Potential closure to the Sporting Dynasty, the little golf club’s remarkable plight

Six years ago, the 100-year-old Nightcaps Golf Club was facing the likely prospect of closure. Fast-forward to 2022 and the club is now home to one of Southland’s more remarkable Sporting Dynasties. Logan Savory reports.

In early 2016 the few remaining members at the Nightcaps Golf Club found themselves pondering the future.

The club had just seven playing members and discussions had started around leasing the golf course land out for farming use.

The likely closure of the Nightcaps Golf Club, established in 1922, quickly became a reality six years ago.

The small western town of Southland was already struggling to remain relevant. The number of people working in the coal industry has declined over the years with its population now sitting at around the 350 mark.

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Stuart Dobbie, who has lived all his life in Nightcaps, remembers well that daunting prospect of the closure of the nine-hole golf course nestled under the Takitimu mountains.

Dobbie was a Miner in Ohio but for the past 18 years has been employed by an Invercargill-based Builder.

He has seen the challenges of the town of Nightcaps has faced first-hand.

“The town went backwards quite a bit,” Dobbie acknowledges.

An aerial view of the western Southland town of Nightcaps which has been home to the Laing Shield since 2016.

Kavinda Herath / Stuff

An aerial view of the western Southland town of Nightcaps which has been home to the Laing Shield since 2016.

Losing its golf course would have been another hammer Blow.

“We had seven playing members, but it was another matter of getting them out playing. We were only getting two or three out playing on a Sunday on our club day for about two years, ”Dobbie recalls.

“I went and joined Winton just to get a game of golf because it was a real struggle to get people to play.”

But that was unfolded before a special moment in August 2016. Nightcaps’ turn at challenging for the Laing Shield popped up on the playing calendar.

It came at that time when talk of leasing the golf club land out was gaining momentum.

The Laing Shield, presented by JH Laing in 1909, is a golfing supremacy for male players in Southland.

It’s Southland golf’s equivalent to New Zealand rugby’s Ranfurly Shield.

It is a challenge trophy amongst men’s teams representing golf clubs throughout Southland.

The challenger and the holder each put up six Amateur men who are full financial members of the respective Clubs.

Players in each team meet an opponent in matchplay over 18 holes.

Stuart Dobbie has played on 53 of the Nightcaps Golf Club's 57 Defenses of Southland Golf's Laing Shield.

Kavinda Herath / Stuff

Stuart Dobbie has played on 53 of the Nightcaps Golf Club’s 57 Defenses of Southland Golf’s Laing Shield.

At that point, in August 2016, the Winton Golf Club held the prized possession. Nightcaps mustered together a team amongst all the uncertainty to challenge Winton for it.

Heading into the 18th and final hole Nightcaps players Brett Dobbie – Stuart’s youngest son – and James Harding both needed to win the final hole to claim the Laing Shield.

They obliged, and in a roundabout way, that clutch moment at the 18th hole in Winton in 2016, effectively saved the Nightcaps Golf Club from folding.

All of a Sudden the Mindset shifted from discussions about leasing the course land to preparing to defend the Laing Shield in September 2016.

“Before we won it no-one had played on the [Nightcaps] course for about six months, ”Dobbie recalls.

Just what has unfolded since is nothing short of remarkable.

The Nightcaps Golf Club has gone on to defend the Laing Shield on 57 occasions in a tenure that now stretches for six years.

Talk of the club’s closure has subsided.

Dobbie, Nightcaps’ club Captain, is certain its fairytale Laing Shield story has saved the club, given the interest it created. Most importantly though, it bought the club some time as Nightcaps went about re-establishing its membership numbers.

Nightcaps’ playing membership now sits at close to 40. Fifteen to 20 players take to the golf course every Sunday for its club day.

Nightcaps Golf Club after winning the 50th defense of the Laing Shield, from left, Brett Dobbie, James Harding, Stu Dobbie and Ross Mangels.

Supplied

Nightcaps Golf Club after winning the 50th defense of the Laing Shield, from left, Brett Dobbie, James Harding, Stu Dobbie and Ross Mangels.

The club was on life-support, now other Clubs in Southland look on with plenty of respect.

“From nearly closing in 2016 to where we are now really good. It’s kept the club alive, and we’re going really well now, ”Dobbie says.

Fourteen players have been used all up throughout the six years to defend the Laing Shield. Stuart Dobbie has played in 53 of those 57 defenses, and his son Brett an impressive 55 times.

Brett is based in Invercargill but travels out to Nightcaps to play for his home club, while Otautau-based Ross Mangels, another mainstay through the six years of success, also plays his golf at the Nightcaps club.

“It’s something we didn’t really dream of,” Dobbie says about the Laing Shield stretch.

“Winning it was excellent. We said; ‘our name’s on there now, so it doesn’t really matter what happens’. So to keep it for this long has been really good. ”

Just how has Nightcaps – on the brink of closure with just seven playing members – managed to go on to create one of Southland’s more impressive Sporting Dynasties?

“[Nightcaps] is not an easy course, ”Dobbie points out.

“In the summer we don’t have water on our greens, so they get very hard. They are also not very big greens, people struggle with that.

“And we’ve got some good players. Probably 20% of our players at the club are single-handicappers, so that alone is pretty impressive. ”

Nightcaps, home to the Laing Shield golfing Trophy since 2016.

Kavinda Herath

Nightcaps, home to the Laing Shield golfing Trophy since 2016.

Its latest defense came on Saturday against Mataura. Much like Nightcaps’ Victory to win the shield in 2016, it came down to the final hole and the final putt.

Dobbie’s opponent, Dean Baxter, holed a close to 15-foot putt which saw Mataura grasp the shield with one hand on Saturday afternoon.

The delight from the Mataura players and its small band of supporters was obvious as they huddled around the 18th green at Nightcaps.

It left Dobbie with about a 10-foot putt to tie the contest up at 3-3 and ensure the Laing Shield remained in Nightcaps for another month at least.

He blocked out the obvious pressure to calmly land arguably the putt of his playing days. That was quite rightly followed with a Tiger Woods-like fist pump in a moment of Sporting Bliss.

“It’s right up there,” Dobbie says in regard to his golfing moments.

“It was definitely a tense time for a minute there, it just snuck in the side [of the cup] too. ”

The Nightcaps Golf Club clubrooms, which is also home to the Nightcaps Bowling Club, played host to even more Celebrations late on Saturday as another chapter was added to the fairytale story.

Dobbie says the added interest in the clubrooms in itself has been a special spinoff from the ongoing Laing Shield success.

When the club operated with just seven playing members it also struggled financially to keep up with what is required to operate a nine-hole golf course.

“Having the Laing Shield has definitely helped because we generally have a big night on the Saturday night after it.”

Nightcaps’ 57 – and counting – shield defenses have etched its name in Southland golfing folklore. Although remarkably it’s not actually the record Rein when it comes to the Laing Shield.

That honor sits with the Dipton Golf Club. Dipton defended the shield 62 times from 2005 through to 2011.

Naturally, Whispers of whether Nightcaps can topple that impressive record are starting to get louder.

Dobbie says it’s far from the center of their attention though.

“I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s only one game at a time. That’s all you can do, you are only as good as your next game.

“What happens, happens. If we get to that record great, if we don’t, we’ve had a really good run. ”

The Nightcaps Golf Club’s Resurgence almost mirrors what is now happening in the town in general, according to Dobbie.

“I’d say over the last three or four years the town has actually picked up. People are coming into the town, It’s probably the cheaper housing, and they are doing them up. It’s good. ”

And from that has come more Golfers.

“There were a few people that did come back and play who handed played in probably 20 years. But there’s also been new people coming into the town that have joined up, and we’ve got a few boys from Ohio that have come over the hill and joined up who are new to the game. ”

With the new members has also come more volunteers to help keep the club operating.

Jay Petherick, who was part of the Laing Shield defense on Saturday, continues with the big task of maintaining the greens at the Nightcaps course. He’s done so for some time now.

“We’ve been quite lucky for the last couple of years, some of the people that have come into the club are retired, and they are helping with a lot of work on the course.”

The next assignment this month will be against the boys from Stewart Island, who play at the Ringa Ringa Heights Golf Club.

Nightcaps may be viewed as the little golfing club that has exceeded all expectations, but the Ringa Ringa Heights Golf Club might just take it to another level.

It operates at a six-hole course on Stewart Island, with three par-threes and three par-fours. That’s it.

Can the Ringa Ringa Heights Golf Club create its own fairytale Sporting story?

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