Cape Kid­nap­pers Golf Course

Rated by many as among the top golf lay­outs in the world, the Cape Kid­nap­pers golf course of­fers a com­bi­na­tion of breath­tak­ing scenery and world-class golf like no other. In­side Golf ven­tured to this unique kiwi desti­na­tion to ex­pe­ri­ence this beauty for o

Inside Golf - - People - Richard­fell­ner

“IS it nor­mally this windy here?” I asked, hold­ing onto my cap, and lean­ing for­ward into the 3-club howler that swept over the tee box.

“Nah,” chuck­led the as­sis­tant green­keeper, who had paused to watch my tee shot, “When you see sheep fly­ing through the air, THAT’S the nor­mal wind ‘round here.”

Thus be­gan one of the most en­joy­able (and chal­leng­ing) rounds of golf in my life.

Perched high atop the dra­matic cliffs of Hawkes Bay on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Is­land, Cape Kid­nap­pers golf course is one of the most beau­ti­ful, ex­cit­ing, dif­fi­cult and unique cour­ses I have ever played.

Set on a 6,000 acre sheep and cat­tle farm, Cape Kid­nap­pers golf course – and its five-star lux­ury re­sort The Farm at Cape Kid­nap­pers – is one of the best “sea­side” cour­ses/fa­cil­i­ties in our re­gion. The Tom Doak-de­signed, par-71, 6,510-me­ter cham­pi­onship course is a links-style lay­out in a non-tra­di­tional links set­ting. With the sand dunes, tall cliffs, deep ravines and long ridges, the set­ting feels more like a National Park than a golf course... and you’d al­most ex­pect to see rock-climbers or hik­ers travers­ing the area, day­pack and tents in tow.

The land­scape also pro­vides for some dra­matic views, with the lush, green fair­ways of the golf course con­trast­ing sharply against the jagged beige rocks of the cliffs and the gor­geous emer­ald wa­ters of the bay be­low. It makes for an al­most dream­like, hyp­notic set­ting.

Com­pleted in 2004, the course is rem­i­nis­cent of some of Doak’s other great de­signs, no­tably Barn­bougle Dunes (Tas) and St An­drews Beach (Vic). Known as a “min­i­mal­ist” de­signer –us­ing the nat­u­ral land­scape and ter­rain as much as pos­si­ble – Doak is said to have moved very lit­tle earth in de­sign­ing Cape Kid­nap­pers, with one re­port claim­ing that he moved as much dirt for the driv­ing range as he did for the rest of the course. An­other story re­ports that Doak and his crew “played” 15 of the 18 holes be­fore any­thing was built, such was the ready-for-golf, flat state of the sheep-grazed land.

The lay­out fea­tures two dis­tinct nines. The front nine me­an­ders in­land, with a nice col­lec­tion of scenic and chal­leng­ing holes that al­most act as a “starter” to the main meal that is the spec­tac­u­lar, cliff-hug­ging back-nine.

Play­ing this course re­quires ac­cu­racy and con­trol – es­pe­cially if the wind is up. De­spite some very wide fair­ways, and only a smat­ter­ing of fair­way bunkers, many of the holes de­mand that you land your tee shot ac­cu­rately in or­der to have any shot at hit­ting the green in reg­u­la­tion.

While the wind can play havoc with club se­lec­tion, we were happy to dis­cover that there are very few holes where a cross-breeze comes into play. Doak’s in­tel­li­gent de­sign (with a lit­tle help from Mother Na­ture) placed most of the holes with ei­ther a head­wind or tail­wind – re­sult­ing in a very playable course. There are also five sets of tees on each hole – some with up to 130m of dif­fer­ence — so ev­ery hole of­fers an en­joy­able op­tion for all lev­els of player.

Ap­proach shots are the real chal­lenge at Cape Kid­nap­pers – with most of the greens heav­ily guarded by deep bunkers, deeper ravines or mon­strous cliffs. This is the case on holes like the par-5 15th (“Pi­rate’s Plank”), where hit­ting too much club will re­sult in your ball gain­ing an ex­tra ten sec­onds of hang time (enough time to wave it good­bye) as it plunges 140m into the ocean far be­low! Or the par-3 6th hole (“Gul­ley”) which has only one op­tion: hit the green. If you are short, long, left or right, your ball is ei­ther dead, or you’ll wish it were.

On many of the other holes, miss­ing the greens means you’ll be faced with fringes/col­lars that can be a real chal­lenge – as the grass grabs ahold

of the club, turn­ing those short chips into real knee-knock­ers.

As is the case with many sea­side cour­ses, the fair­ways and greens are firm and quick. But not too quick to make them un­fair. In truth, I found the greens to be ex­cep­tion­ally true and in mag­nif­i­cent con­di­tion, al­beit very chal­leng­ing to read. While you’d ex­pect the gen­eral slope to break to­wards the ocean, many of Cape Kid­nap­pers’ greens are el­e­vated, and fea­ture a va­ri­ety of swales and mounds that clev­erly trick the eye, lead­ing to many “missed reads” and nasty three-putts. (You’d have to play the course a few times to get a real feel for read­ing these greens prop­erly. At least, that’s what I’ll tell my wife.)

For the mid- to- high hand­i­cap­per, check your ego at the door and be pre­pared to play knock-downs, punches and safety clubs if the day is windy. Of course, there are a few re­ally good grip-it-and-rip it holes, so your driver won’t feel ne­glected. For the low marker, you’ll find some en­tic­ing risk-re­ward op­por­tu­ni­ties and the chance to put your short game to a real test. Case in point is the par-5 457m 16th (“Widow’s Walk”). With a highly-el­e­vated tee (fea­tur­ing more spec­tac­u­lar views) a good drive here makes it reach­able in two. A bad drive, how­ever, and you can see a snow­man in your fu­ture.

But golf is only part of the story here. The Farm at Cape Kid­nap­pers is a world-class re­sort that has to be seen (and ex­pe­ri­enced) to be be­lieved. The ul­ti­mate in lux­ury and pam­per­ing, the Lodge and Restau­rant of­fer top-qual­ity ser­vice, spa­cious five-star rooms/suites, and meals that would not be out of place among the world’s elite restau­rants. While pro­ject­ing a “rus­tic” feel that fits per­fectly within the set­ting, the en­tire fa­cil­ity is full of jaw-drop­ping beauty that makes you feel like you’re liv­ing the life of the rich and fa­mous.

The re­sort it­self of­fers a full se­lec­tion of non­golf ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing a full-ser­vice lux­ury day-spa, swim­ming pool, jacuzzi, farm tours, ATV quad bik­ing, hik­ing and guided walks. In ad­di­tion, the sur­round­ing area of­fers wine tours, Horse­back rid­ing, river kayak­ing and even world­class fly fish­ing. Giddy-up!

All told, Cape Kid­nap­pers golf course eas­ily fits into the “Must Play Be­fore You Die” cat­e­gory. When ex­pe­ri­enced with The Farm at Cape Kid­nap­pers, it’s ‘Bucket List Golf ’ at its finest.

The par-5 15th, where ac­cu­racy is para­mount

The par-3 6th hole, which fea­tures dan­ger at all sides

(above) The beau­ti­ful (and treach­er­ous) back nine (right top) The Farm at Cape Kid­nap­pers of­fers five-star lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tion and world-class ser­vice and (right bot­tom) Look­ing back on the 166m par-3 8th

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