NORTH­ERN EX­PO­SURE

New Zealand’s North Is­land is one of the most scenic des­ti­na­tions on the planet. And its rolling hills and clifftops have be­come home to some world-class golf cour­ses.

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS MICHAEL JONES

New Zealand’s North Is­land is one of the most scenic des­ti­na­tions on the planet. And its rolling hills and clifftops have be­come home to some world-class golf cour­ses, writes Michael Jones.

The night is only a pup, and the twin­kling lights dance and frame the har­bour as a crisp sea breeze fills my lungs with salty air. I am sit­ting out­side a lively bar in Auck­land – and I can’t wipe the smile o my face.

Per­haps it’s be­cause the beer has started to work its magic, or be­cause of the wait­ress who just poured me an­other … But I get the feel­ing it has some­thing to do with the qual­ity of golf that’s on o er in this glo­ri­ous part of the world. We are blessed with some truly great golf cour­ses in Aus­tralia – but our neigh­bours across the Tas­man have plenty to brag about, too.

De­spite its prox­im­ity to home, as well as its promi­nence on my ‘to-do’ list, I had never be­fore paid a visit to New Zealand. Hap­pily, how­ever, any of the pre­con­ceived no­tions I once held about the beauty and mys­tique of the North Is­land had ei­ther been re­alised or en­hanced through­out my jour­ney. The vast, un­spoiled land­scapes beg­gar be­lief. And the charis­matic cities and towns are ooz­ing with cul­ture, di­ver­sity, and all sorts of en­ter­tain­ment.

As for the golf, well, Ki­wis are cer­tainly spoiled for choice. In fact, out­side of Scot­land, New Zealand boasts more golf cour­ses per capita than any other coun­try in the world. The North Is­land it­self lays claim to three of the world’s top-100 cour­ses, in­clud­ing Cape Kid­nap­pers and the uber-ex­clu­sive Tara Iti – both de­signed by renowned ar­chi­tect Tom Doak, who has some­what of an aŒnity for the is­land na­tion.

“No coun­try has seen its golf cour­ses im­prove more over the past 20 years than New Zealand,” he stated.

Cape Kid­nap­pers is one of Doak’s most splen­dif­er­ous cre­ations and lies atop the jagged cli tops in Te Awanga at Hawke’s Bay. Owned by Amer­i­can hedge fund man­ager, phi­lan­thropist and bil­lion­aire, Ju­lian Robert­son, the prop­erty is truly re­mark­able, both ge­o­graph­i­cally and ar­chi­tec­turally.

There is no ques­tion that Doak was handed one of the best canvases a de­signer could pos­si­bly hope for – and it is easy to sug­gest that any­one could have cre­ated a great track from the land avail­able. But his rout­ing and min­i­mal­ist ap­proach has pro­duced a lay­out that blends seam­lessly with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and pro­vides the golfer with a scenic and im­mer­sive test.

The play­ing sur­faces are im­mac­u­lately main­tained – and there is a pleas­ing lack of di er­en­ti­a­tion be­tween the fes­cue fairways and greens, which up­holds the spirit of links golf and al­lows for playa­bil­ity. The bunker­ing is well-thought-out but it is not over­done, while the green com­plexes are ex­cit­ing, di­verse and chal­leng­ing.

It is a fair course that em­braces the el­e­ments, places a premium on po­si­tion­ing, re­wards good play and pun­ishes bad shots. Its magic, like a lot of great places, is that it ap­pears diŒcult, but it very rarely beats you up.

Dis­sect­ing and se­lect­ing a sig­na­ture stretch of

WE ARE BLESSED WITH SOME TRULY GREAT GOLF COUR­SES IN AUS­TRALIA – BUT OUR NEIGH­BOURS ACROSS THE TAS­MAN HAVE PLENTY TO BRAG ABOUT, TOO.

holes is not an easy task – purely be­cause of the mem­o­rable na­ture of each and every hole – but, like a lot of peo­ple be­fore me, I found my­self smit­ten be­tween 12 and 16.

The 12th is a lengthy par-4 and is aptly-named ‘In­fin­ity’ be­cause the sky so of­ten blends with the ocean, which can make the hori­zon rather dif­fi­cult to spot. This vis­ual il­lu­sion usu­ally means first-time vis­i­tors (my­self in­cluded) will be­come ten­ta­tive and leave their ap­proach shots short, be­cause it ap­pears as though any­thing too long will fall o‚ the face of the earth.

The stun­ning par-3 13th speaks for it­self, play­ing along the edge of the headland, but the fol­low­ing two-shot­ter re­ally cap­tured my at­ten­tion. Short par-4s are sup­posed to pro­duce a range of dif­fer­ent scores. They should en­tice play­ers o‚ the tee; pro­vide both safe and dan­ger­ous play­ing lines; and en­cour­age and al­low for var­i­ous clubs to be se­lected. Each of those prin­ci­ples has been in­cor­po­rated within ‘Pim­ple’, which draws its name from the prom­i­nent bump lo­cated on the left por­tion of the driv­able green.

The course is com­pli­mented by an un­der­stated yet charm­ing club­house – where no de­tail has been ig­nored, and every guest is made to feel wel­come by the at­ten­tive and friendly sta‚. While The Farm at Cape Kid­nap­pers sits on pas­ture land and of­fers lux­ury lodges that are truly spec­tac­u­lar. Yes, they come with quite the price tag, but it is some­thing you are likely to trea­sure for the rest of your life.

Speak­ing of mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences … Tak­ing a tour through Napier in a vin­tage Packard is a fan­tas­tic way to see some of the town’s world­class Art Deco ar­chi­tec­ture. These build­ings were con­structed in re­sponse to the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earth­quake – the na­tion’s dead­li­est nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. The Art Deco Trust de­liv­ers in­for­ma­tive and en­joy­able clas­sic car tours, and can pick you up from any of the re­gion’s award-win­ning vine­yards (Craggy Range is ex­cep­tional).

New Zealand is, of course, one of the world’s lead­ing wine pro­duc­ers. So, if you like your crushed grapes as much as I do, pay­ing a visit to Wai­heke Is­land will be right up your al­ley. The is­land, which is home to over 30 vine­yards and winer­ies, can be reached in un­der 45 min­utes on board one of Auck­land’s fer­ries and makes for a ter­rific day trip.

The coun­try’s largest city is also home to the newly-opened Win­dross Farm, which hosted the 2017 New Zealand Women’s Open. De­signed by Brett Thom­son and New Zealand tour­ing pro, Phil Tatau­rangi, the for­mer potato, corn and dairy farm was un­veiled to the pub­lic in Septem­ber, 2016.

Its his­tory as farm­land – and as a flat land­scape – meant more than 350,000 cu­bic me­tres of soil was needed to be brought in to cre­ate the lay­out. Mean­while, more than $1.3 mil­lion was spent on drainage to en­sure the course re­mained playable year-round. It worked. De­spite re­ceiv­ing hun­dreds of mil­lime­tres of rain last year, the in­land, links-style course stayed open; its wide fes­cue fairways and colo­nial bent­grass greens

NO COUN­TRY HAS SEEN ITS GOLF COUR­SES IM­PROVE MORE OVER THE PAST 20 YEARS THAN NEW ZEALAND. – TOM DOAK

kept per­fectly healthy.

The pick of the holes, for mine, comes dur­ing the cap­ti­vat­ing clos­ing quar­tet – where, at the 17th tee, the ad­ja­cent straw­berry farm tempts play­ers to jump the fence for some freshly-made ice-cream. Tack­ling this tricky tee-shot, which de­mands a pre­cise ap­proach to a semi-is­land green, is there­fore (usu­ally) made much more en­joy­able.

To have suc­cess­fully wel­comed the LPGA Tour in just its first year of ex­is­tence says as much about Win­dross Farm as any­thing else ever could. And although the tour­na­ment faced prob­lem­atic weather con­di­tions – which put event or­gan­is­ers un­der pres­sure and caused con­tro­versy – the venue held its own to even­tu­ally pro­duce what was an ex­cit­ing re­sult.

So, too, did Royal Welling­ton Golf Club when it threw open its gates to wel­come the 2017 Asia-Pa­cific Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship. The Here­taunga course was ex­ten­sively re­designed by Greg Turner and Scott MacPher­son in 2013, and lies ad­ja­cent to the Hutt River at the base of the moun­tains in Up­per Hutt.

It is one of those places that just feels spe­cial. Its pre­sen­ta­tion is flaw­less – and the flow­ing streams, birdlife, gar­dens and phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion each com­bine to cre­ate the sen­sa­tion you’ve stepped into a na­tional park. The un­du­lated fairways are well-main­tained, lush and tree lined. While the large, sloped greens are guarded by el­e­gant bunker schemes to al­low for mul­ti­ple pin po­si­tions.

To be a“orded the op­por­tu­nity to watch the re­gion’s best am­a­teurs plot their way around the park­land lay­out was an in­sight­ful process. But it didn’t help as much as I might have hoped when I at­tempted to em­u­late their great play.

Ac­cu­racy is para­mount here. Play­ers who have a deep un­der­stand­ing of their game and can con­trol their ball flight will gen­er­ally find suc­cess. It is a tac­ti­cal chal­lenge that can­not be over­come by raw power alone – which is why it has be­come such an ap­pro­pri­ate venue for tour­na­ment golf.

For most, holes 3, 4 and 5 will be iden­ti­fied and

high­lighted as the stand­out se­quence on o er. And I can cer­tainly un­der­stand why. The par-5 4th, in par­tic­u­lar, is one of Royal Welling­ton’s most scenic and ex­cit­ing holes to play or ob­serve. But I con­cluded that a short par-4 on the back nine was the pick of the bunch.

The 14th hole may not sound driv­able at 300 me­tres, but tak­ing a di­rect route to the green will shorten it con­sid­er­ably. How­ever, that at­tack­ing op­tion is fraught with dan­ger and will bring dense grass and wa­ter into play.

The hole shapes from left to right, and the green is pro­tected from bombs o the tee by cav­ernous bunkers. But what makes it such a good hole, to me at least, is that none of my play­ing part­ners recorded the same num­ber of strokes as one an­other.

Royal Welling­ton Golf Club is less than a 30-minute drive from the CBD – where restau­rants, cafés and the Welling­ton Ca­ble Car await. The Ry­dges Ho­tel is close to it all, and pro­vides com­fort­able and a ord­able rooms.

An­other fas­ci­nat­ing place to visit on the North Is­land is Lake Taupo. This fresh­wa­ter lake has a sur­face area of more than 600 square kilo­me­tres, mak­ing it ap­prox­i­mately the same size as Sin­ga­pore. From ob­serv­ing the geo­ther­mal ac­tiv­ity at the ‘Craters of the Moon’ to a jet-boat ride at the base of the Huka Falls, there is plenty to keep you oc­cu­pied. Oh, and there are a num­ber of good golf cour­ses, too.

Two of the very best are Wairakei Golf & Sanc­tu­ary and The Kin­loch Golf Club. Kin­loch

TO HAVE SUC­CESS­FULLY WEL­COMED THE LPGA TOUR IN JUST ITS FIRST YEAR OF EX­IS­TENCE SAYS AS MUCH ABOUT WIN­DROSS FARM AS ANY­THING ELSE EVER COULD.

is the only Jack Nick­laus Sig­na­ture golf course in New Zealand – and is of­ten men­tioned in the same breath as Kauri Cli s, Cape Kid­nap­pers and Tara Iti as one of the North Is­land’s premier cour­ses.

The Lodge at Kin­loch opened in 2016 – nine years af­ter the com­ple­tion of the course – to al­low vis­i­tors the op­tion of stay­ing in lux­ury on-course ac­com­mo­da­tion. The re­cep­tion area and restau­rant is perched atop a hill, and boasts 180-de­gree views of the prop­erty and lake.

Many ob­servers tend to agree that Nick­laus­de­signed tracks are too di‡cult for the av­er­age punter. But Kin­loch bucks that trend, for the most part, with its fair and oc­ca­sion­ally ‘get­table’ lay­out. The ex­cep­tion to that rule, how­ever, is the num­ber of blind tee shots which, for the trav­el­ing golfer, will most prob­a­bly re­sult in some un­nec­es­sary pun­ish­ment.

My play­ing group unan­i­mously agreed that the clos­ing trio of holes was the high­light of the day. But the par-4 6th is what gen­er­ated the most conversation.

The tee points di­rectly to­wards the green – but the play­ing sur­face lies 45 de­grees to the right. It is sim­ple to see the cor­rect play­ing line. Club se­lec­tion, how­ever, be­comes a huge chal­lenge. And any­one game enough to at­tack the green with their drive will need to clear the bet­ter part of 300 me­tres to avoid the un­for­giv­ing waste­land.

Thank­fully, the drive to our next des­ti­na­tion was much less daunt­ing. I’m not sure I’ve ever set foot on a golf course as en­chant­ing as Wairakei. From the Ponga-fern bunker faces to the Tui-bird tee mark­ers, the Peter Thom­son and Mike Wolveridge-de­signed lay­out is com­pletely charm­ing.

The na­tive flora and fauna abound and – like a lot of prop­er­ties in the area – fea­tures a work­ing preda­tor fence. There is also an on-site bi­ol­o­gist to watch over the Takahe birds, which were once thought to be ex­tinct and are rarer than the Kiwi bird.

Wairakei’s bent­grass greens may not be as ex­cit­ing or as dra­matic as oth­ers, but they are ab­so­lutely im­mac­u­late and a joy to putt on. The rout­ing of the course is also su­perb, as it sends you in all direc­tions of the com­pass.

Wairakei was built in the early 1970s by the gov­ern­ment – and in many ways it rep­re­sents the start of the move­ment to bring golf tourism to the coun­try. Fast-for­ward nearly 50 years, and the North Is­land of New Zealand has be­come one of the finest des­ti­na­tions for golf in the world. It is also less than a three-hour flight from the east coast of Aus­tralia ... So yeah, I guess that’s why I’m still smil­ing.

CAPE KID­NAP­PERS

craggy range es­tate

the farm at CAPE KID­NAP­PERS

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