Insider's Guide to Golfing in New Zealand

For this article I've interviewed a couple of New Zealand’s top golf pros to get the ins and outs of golfing at some of New Zealand’s best courses.

A little known fact is that New Zealand is second behind Scotland for having the most golf courses per capita of any country in the world. This may be due to New Zealand’s mild climate, low population density, or abundance of grass.

Whatever the case, New Zealand’s impressive scenery and diversity of terrain provide a golfing experience unlike anywhere else in the world. For this article we’ve interviewed a couple of New Zealand’s top golf pros to get the ins and outs of golfing at the country’s best courses. 

What are some of New Zealand’s top courses in the North Island and what makes them special?
Kauri Cliffs, located in the Bay of Islands, and Cape Kidnappers, in Hawke’s Bay, are both Top 40-ranked Golf Courses in the World. Both are unique based on their incredible seaside location atop cliffs that plummet to the Pacific. 

But what really sets the two properties apart is the overall ambiance in which guests experience during their stay.  Guests are greeted with quintessential New Zealand countryside and are quickly blown away by breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes. 

While the courses do have their similarities, they have distinctly different personalities.  Kauri Cliffs lush, green course conditions lead to some of the best views anywhere in Northland looking out over the Cavalli Islands and Cape Brett. After the Kiwi Challenge in 2008, PGA tour pro, Hunter Mahan, was quoted saying, “The views (at Kauri Cliffs) are incredible, like nothing I have ever seen before.”

By comparison, at Cape Kidnappers, with its iconic series of sheer ridges and cliffs, the course’s natural firm and fast playing conditions offer some of the best shot making holes any golfer could ask for. Brandt Snedeker, recently ranked number 4 in the world, has described Cape Kidnappers as “Pebble Beach on steroids!”

What are some of New Zealand’s top courses in the South Island and what makes them special?
Queenstown is home to an outstanding cluster of five courses, spearheaded by Jacks Point, The Hills and Millbrook Resort (rated #1, 2 and 3 respectively in the South Island) and complemented by the scenic Queenstown GC and the historic Arrowtown GC. There are several other nice scenic courses within an hour drive of Queenstown.

The courses in Queenstown are quite varied. Millbrook is a traditional ‘resort ’ style course in a lovely setting. The Hills is a championship level private course with a state-of-the-art clubhouse and very unique sculptures tastefully displayed around the course. Jacks Point is a ‘Scottish links-style’ course, but with a resort feel and modern touches. It also has arguably the world’s most dramatic backdrop with The Remarkables Mountain Range looming over it.

Though less well known than the others, Queenstown GC and Arrowtown GC compliment the resorts well. Another great, less well known option is the course at Cromwell GC, which recently received a $1M renovation. Its reshaped greens and new layout create a very interesting links-style course. Wanaka is another very scenic club course that is kept in fantastic condition year round.

What season is best for golfing in New Zealand?
Though most places stay open year round, certain times of year are better than others. In the North Island, December – March offers the most settled weather. Kauri Cliffs, located in the winterless north, experiences comfortable weather year round. Cape Kidnappers is cooler during New Zealand’s winter month’s, but experiences pleasantly warm, dry weather the rest of the year. In the South Island, October-May is high season; June-September is winter, which is much quieter, as it’s fairly cold. Golf is available year round, though Jacks Point closes annually during June & July due to winter frosts.

Is it difficult to book tee times?
During the summer months (November-April), things can fill up quickly. Be sure to book in advance to ensure your preferred day and time. Booking up to 6 months in advance is not uncommon especially during the busy season. Booking through an expert - someone with relationships with the local courses and has allocated slots - is advantageous since they can usually make bookings even during the busy season.

What else should I know about golfing in New Zealand?
In New Zealand golfing is every man’s game. With nearly 400 courses on offer (many of which are nine hole farm courses), people from all walks of life like to get out and enjoy it. The resorts, however, are generally played more by the visitors and the rate of play is probably quite similar to the US. The club courses like Queenstown and Arrowtown are usually played at a faster pace.

Caddies are not generally available, even at many of the resorts. Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers do have caddies and they can be arranged elsewhere by booking through a local expert. Tipping is not mandatory like in the U.S., but always appreciated. Distances are generally marked in metres (Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers also mark in yards) and many courses don’t have a course book/guide, so visitors are encouraged to bring GPS/Sureshots if they have them. Carts are available at most courses, and yes they’re left-hand drive so you’ll feel like you’re at home!

This article is not intended to be a definitive list of New Zealand’s best courses, but merely a sampling. There are excellent courses scattered throughout the country, many of which are located near main cities, vineyards, or other key attractions.

Active Downunder is a Kiwi-owned travel company that designs active, leisure and luxury vacations to New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific Islands.For a customized itinerary that includes golfing in New Zealand, call 800 425 9036 or visit Active Downunder.


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