He may not be the country’s best golfer or even the country’s best politician golfer, but for the National Party’s Chris Penk his love of the game started at the tender age of 16 and it has allowed him to understand the importance of golf to New Zealand and to keep practicing even if its just the odd game of mini-golf.
After joining the Royal New Zealand Navy in 2000, Chris Penk spent four years with the Australian Defence Force before eventually returning home to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother to become a lawyer.
Penk entered parliament at the last election taking over the Helensville electorate in Auckland’s west from retired Prime Minister and very keen golfer John Key.
Although modern political life has made it tough for politicians in New Zealand to find time for a quick round of golf, it’s certainly a game played by many in the Beehive.
“Once upon a time, golf was played quite a bit in diplomatic and political circles, as far as I can tell,” Penk explained to NZ Golf Magazine.
“About a year ago Judith Collins arranged a day out on a local course and I was happy to get on board. My fellow National Party MPs Chris Finlayson and Melissa Lee, who also took part that day, are pretty handy golfers and certainly put my efforts to shame.
Penk’s first foray onto a golf course was as a 16-year-old when his high school cricket team decided to play a round and they soon discovered that they were better with the bat than a club in hand.
“For a group of guys used to hitting a leather ball that’s swinging or spinning, sometimes at real pace, it was surprisingly hard to place a stationary ball,” Penk said.
Penk’s golf game would have surely improved since those days.
“In classic politician style I’d describe my golfing ability as “developing” rather than “developed”,” he explained.
“I’m aware that sounds a bit like the “developing nations” euphemism but let’s go with that. I get to play only very rarely and have never been invited to play twice with the same group of friends, for reasons that I can’t understand.
“I’d say that my game is below par (or do I mean “above par”?) and truth be told I’ve generally smudged my scorecard to avoid getting too exact numbers-wise. I do realise how bad that sounds for a politician, by the way.
“My strongest suit would be my shorter game, partly because off the tee I’m a bit of a slicer and partly because I really love mini-golf. Don’t ask me to sink the final putt to win the US Masters to prove it but I’m not too bad by the time I (finally) reach the green.”
In fact, Penk has always wanted to set up a mini-golf park himself.
“I drew up some quite elaborate plans for it, at one point, but it hasn’t happened yet.
“Maybe when I leave Parliament I’ll set up shop but for now it’s still a pipe dream. Any unique ideas for a theme would be gratefully received.”
Penk’s Helensville electorate has some amazing golf clubs including one of NZ Golf Magazine’s Top 40 golf courses for 2020, Muriwai.
“I’ve had a bit to do with some of the local golf courses from the perspective of supporting local business although, silly as it sounds, am yet to play on any. Maybe next term, depending on what responsibilities I have post-election.
“During the first COVID-19 lockdown I got involved advocating for golf course maintenance to be considered “essential business”, noting that it could be done safely and also the long term adverse effects of neglecting the upkeep for even a few weeks in summer.”
The National’s MP has been highly critical of the Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and suggested ‘It was only supposed to be the curve that got flattened, not the whole country’.
“I don’t like to say “I told you so” but honestly I did,” Penk offered. “Having written a book setting out a number of ways our response could have improved, it’s been interesting – but sad, obviously – to see some of the same history repeating.
“It’s important to give credit where due to the government for the things that were done well, definitely, but at the same time there are people deemed “non-essential” who have lost their livelihoods unnecessarily. It’s my job to call that out and I’ll keep doing it.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is that we need to balance all the competing considerations.
“Until a vaccine is developed and widely available, we need to find ways to keep living our lives in as safe a way as possible.
“National’s philosophy is to recognise that that government spending on measures to keep the lights on (such as the wage subsidy) are worthwhile but keeping careful at the same time. What we borrow today will need to be repaid tomorrow. Let’s not create too large a rod for the backs of our children, when it comes to debt.
And as for golfers and the sport of golf in New Zealand, what would a National Party Government offer in terms of support or improvement for the game?
“It’s not my place to announce our policy in this space but I can at least say that we understand and appreciate the importance of sport to New Zealand.
“It’s almost a truism to say that it’s in our national DNA and I’d add that if we’re serious about mental health issues we should do everything possible to enable sport to play its part.
“The best thing that any government can provide is a strong, stable economy that is able to fund the Kiwi way of life. In the current climate, job creation will need to be a top priority for the Beehive and that’s something National has a good track record on: letting businesses, small and large, get on with the job of providing for themselves and the nation as a whole.
“We need to be continually looking for ways to enable that entrepreneurial spirit to flourish and not be strangled by red tape.”