It’s easy to leave the real world be­hind when you visit one of New Zealand’s most iconic golf cour­ses

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It is 246 years since Cape Kid­nap­pers earned its name, which came about when lo­cal Maori kid­napped Cap­tain Cook’s Tahi­tian cabin boy think­ing, mis­tak­enly as it turned out, he was be­ing held aboard the ex­plorer’s ship against his will.

The cabin boy duly es­caped his sup­posed res­cuers and swam back to the En­deav­our but the kid­nap at­tempt is for­ever etched in New Zealand his­tory thanks to the cape’s name.

The tow­er­ing cliffs for which Cape Kid­nap­pers is renowned form the south­ern-most point of the Hawke’s Bay. The land­scape is dra­matic, the sheer cliff faces against which the Pa­cific Ocean bat­ters cease­lessly are the ex­cla­ma­tion point at the end of a penin­sula along which runs a dizzy­ing mul­ti­far­i­ous coun­try­side: ra­zor-back hills, rolling pas­ture, bush-clad ravines and for­est.

Hug­ging the cliff tops is the largest and most ac­ces­si­ble gan­net colony in the world. When the big birds are in res­i­dence (Septem­ber to early May) it’s a noisy, smelly, rather sham­bolic place.

But birds and farm an­i­mals no longer have this his­toric part of New Zealand to them­selves. In 2001 Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire Ju­lian Robert­son bought the 6400-acre prop­erty and set about ex­pand­ing its uses.

Four­teen years on, The Farm, as it is named, is all of the fol­low­ing: a luxury lodge and spa, a ru­ral play­ground — with na­tive bush walks, cliff hikes, horse treks, clay bird shoot­ing and moun­tain bik­ing — a kiwi and na­tive bird sanc­tu­ary, a for­est. And a golf course.

It’s an un­likely set­ting for a golf course, 250 acres on the seaward side of the prop­erty, in­clud­ing nar­row fin­gers of land that jut out into the ocean. De­signed by Amer­i­can golf course ar­chi­tect Tom Doak, Cape Kid­nap­pers, which opened for play in 2004, reg­u­larly ap­pears on the list of world best golf cour­ses.

Of Cape Kid­nap­pers, Doak said: “Our goal in designing golf cour­ses is to cre­ate in­ter­est­ing holes you wouldn’t find any­where else. That wasn’t hard to do at Cape Kid­nap­pers, be­cause the site is not like any­where else in golf.”

The land­scape in which the par-71, 6533m course is sited pro­vided Doak with all the in­spi­ra­tion he could have wished for. The nat­u­ral scenic splen­dour pro­vides the wow fac­tor in what is a clev­erly de­signed course.

Doak is renowned as an ar­chi­tect who prefers not to tam­per overly with the land on which his cour­ses sit and Cape Kid­nap­pers is a good ex­am­ple of his or­ganic ap­proach.

There’s a com­mend­able re­straint about the course and as Cape Kid­nap­pers’ head golf pro­fes­sional Jon McCord says, noth­ing is over­whelm­ing in its sense of scale.

And his com­ment refers not just to the course, as the build­ings, in­clud­ing the club­house that re­sem­bles from the out­side a time-weath­ered wool­shed, sit qui­etly on the land. There are no dis­cor­dant notes, noth­ing to of­fend. It’s as if the golf course has al­ways been there, con­tent­edly rub­bing shoul­ders with the farm­land, in har­mony with Mother Na­ture.

But that’s not to say the course is be­nign. It is any­thing but. In fact it’s known to be some­thing of a brute, par­tic­u­larly when the sou’wester blows.

Any­one plan­ning a round at Cape Kid­nap­pers is well ad­vised to leave their ego at the front gate. Take McCord’s ad­vice: “To get the best out of your Cape Kid­nap­pers ex­pe­ri­ence, don’t fo­cus on how you play. Think about com­ing here to en­joy the day and the scenery and let golf take a back seat. If you worry too much about how you’re scor­ing, you risk ru­in­ing your day.”

Holes one and two play away from the coast, giv­ing play­ers views of the nearby red-painted farm sheds and the more dis­tant lodge and sep­a­rate ac­com­mo­da­tion build­ings which have com­mand­ing views over the course and coun­try­side and out to sea.

That Doak is a fan of el­e­vated greens be­comes quickly ap­par­ent. The first hole, a par-4 and 402m from the blue tees, has a green sited above a gully that runs across the fair­way. Sand traps guard the left-hand side of the green and in fact dan­ger lurks in al­most ev­ery di­rec­tion if your ap­proach shot is not spot on.

Pre­ci­sion is equally im­por­tant on the sec­ond hole, a par-5, as two sets of fair­way bunkers lie in wait to gob­ble up any off­line shots. The third hole, aptly named Wee Three, is one of few holes that sees play­ers look­ing down at the green from the tee. It’s a for­mi­da­ble sight, bunkers in front of and be­hind the green.

The fourth is an in­trigu­ing hole, par­tic­u­larly if you haven’t played the course be­fore. A marker on top of The Rise, which is also the name of the hole, in­di­cates the cor­rect line. An­other par 5, it plays just un­der 500m from the blue tees, 468 from the whites.

The hole tracks back along one of Cape Kid­nap­pers’ fa­mous ridges, with the ocean vis­i­ble be­yond.

It soon be­comes ap­par­ent there are no so-called ‘easy’ holes on the course. The par 3s might be shorter dis­tance but steep bush-clad gul­lies make hav­ing a solid aerial game im­per­a­tive.

McCord has done the maths. Cape Kid­nap­pers hosts 5000 rounds an­nu­ally. So if the av­er­age player donates, say, seven balls to the course, that makes for a to­tal of 35,000 balls dis­ap­pear­ing with­out trace each year.

The course has been opened for just over 10 years. Ten times 35,000 equals 350,000, in­creas­ing ev­ery day. Yup, there’s a lot of golf balls out there some­where!

Some­what for­tu­itously, I do­nated only four balls to the course, my bet­ter half three. (I take the blame for his losses, which didn’t start un­til the 13th

af­ter I re­marked at the 12th green that he was do­ing well still play­ing with his first golf ball.)

Holes 12 to 16 are Kid­nap­pers’ ‘sig­na­ture dish’. Who hasn’t seen the aerial pho­to­graphs of the holes that run the length of the nar­row promon­to­ries that stretch to­wards the ocean?

From on high the fair­ways seem im­pos­si­bly nar­row, greens ap­par­ently tee­ter­ing on the edge of a precipice. The par-4 12th, 393m from the whites, is named In­fin­ity for good rea­son. Stand­ing be­hind the ball as you pre­pare to take your sec­ond shot, you’re lucky if you can see the tip of the flag. More likely you see only sea.

Get­ting your dis­tance cor­rect is im­per­a­tive. If you come up short of the green, where the fair­way nar­rows sig­nif­i­cantly, you run the risk of your ball be­ing swal­lowed up by a big swale and head­ing left into the rough, where trou­ble awaits. Go long and none of the op­tions is palat­able. Left and your ball is gone for good, right and more bad luck lurks.

No 13 plays along the cliff edge. Once again there is a gully to ne­go­ti­ate be­tween tee and green and a clus­ter of bunkers right and left can make good scor­ing dif­fi­cult.

The par-4 14th is McCord’s favourite hole. “It’s the short­est par four on the course and it is driv­able in the right wind. The green re­minds me of the sev­en­teenth at St An­drews, the in­fa­mous Road Hole. If you don’t hit your sec­ond shot well and leave your­self a good an­gle into the green, you risk turn­ing a pos­si­ble birdie op­por­tu­nity into a bo­gey.”

If you sur­vive the Pim­ple, next on the list is Pirate’s Plank, a long par 5 that is def­i­nitely one of the most testing holes on the course. The 15th mea­sures 594m from the blues, 549m from the whites, and although it’s pretty much a straight line from tee to green, it’s dif­fi­cult. An abil­ity to hit it straight is im­per­a­tive. Any­thing that drifts left or right spells trou­ble… big trou­ble!

The fi­nal three holes see play­ers turn their back on the Pa­cific Ocean and track their way back across a ridge to­wards the club­house. But be­fore you bid farewell to the sea, en­joy the grand­stand views avail­able from the 16th tee box which is reached via a steep set of steps. On a clear day you def­i­nitely feel as though you can see for­ever.

The word ‘for­ever’ is sure

to be one used by many who play the par-5 16th, in­trigu­ingly named Widow’s Walk, but the con­ver­sa­tion is likely to be about balls lost for­ever in the bush that hugs the right-hand side of the hole.

Longer hit­ters can reach the green in two but the ma­jor­ity of play­ers will be hop­ing to land their first shot where the fair­way is gen­er­ously wide. There are no guar­an­tees a well-di­rected shot will re­sult in a good lie as the un­du­lat­ing fair­way, par­tic­u­larly com­bined with any wind that is blow­ing, has the ca­pac­ity to push a ball right. It’s not where you want to see your ball headed.

How­ever, should the course and the con­di­tions play fair you should, from the right-hand side of the fair­way, have a good ap­proach into the el­e­vated green. Bunkers left and right guard its front so ac­cu­rate play is es­sen­tial if you are to make par.

The 17th and 18th holes are both par 4s. Like the pre­vi­ous hole, play­ers head to­wards an el­e­vated green, although this time the route is slightly ser­pen­tine and an in­tim­i­dat­ing clus­ter of bunkers on the ap­proach to, and to the left of, the green de­mand cor­rect club se­lec­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to McCord, the 18th causes mixed re­ac­tions. As a fin­ish­ing hole it might lack for drama due to the punch­bowl, but, per­son­ally, I liked it. The fair­way slopes left to right and the to­pog­ra­phy is rem­i­nis­cent of a rum­pled quilt but if you get a lucky bounce (which I did), and reach the green to find your ball on the dance floor and of­fer­ing you a make­able putt (which I did) it’s a hole that can al­low you to fin­ish your round with a smile on your face (which I did).

In my opin­ion, McCord’s ad­vice is spot on. To play Cape Kid­nap­pers is much more than just a round of golf. It is an ex­pe­ri­ence, a very New Zealand ex­pe­ri­ence at that. It’s not a walk in the park, it’s a walk (or a cart ride) around a rather lovely, metic­u­lously main­tained ‘pad­dock’. It was as ex­hil­a­rat­ing as it was frus­trat­ing. But, ul­ti­mately, it was ut­terly com­pelling.



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