New Zealand is spoilt for choice with beautiful courses. Here are the ones the professionals recommend.
By Brendan Telfer (Journalist, Broadcaster, Golfer)
After careful consideration and deliberate vetting of our golfing population we were able to come up with a handful of profoundly humble yet talented Kiwis, some quite useful with golf clubs, to advise would be visitors where to play when you arrive here.
Sure we spoil you first up with choice, 400 odd courses to play. Now If you could only spend a full year here, take a good long 12 month sabbatical, and play two 9-hole courses on the odd day you could play every single course in the country by year’s end. Oh to be so fortunate and have that amount of time!
We have assembled 5 very different golfing lovers to tell us about their favourite courses. Three of them are professionals, one is the current Prime Minister of New Zealand and the other is myself.
Greg Turner multiple European tour winner, Phil Tataurangi who has won on both the USPGA and Nationwide tours and Susan Farron one of our leading female professionals.
Greg these days spends a lot of his time designing golf courses here and overseas. One of his recent larger projects was a huge redesign of the Royal Wellington course in Wellington. So understandably, personally and professional he has a soft spot for Heretaunga, as it’s popularly known, after the suburb where it’s located.
It has a beautiful peaceful location and as a course has always been held in high regard within New Zealand golfing circles. The traditionally superbly manicured greens and fairways now play a lot tougher thanks to Turner’s redesign.
Further north in Auckland, another of Greg’s favourites, Titirangi. This comes as no surprise. If you’re a devotee of the work of legendary Scottish designer Alister MacKenzie you, like Turner, will love this course. What especially appeals to Greg are the numerous subtleties this course embraces. Closer to Greg’s home in Central Otago the recently finished Hills with it’s open landscape, minimalist approach and other MacKenzie reminders, sits dear to his heart as well.
If you are having a round at one of these popular courses in New Zealand keep an eye out for our Prime Minister, John Key, an avid golfer whose handicap was in the 10-14 range a year or so back, who once told me he loves nothing more than playing golf with his teenage son every day during their annual Christmas holidays in Hawaii.
He also has a very good feel for golf in his native land which stems firstly from his deep love of playing the game and secondly he just happens to be the Minister of Tourism. The Prime Minister has two favourites, and like the good smart politician he is, one just happens to be in the North Island and the other in the South Island.
”The Hills in Queenstown and Cape Kidnappers in the Hawke’s Bay are two of my favourite golf courses in New Zealand” says the Prime Minister. “They are both absolutely gorgeous championship courses. I’ve played my best game to date at The Hills and was delighted to be invited to play the NZPGA Championship Pro-Am there in 2013. Cape Kidnappers has been rated one of the best golf courses in the world, with some beautiful scenery as it is set on dramatic cliff tops overlooking the ocean.
In addition, for a links course that will have you dreaming of Scotland, I definitely recommend Muriwai Golf Club on the western outskirts of Auckland”.
I’m sure it’s purely a coincidence but Muriwai just so happens to be part of the Prime Minister’s electorate – but he is dead right Muriwai on the rare cold wet and windy day is Scottish links golf personified.
One of our leading professionals Susan Farron, has, like Greg Turner an unashamed love of links golf also lists Muriwai among her favourites. She particularly loves the short par 3’s especially the 8th (152yds) which sits atop a little plateau facing the Tasman Sea only four or five hundred yards away. Depending on the direction and strength of the wind, you can be playing anything from a pitching wedge to a three wood. Developing the links theme a little further Susan plumps for the Jack Nicklaus Kinloch design and Paraparaumu as her other two favourites. “Kinloch is a thinking person’s course,” says Susan, “Nicklaus wants you to think creatively about the shots you have to play on this lay out.”
Phil Tataurangi, another of our leading golfers of recent times, devoting much of his time these days to course design make a good point when he says,
“Golf course architecture is personal and subjective. Famous art pieces are much revered by loyal followers but those not so enamoured of that person may feel indifferent to his or her art. Golf courses can be equaling polarizing”
Phil’s favourites in order of merit are firstly Cape Kidnappers, “When I first visited the site by air I was gobsmacked that a golf course could be located on such a special piece of land. The routing of the course is intriguing and dramatic”
Number two on Phil’s list, Paraparaumu Beach Golf Links, “A course that has gained the respect of some of the best players in the world over the past 60 years (including Tiger Woods). The short par 3’s is its special feature often played with a stiff sea breeze to contend with, they require crisp iron play to match par.”
Like most of our panel Phil also has fallen under the arresting spell of Alister MacKenzie’s work at Titirangi (which quite aptly in Maori means, ‘on the fringe of heaven’). Phil also lists Titirangi as his personal New Zealand favourite, “The native bush confines provide a serenity from the outside world and like Paraparaumu has a collection of one shot holes that inspire the very best of shot making.”
Finally Phil is in awe of the work of local designers John Darby and Brett Thomson’s work at Jack’s Point in Queenstown especially the way the course winds it way through many different environs. This enables the most dramatic holes to be played through the middle of the course before returning home to the clubhouse located beneath in the valley. The backdrops and views on numerous holes are ever changing and quite visually distracting. The playing service and general presentation of the course is among the best in the country.
Finally to yours truly. When you know you have Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs ranked comfortably inside the world’s top 100 you have to have them sitting at the top of your bucketlist. Coming in a number three for me is Wairakei Golf and Sanctuary just a few kilometres down the road from Kinloch in the Central North Island. Few courses I’ve played have so many memorable holes as Wairakei. It also has what I’d describe as a quintessential New Zealand feel and look about it, set in thick native bush it also ranks as the quietest golf course I think I’ve ever played on- a good golfing experience must have a meditative element to it .And I must second the Prime Minister and Susan Farron and put a word in for Muriwai one of our very best links.
If we combine the picks of the 5 person panel what you come up with is a delightful amalgam of the traditional and the modern. We like MacKenzie and Russell for the way they use the natural contours of the land but we also like the Doaks, Darby’s , Nicklaus and Harman’s for the dynamic sites they have chosen to build their courses.
So now all you need to do – is choose. Good luck and good golfing.