Apr 17

Designer Golf in New Zealand: Playing the Pacific

New Zealand is certainly near the top of my “to do” list. For a fishing, sailing and, above all, a golfing enthusiast, how could it not be, despite its distance from most places? Apparently, there’s one great course after another over there, but two seem to stand out, both built by hedge fund investor, Julian Robertson, and each designed by a special artist in the field.

Kauri Cliffs was built first, and Robertson brought in high pedigree David Harman from Orlando, Florida to make it meld with the rugged Pacific coastline. Harman, a six foot plus, three hundred pound lineman, grew up in Ohio, and realized his dream of playing for Woody Hayes at The Ohio State University, only to see it dashed with a serious injury. Turning to golf, he trained at Nicklaus Design and consulted extensively for Palmer. For Kauri Cliffs, he made forty six trips from Florida to perfect his masterpiece. Lamentably, he died of throat cancer in 2007 at the age of fifty one, and one can only wonder what marvels might have come next.

Kauri features five sets of tees to accommodate all skill levels. Fifteen holes border the Pacific in spectacular views, with six of them on sheer cliffs. Inland holes take a player through marshland, forest and farmland for a fee of NZ 285 for eighteen. Every imaginable side activity is available at the resort, and until the Cape Kidnappers Golf Course was built in Napier, it was the hottest thing going. Robertson outdid himself on the second project.

Ranked most recently as #41 in the world (and that’s a lot of golf courses), Cape Kidnappers is a more extreme version of the same Pacific-hugging fairways, greens and bridges. For Kidnappers, Robertson brought in Tom Doak, who has designed four of the top one hundred courses in the world, his others being Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Ballymarl in Colorado and Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania. Doak was a student of the great Peter Dye, and was influenced by Alistar McKenzie.

The charming wool center of Napier in Hawke’s Bay is the perfect surrounding for Cape Kidnappers beauty. The art deco architecture, the deep, lush green and the statue of Pania on the Reef (a sea maiden who married a human) almost makes you think that you’re on to a friendly golf experience – but take care. A course designer can carefully calibrate the degree of penalty for an errant shot, but at Cape Kidnappers, there are numerous holes on which you play it exactly right, or you don’t play it at all. Forget graded cuts of rough. You miss the fairway, and it’s five hundred feet down to the Pacific. Searching for lost balls is, for many holes, beyond foolish. Forget your hands and feet being on the level. There’s barely a level square inch on the course. It’s amazing, what can be done with a five thousand acre sheep farm.

I am told that the climate is to die for, warm with a significant maritime influence, 25 Celsius in the summer, up to 30 in the Foehn winds, dry down-slope winds (“snow eaters”). A tropical cyclone is due every eight to nine years, so consult your New Zealand meteorologist before booking the trip.

Finally, the green. I have always been suspicious. Is it really that color, or is it all wrapped up in photographers’ know-how? I wondered the same thing about Ireland, and it really turned out to be that green – I’ll wager that New Zealand will outdo Oz, and provided you bring enough golf balls for the hugry Pacific, it should be the fantasy excursion of a lifetime. Hey, Zena was filmed here, and if you can’t believe her…



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