joining fee is a somewhat eye-watering $20,000 plus GST, followed by an annual fee which is presently $3000 including GST.
Peterson: “It’s not an individual membership base like other golf courses.
“You, your spouse and your children under 26 are all part of that one membership, so 480 really converts to probably 1000-plus.”
James adds: “In the early days, all the members that joined were golfers.
“Currently, I would have thought out of the new members maybe only a third of them play golf, and a lot are here for all the other attributes Millbrook has to offer in terms of just the whole environment, the food and beverage, the gym, the spa.”
Members enjoy not only free use of the golf course and health and fitness centre but also discounted food and beverage and spa treatments and products, as well as first dibs on new property releases. That puts the $3000 annual fee into perspective, Peterson says.
“You pay probably in Auckland, even in Christchurch, up to $3000 for a single membership for a golf club, but the [Millbrook] members get so much more.”
James: “All the members seem to get on very well, there’s a wonderful atmosphere at our Friday golf events but we also run a lot of social events as well.
“There’s walking, cycling groups, bridge club, 4WD, wine tasting, quiz nights.”
Peterson: “The members committee works hard every year, we do surveys every year, to find out where we can make things better, and satisfaction levels are very high.
“This year we’ve noticed quite a lift in participation in all events, to the point where they’re actually getting full.”
He notes that Charles and Millbrook-based pro Ben Campbell regularly play Friday golf with members: “It’s a bit like having [All Black great] Richie McCaw playing in your local rugby game.”
Millbrook having hosted then-United States President Bill Clinton in 1999, Peterson’s hoping ex-US President Barack Obama turns up this month to play a round during his New Zealand visit, perhaps with his buddy, ex-NZ Prime Minister Sir John Key, in tow.
He’s not so sure current US President Donald Trump would be as welcome: “If he came, he might want to buy the place and we don’t want that.”
Peterson’s full of praise for Millbrook’s founding owner Eiichi Ishii and his family.
“They were never involved in this seriously to make money out of it – I think it’s public knowledge that it took 21 or 22 years to make a profit.
“You’ve got to have a vision to accept that.
“Obviously there’s some payback now with the development of the properties and everything else, but Mr Ishii still remains certain that that’s his philosophy – it is not driven by profitability.”