Introducing GolfCross

The History of the Game

The notion of developing a uniquely New Zealand game that would combine aspects of our two most popular sports, rugby and golf, had its genesis in the late ’80s. Was it possible that a solid oval golf ball might have the same special flight properties of a rugby ball? Would it share the rugby ball’s inherent gyroscopic stability which allows it to fly straight as well as being able to follow a variety of pre–set flight paths?

1989 balls

The idea was just too intriguing to leave alone and soon some crude oval balls made out of polyester resin emerged rather sheepishly from the garage workshop. They were like stones to hit but there was just enough aerodynamic potential in evidence to justify further tinkering.


Golfcross was first played with these same resin balls over Rolf and Lois Mill’s Wanaka farm in the spring of ’89. Using wooden rugby–style uprights with bird–netting stretched between them, Rolf Mills and George Studholme played a few hastily erected goals one sunny winter’s afternoon as part of a photo shoot for a piece about unusual New Zealand pastimes.

Early goal

In fact the idea may well have died then and there at the photographic stage had it not been for George’s enthusiasm for the concept. As the exgreen keeper for the local club he just loved the idea that all the expense involved with the construction and maintenance of greens could be done away with and with them gone, “you could play it very cheaply and just about anywhere — anywhere you can get a mower or a mob of sheep”. Most of all, he loved the idea of the oval ball and felt it would be worth trying to get a proper one made. It took six years.


The tiny St Andrews Golf Ball Company in Scotland thoughtfully donated some oversize balls that had ‘exploded’ out of the mould and had the appearance of fat Kinder Surprises. While hardly the shape envisaged, they were one-piece composite balls. Could they be reshaped on a lathe? Joe Gibson, a local wood turner, kindly obliged and took great delight in chipping each different little oval shape round his back lawn as he lovingly completed each one. They were rather small these Gibson balls, and far too light, but we could still hit them 150 yards and therefore they could act as a guide to the way larger balls of the same shape would fly.

St Andrews balls

Martin O’Connor is one of those rare golfers who can become totally absorbed in the game while somehow continuing to maintain enough distance to appreciate its subtle psychology and to see its funny side. In the final analysis it was probably his sense of humor and a fascination with the balls’ high pitched hum that drew him into spending hours hitting them all over the local rugby ground. That, and the fact that the most oval of the balls completely confounded his every attempt to slice or hook it. There was definite potential here. All that was needed now was a full–sized ball to test.


In October of ’92 a couple of very special english gentlemen from Birmingham come on the scene — Peter Smewin and William Baird, production director and marketing manager of Penfold Golf, one of the world’s oldest golf ball makers. It’s not until 1996 that the first non-dimpled ball shapes are ready for trial. Nine months later the final shape, weight, compression and dimple pattern is decided on after an exhaustive testing program.

Early Penfolds test ballsA timeline of oval balls

A goal


The whole project looks like falling over because it seems impossible to build a goal that can handle the kind of ferocious winds sometimes encountered on a course. Dominic Taylor, a young industrial designer who works in the film industry, thinks he can help. It’s not an easy brief, even for someone whose last job was making a computer controlled robotic dog with forty–five articulated joint movements. The goal has to turn, fold up, provide a ball capture system that’s 99.9% efficient, repel cattle, be aesthetically pleasing, non–corrosive and above all, withstand 100mph winds. Success only comes after five prototpyes and numerous field trials.

Wairarapa ball


The first dimpled, painted and printed one-piece composite ‘Wairarapa’ balls are completed by Penfold and trials by golfers Martin O’Connor and Neil Weighell, and professional golfer Stuart Thompson, begin.

The tee cup


The tee cup is conceived by Burton Silver and designed and developed by Dominic Taylor.


Successful field trials of the goal are finally completed after the testing of five prototypes, the first courses are set up, and GolfCross® is officially launched.

First golfcross courses

Radical Oval Shaped Golf Ball and New Game launched

May 2001

A revolutionary new oval golf ball and a game called New Zealand GolfCross was launched at Braemar Station, near Mount Cook in New Zealand, yesterday.

“GolfCross is golf with goals instead of holes and an oval ball which gives players the control of a professional” says the inventor of ball and game, New Zealand author, Burton Silver.

The Braemar Station nine goal GolfCross course in the Southern Alps is the first of three GolfCross courses in New Zealand to be publicly launched over the next couple of weeks to coincide with the international launch of Burton Silver’s latest book, New Zealand GolfCross, which goes on sale this week in the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The book will be sold as part of a pack which includes one of the unique balls as well as a specially designed rubber tee adaptor called the Tee Cup.

It has taken 12 years of trial and development to get the ball and game perfected to the stage of being able to go public. Central to the game of GolfCross is the oval golf ball which, due to its two axis of spin, is more aerodynamically stable than the round ball and has an impressive list of attributes, in particular it enables the golfer to:

  1. Hit the ball straight every time without slicing or hooking it, unless they specifically want to.
  2. Adjust the degree of fade and draw they require.
  3. Impart backspin — even with a wood or out of the rough.
  4. Apply top spin to achieve long low running shots.
  5. And hit complex double curve shots.

GolfCross is receiving an enthusiastic response from golfers, “It’s awesome” says Auckland’s Grange Golf Club Pro, Stuart Thompson. “It’s a hugely satisfying game because of the control that the tee cup and the oval ball offer.”

This is echoed by Owen Williams who is part of the Plus Fore partnership bringing Tiger Woods to New Zealand and general manager of Golf Management International Ltd. He thinks GolfCross could change the shape of golf and that it’s innovation is a huge bonus for New Zealand. “GolfCross is a great way to showcase our country. From a tourist point of view this game is a great addition to our outdoor pursuits profile and will bring more people into the game of golf.”

Burton Silver’s aim in creating GolfCross is to establish an original Kiwi form of the great game of golf which celebrates the splendour of our rural environment, our love of rugby, and our do-it-yourself innovative spirit. With the opening of the courses near Mount Cook, Martinborough and Rotorua he hopes to provide visitors with “a uniquely New Zealand golfing experience in the kind of landscape which is usually not explored by anyone other than farmers.”

In keeping with its respect for our beautiful scenery, the game of GolfCross has been designed to have very little environmental impact. GolfCross goals can be quickly and easily set up on any suitable land without altering the landscape apart from digging a few small holes for the goals and mowing the fairways. This is unlike conventional golf which almost inevitably requires costly earthworks to create the greens, followed by extensive use of pesticides, herbicides and irrigation.

The simplicity of GolfCross makes setting up a course much cheaper than a new golf course, says Silver, as well as allowing temporary courses to be set up in extreme or unusual locations for a one–off tournament or event.

With interest running so high in the game, Silver’s immediate concern is keeping up with the demand for oval balls. However, his aspiration is that Golfcross will lead to increased sporting inventiveness, “I’d love to think that GolfCross might act as a catalyst that will encourage us to explore other new sporting and recreational activities.”

First golfcross courses

60 Minutes

It’s brilliant, I’m hooked. I was really impressed with the way the ball reacted. I think it will be great for the game [of golf].

The Dominion

It works. First shot, straight. Second shot straight. And again—and again. Out with the driver, the one club guaranteed to send my egg towards some trees or water or out of bounds. You guessed it—down the middle. Not as far as a conventional ball, but pretty darn straight. Silver’s ball will not make you Tiger Woods. But hit it reasonably well and the egg-ball (12 years in the making) goes where you want it.

Kent Gray, sports writer

The enjoyment will be far greater for the average player. It’s not going to take over golf but it will make it enjoyable for more people.

Stuart Thompson, golf professional, winner of the Tahiti Open 1999

I was amazed, you are quite skeptical when you try out these things but the ball goes so straight.

Mal Tongue, national director of coaching, New Zealand Golf Association

The Evening Post

We looked at it fairly skeptically for a start but we played with the ball, which has been in great secrecy for many years, and found how adaptable it was and how forgiving it was for a golfer who is not a three handicapper. It’s going to be a great diversion for golfers.

Duncan Mackenzie, GolfCross course owner

Golf Digest

Silver sent me 30 balls and tees. I took them to my club and talked 13 friends into joining me for a two-hole tournament. We didn’t have nets so we used greenside bunkers as our targets. We discovered that oval balls don’t fly as far as regular balls do, but they don't slice unless you want them to slice, and you can make them do tricks Phil Mickelson only dreams of. My friend Hacker (real last name) played the two holes in a total of two strokes. All my friends loved GolfCross, so we declared Burton Silver’s invention the official playoff ball of our Sunday morning group.

David Owen

Golf Monthly (UK)

Kiwis Move the Goalposts
Golf with a rugby ball, are you serious? Well the New Zealanders are and the unusual sport of GolfCross has started to create interest in other parts of the world -- including the British Isles. John Laxton, a textiles businessman from just outside Ilkley, discovered the game and told a number of nearby farmers who were extremely interested. He said: "The investment is minimal, you can move the course on a day to day basis, you can still keep animals on the course and the most important thing, you do not have to have planning permission as the course is not permanent.

They do go straight even if you put a big slice or hook on the ball. The most startling thing is the noise. They hum in the air as though they are singing.

Nick Bayly, Golf Monthly equipment editor

Greg Turner interview with freelance journalist, Patrice Munro

GolfCross is the same game but with a less physical element and a much greater thinking element than golf itself. It employs most of the same skills, it just tweaks more than anything the degree of each of those skills. I can't see why anybody who played golf at all, who could hit a ball at all, wouldn't come out here and have a lot of fun.

Greg Turner, four times winner on the European Tour

LA Times

Thinking Outside the Round
Inventor, Burton Silver, with his new oval GolfCross balls. The game of GolfCross was launched on May 19 at the Braemar Station GolfCross course in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

Oval Ball Gives a New Bounce to Golf
Tired of whacking up huge divots in frustration at your golfers slice? Then you’re the kind of person New Zealand inventor Burton Silver has designed an oval golf ball for.

Unlimited Magazine

Thinking Outside the Round
Tom Doak, well-known American golf course designer and author of three books on the subject, says at first it was impossible for him to envision a new game that could match golf in popularity. “There is something primitive about playing a ball into a hole that holds a special fascination.” he says. But he then goes on to say that he recognises the game he loves is held back from greater popularity by the expense of developing and operating golf courses. “By replacing the green with the goal, Silver's game offers the possibility of a low cost training ground which not only has potential as its own sport, but that can only cause more people to discover the joy of wandering the countryside in pursuit of a little white, albeit egg-shaped, ball.”

Waikato Times

Golf, But Not As We Know It
When Hamilton Pro, Quenton Diment, first saw the oval golf ball he was about to hit down Park International’s driving range, he thought it was a joke. But once the egg-shaped ball flew off his eight iron straight down the range, Diment was a believer. Later he varied the ball’s angle off the tee in torpedo fashion and hit the sort of draws and fades only Tiger seems capable of achieving.

It’s a lot easier than you would think.

Gina Scott, golf professional, European Tour winner

Wairarapa Times Age

It was brilliant, very enjoyable—a complete breakaway from golf and great fun.

Reon Sayer, golf professional