Blessed with one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, there are endless attractions to New Zealand including its coastline, canyons, alpine mountain ranges, lush forests, friendly locals and unhurried pace of life. There is also golf, with the nation said to have more courses per capita than any other country on earth.
While the first golf balls were struck on the South Island at Dunedin in 1869, the game soon head onto the greener golfing pastures of the North Island where all of the country’s meritorious layouts were subsequently built. There are now golf courses in every corner of New Zealand and although there is a real understated charm to the game here, unfortunately unlike a country such as Ireland, this rarely translates into exciting golf. Indeed this is one of the very rare established golf markets where the quality of design has actually improved in modern times, with most of the worthwhile layouts built since the 1990’s. The obvious exception is the wonderful Paraparaumu Beach near the southern tip of the North Island, which has been unchallenged as the nation’s standout course for more than half a century. In the suburbs of its biggest city, Auckland, both the Titirangi and Auckland Golf Clubs are the next best classics and also well worth a look.
The modern golf boom began here back in the 1970’s when Wairakei International, near Taupo in the center of the North Island, was opened. Built with federal funds, this highly rated resort invoked pride among Kiwi golfers who felt a sense of ownership with the project. Sadly Wairakei’s lofty profile does not match its badly dated design, the course only marginally more impressive than decent country clubs like the nearby Taupo Centenial, New Plymouth, Hastings or the very funky Rangitikei course near Bulls. It was also during the 1970’s that American financial tycoon Julian Robertson first fell in love with New Zealand. His continuing belief that the country is the world’s next major tourist destination has led him to build two stunning new courses, Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs, which are apparently the first in a string of high-end golf properties he is planning across the country. Elsewhere Robert Trent Jones Jr designed the prominent Gulf Harbour layout in 1998, which is built on a very pretty peninsula property but spoilt by encroaching housing that actually occupies some of its best golf land.
Despite some disappointing course developments, these are exciting times for golf in New Zealand with the world on alert and now watching to see what Mr Robertson will come up with next. There is no doubt that it will be spectacular, as he doesn’t seem a man interested in the mundane. Whether he can reproduce something as striking as Cape Kidnappers or Kauri Cliffs remains to be seen but any quality golf project is a welcome addition to the attractions of this wonderful country.
Already one of the best holiday destinations on the planet, New Zealand has a million things to occupy the active traveler. If keen on your golf then the three very distinct courses featured here are not to be missed.
(below Kauri Cliffs, 17th green)