ausgolf editor Selwyn Berg takes a journey through some of the best courses on New Zealand’s North Island – travelling from Wellington to Auckland.
above - Cape Kidnappers on New Zealand's North Island
PARAPARAUMU BEACH GOLF CLUB
Paraparaumu Beach is a true links set in coastal sand dunes about one hour’s drive North of Wellington. It is under 1km from the Tasman Sea’s Kapiti Coastline.
The course is built on the site of an earlier course, which was established in 1929 with a second nine added in 1937. Alex Russell completed the course design by 1949 after his renowned work at Royal Melbourne East and it remains essentially unchanged to this day. The course topography is quite unlike the grand scale of RM, with its small bumps and swales, tight fairways and tiny greens more akin to Albany Golf Links than perhaps any other Australian course. With menacing pot bunkers, fast greens and lush rough waving in the wind, the course is a formidable challenge.
Until the arrival of modern masterpieces Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, Paraparaumu was rated the best course in the country, 99th in the world, and is still the top classic layout – quite an achievement in a Nation that boasts a MacKenzie design (Titirangi).
Paraparaumu Beach sprang into international fame most recently when home town caddy and local member Steve Williams brought his employer back to tackle the 2002 NZ Open (won by Craig Parry with 8 fewer putts than Woods who found the subtleties of the greens not quite to his liking that week).
The course is just 6072m par 71, and plays considerably shorter when it is firm and fast-running.
The key to good scoring at Paraparaumu is the fine set of par threes. The 2nd hole is an elevated wind-exposed affair of 185m to a green defended by very steep slopes and deep bunkers. This is rated the toughest short hole at 13, so that players below this mark receive no shot on any par three. The 5th hole is world famous - just 150m to a tiny green without bunkers, but with deep hollows and treacherous slopes all around.
The 14th plays 137m downhill, with bunkers in front and OOB behind, whilst the 16th is 126m uphill, but with a back tee at 164m. Again the long skinny green is un-bunkered, but well protected by a mound on the left and very steep slopes all around.
The 6th is a short par 4 of 298m with a very rolling and sloping fairway and a tight opening to a long narrow two-tier green surrounded by sand. A handy eagle putt for Tiger on a rainy Saturday stays in my mind.
The 8th hole is a dogleg par 4 of 339m. The corner is without bunkers, but cutting it is made perilous by a series of mounds and hollows. The green is the course’s smallest.
11 is a 390m par 4, no fairway bunkers but a lateral water hazard on the left and a hill of pines and dense rough on the right.
The 13th is a wonderful par 4 of 408m played down then up over immense rolling terrain to an elevated green with a much-photographed spectacular mountain backdrop. Directly into a gale, only Tiger was able to drive his ball over the hill off this tee.
17 is a tough par 4 of 404m with a classic risk and reward offered from the tee. A fairway neck on the right shortens the hole, but means that the second shot must carry rough ground, mounds and bunkers to find a narrow green surrounded by slopes, or perhaps cut around them from left to right. Playing left results in a longer approach, but with the advantage of playing down the depth of the green.
The club has well equipped clubhouse with locker rooms, bar and restaurant and visitors are welcomed. Green fees for NZ affiliated players are $45, $90 for others.
MANAWATU Golf Club
This is the oldest New Zealand club on its original site, where it has stood for over 100 years, in Centennial Drive, Palmerston North, 150k north of Wellington.
The 6312m layout (from the back tees) is set on generally flat parkland, amongst a fine collection of European trees complemented by natives and pines. The entire layout is immaculately groomed, with fine Poa fairways and roughs that are trimmed beneath the many trees. Bunkers are generally found only around the greens, and are shallow, natural depressions filled with good coarse sand. The entire course is well drained.
The 4th is a delightful par three played to a wonderful sharply sloping green surrounded by bunkers and tricky undulations almost reminiscent of the greens at Augusta National.
A spare hole after the 8th is a lovely par 3 with strategic bunkering that reminded me of some short holes on the Melbourne Sand Belt.
The 10th is a tough 392m dogleg par 4 from a great elevated tee, with OOB running down the right side.
The 14th is a 465m par 5 dogleg played to an elevated green with a nasty bunker short and left catching any slightly miscued attempt to reach the putting surface in two.
The next hole is another short par 5 known as ‘The Avenue’ for its dead straight fairway flanked off the tee by a huge willow on the left and attractive trees on both sides.
My favourite hole is the 16th, a 153m par 3 played uphill to a wide green perched on the slope, and protected by a well-designed bunker in front that is carved beneath the putting surface. The green slopes wickedly away to the right leaving a nasty recovery shot from that side. A ball played too wide on the left, however, will find more sand. With its many pin options this hole would compare favourably with the best in New Zealand.
HASTINGS GOLF CLUB
The twin towns of Hastings in the South and Napier in the North are the principal population centres for New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay area on the East Coast. The region is famous as a wine and fruit growing area, and home to the world heritage gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers – site of the new Tom Doak golf course.
Hastings Golf Club is known as “Bridge Pa” and was established in 1898. The 6220m layout is one of the best groomed in the country year in and year out. The magnificent fully irrigated fairways are a mix of common couch with imported fescue and native rye grasses that result in an always green “two grass” mix that rivals Royal Melbourne. They are lined by a verdant mix of variegated green trees of all shapes and sizes.
The greens are relatively flat, with subtle borrows, and can be extremely slick. The driving areas are generously wide, and sparingly bunkered with neat, shallow hazards full of sparkling light sand. In the main, the player who can strike a reasonably long ball down the middle is well rewarded.
The 3rd hole “Dunes” is a dogleg par 4 of 374m which, like many on the course, plays longer with little roll on the fairway and an uphill second shot to a very elevated and steeply sloping green.
The 5th hole at 391m is rated the toughest – it’s a dogleg right with a deep gully and OOB on the right. The green is very long with two tiers, and is unprotected by bunkers.
Another long par 4 of 398m named “Hades” is played as the 7th, again to an unbunkered green in a pretty forest setting.
An interesting solution to a blind tee shot at the 10th is provided in the form of a giant periscope at the tee. This short par 5 challenges the second shot with a tight squeeze between a huge mound and an overhanging tree, and a new green has added 40m to the hole.
The 12th is a severe dogleg left and uphill to a very elevated green, again without sand hazards.
The next hole is a downhill par 3 of 184m played from an elevated tee with trees encroaching on the higher right side of the fairway. There is a large bunker cut into the slope below the left edge of the green that catches any timid shot.
14 is a very challenging par 4 of 361m that doglegs right. The tee shot must be left, but OOB comes into play further left. There are no bunkers, but a raised green with very severe slope from back to front – don’t be short, long is not good either!
The 15th is a testing, tight short par 4 of 331m with OOB again left off the tee. Huge pines line both sides of the fairway which slopes steeply left before the green that is protected by a bunker just short on the right.
18 is yet another long par 4, 389m and so typical of the strong holes on the course. There are bunkers either side of the green, but two strong shots down the centre will see you safely “home”.
Enjoy a drink on the balcony overlooking the course from the well-established clubhouse. Green fees are $NZ40 for NZ Affiliated golfers and $55 for others.
CAPE KIDNAPPERS - click here for our full review
NAPIER GOLF CLUB
Established in 1896 and playing much longer than its 5962m from the blue tees, “Waiohiki” is a strong and strategic test of golf that will not disappoint the better player. The fact that it is divided into three parcels of land by roadways in some respects adds to the charm of this layout that has been in use since 1903. Kapi Tareha, the first Maori to win the NZ Amateur was a member in the 1920’s.
Fairways are wide and very gently undulating, lined by a mix of trees that includes poplars, pines and many natives. Many of the greens are huge, with a depth of 5 or more clubs.
The gentle opening par 4 of 296m tempts the best to draw their drive around two huge gums and a willow that obscure the green from the tee. The green itself is some 50m in length, with a beautiful bent grass surface.
The 3rd hole is rated the course’s toughest at 379m par 4. It requires a precise drive at the right hand poplar, avoiding a dangerous gully that lurks further right. The second shot must negotiate a narrow gap between the poplars to another 50m long green protected by a bunker on the right. Depending on pin position and wind, many will chose to lay up 90m short.
The next is a tough par 3 of 191m where the tee shot must avoid tall trees and a bunker right at the green.
The 5th is again a challenge, 379m par 4 to a green surrounded by three obscured pot bunkers and running off down a steep slope at the rear.
The par 5 8th is only 461m, but those seeking the green in two must contend with two hidden pot bunkers on the right of the green as well as that clearly visible on the left. There’s also a deep hollow on the left.
The 10th is a wonderfully strategic par 4 of 356m, a dogleg right to a lovely elevated green protected by a large bunker short and left that puts a premium on positioning your tee shot close to the drive bunker on the right inside the dogleg. A ball struck too far left will find trees.
The par 3 that follows has bumps and a bunker visible short left, but as with several other holes that reward local knowledge there are hidden bunkers either side of the putting surface.
Despite being rated number 2 for difficulty, I feel the 398m 13th is harder than the 3rd. The ideal tee shot will be played at the huge Aspen Poplar on the corner of the dogleg left. Pines will obscure a shot from the right fairway, and OOB lurks further right. The second shot is uphill to a huge green set against the mountain backdrop, and protected by a signature hidden bunker on the left and slopes that run away towards OOB right. A par here is well earned as they say in the classics.
Green fees are $NZ30 for NZ Affiliated golfers and $50 for others. The club has a strong playing membership comprising 1300 members, and an excellent clubhouse to service them.
Wairakei International Golf Course was designed for New Zealand’s Tourist Corporation by Commander John Harris in conjunction with Mike Wolveridge of Thomson Wolveridge. The course opened to much acclaim in 1970 and was ranked as high as 17 outside USA by Golf Digest in 1996. More recently Wolveridge and Bob Shearer returned to rework many of the bunkers and remove some trees that had encroached on lines of play.
The course is situated in one of the most stunning settings even by NZ standards. Sprawling over delicious hillsides and valleys in the clean mountain air of Lake Taupo, Wairakei offers golfing thrills and tranquillity at its scenic best. The course is adorned with huge pines, firs, oaks and other species, sparkling lakes and dazzling white bunkers. The colour contrasts are striking, and the thrill of watching your ball rise from the pale green of the superb browntop fairways and traverse the darker hues of the mountain forest before ascending into the clear blue sky is a memory that will linger long after the disappointment of too many three-putts.
The course plays a solid 6444m from the back tees, made even more challenging by the change in elevation on many holes. There are many strong par fours that will require long irons or fairway woods even from low markers. Extensive shallow bunkering is employed in the typical Thomson Wolveridge style, scattered on either side of many fairways, in the middle of fairways forcing choices to either carry, lay up or avoid, and surrounding greens. Fortunately, on the vast undulating terrain few hazards are obscured. In many cases, the shallow faced bunkers, forced upon the designers in this region of very high rainfall, mean that escape may be possible without severe distance penalty. In the main, a satisfactory route to the green is to stay away from hazards rather than to play close to them in order to attack the pins.
The gently undulating browntop and poa greens reflect the designers’ philosophy that putting should be a straightforward affair, except that on these subtle surfaces that is rarely the case. Even experienced locals find the hidden depressions – a legacy of the construction scoria - perplexing, and a ‘plumb bob’ approach rarely suffices.
The third is a good par 5 of 506m, strengthened by the addition of bunkering that creates a narrow neck at the driving zone. A second bunker, centre fairway beyond bumps and hollows demands another strategic decision.
A shortish par 4 of 340m follows, played from an elevated tee with a massive pine encroaching on the ideal line of play, which is left, avoiding two right hand traps. This tree has survived, despite the designers’ recent foray. I like the hole as it is.
After playing the quirky par 3 5th that features an extremely shallow green stretched behind three pot bunkers, players climb to one of the most panoramic views in NZ golf. The 434m par 4 6th snakes away beneath this elevated tee that looks out over miles of forest to distant mountains. There’s a very nasty bunker on the left that is really not the ideal side for a drive, as anything left can run down slopes and even find OOB. The hole is toughest with the pin tucked back right on the elevated green, requiring a ball to carry the front bunker and avoid running away down the slope.
The 8th is a very pretty short par 4 of 350m, with a fairway sloping quite sharply right to a trickling brook bedecked with ‘feather duster reeds’ that must be carried with the second shot as it spreads around the green.
The 12th hole has been altered dramatically and lengthened by more than 100m to 396m from the back. A stony creek crosses the fairway, forming a hazard on the right for the drive, and then meandering up the left side of the green. This is a most unusual, narrow 2-tier affair with the left side higher than the right, making any long approach very demanding.
Without doubt, 14 ‘The Rogue’ is Wairakei’s signature hole, a 548m uphill par 5 with a huge pine in the centre of the fairway 400m from the tee. The huge kidney shaped green is cut into a steep hillside, and was once protected by a fearsome single ‘hell’ bunker. Alas, constant erosion dictated that it be replaced with three smaller pots.
The 374m 16th challenges the 6th with an exhilarating view from a very high tee. Dark firs ring the hole that is dominated by the mountain directly behind the green. There’s a nasty bunker on the left that is hidden from the back tee.
As a public resort facility, green fee play is available at all times. $75 for NZ affiliates, $100 for members elsewhere, and $200 for others. Carts are available at $40. A fully licensed bar and restaurant is available in the modern clubhouse.
Taupo is oft described as the jewel in the crown of the North Island, with its clean air and green surroundings, tranquil lakes, scenic snow-capped mountain peaks and vast pine forests.
The Taupo Golf Club sits on elevated land above Lake Taupo, and boasts two 18-hole courses, the 6313m Centennial and the 5677m Tauhara. The Centennial course was added in 1973 with Government assistance, to cater for the requirements of the many tourists visiting the area.
Centennial is a true championship layout with broad firm undulating fairways with plenty of interesting bumps and hollows imparting a links-like feel to the game. The poa greens are large and of exceptional quality. In fact both greens and fairways have a little of the Melbourne Sand Belt aura about them.
Bunkering is used sparsely but wisely, and recent renovations have seen the removal of some bunkers with a resulting improvement in hole strategy. A million dollar plus irrigation program is under way, and Greg Turner has been engaged to advise on a course upgrade that will include the removal of hundreds of huge pines and several gums that have reached their age limit and the re-alignment of some fairways to add interest and avoid any feeling of straight runways. Knowing that Turner is a traditionalist in the mould of Mike Clayton, his challenge will be to create the type of upgrade that Clayton has achieved at Peninsula North on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula – the rolling topography that he has to work with is certainly good enough, and the addition of a few strategic bunkers in conjunction with existing natural mounds could really produce a layout of exceptional quality.
The 5th hole is a short par 5 that plays from an elevated tee through wonderful small mounds and hollows and across little gullies to a green cradled by a tall timber backdrop, and a steep slope behind it.
The 9th is a 387m par 4 from tiger tees set amongst the trees, with a gully that winds down the left side and cuts across the fairway just before the green which is set against a distant vista of snow-capped mountain peaks.
The 495m par 5 11th presents one of the few bunker challenges off the tee – a set of three simple shallow shapes down the preferred left side that affords the strong player a chance to go for the long narrow green in two.
The 13th is the hole rated hardest on the course – a 410m par 4 played gently uphill. Without a single bunker, the hole is defended by thick grass off the fairway and a huge tree that overhangs the right approach to the green.
14 is a 368m dogleg par 4 with a bunker at the drive position in the right half of the fairway. The upward slope influences club selection to this lovely green isolated by a circle of variegated trees and ringed by sand, including a rear bunker to catch any overzealous approach.
The 16th is a great par 4 of 396m that doglegs sharply left at the drive then climbs to a very large, exposed green where wind can greatly affect the approach. Bunkers on the left and a steep slope down to the right put a premium on accuracy.
17 is a classic short par 4 of just 250m. An accurate drive must either carry sand on the left, or curl around it, avoiding two more bunkers on the right to find the green that falls sharply off to the right.
The final hole is a memorable 210m par 3 that is all carry across a deep gully to a long skinny green set beneath the magnificent two-storey clubhouse. Green fees are $NZ25 for affiliated and $35 for other golfers.
HAMILTON GOLF CLUB
Just 130km south of Auckland, Hamilton is a thriving city centred on the mighty Waikato River.
The course was constructed by local scratch golfer and lawyer HT Gillies on treeless scrub that he purchased beside the river. Other notable golfers FG Hood and ADS Duncan assisted with the design. Gillies named the course ‘St Andrews’, and it may well have exhibited a linksy style in its earlier days with bouncy fairways and well-bunkered, fast sloping greens. However, today it is adorned by many planted trees, and offers superb parkland golf in the mould of many of Melbourne’s finest Sand Belt courses. The well-established fairways are fully irrigated.
The tee for the par 3 3rd hole is elevated above a public walking track that crosses the course, very much in Old Course tradition. The green itself is beautifully bunkered by traps that cut right into the putting surface, although they are not menacingly deep, nor do they have faces that extend their down-slopes into the green.
The 4th hole is a short par 5 at 438m with the river running all along the right, and is regarded as the signature hole. The green is tilted to favour an approach from the right, which requires care to avoid bunkers and also the natural slope right. A weak approach shot will run right and find a bunker beneath the front edge of a very long green – or worse. A covered river walk separates the course from the Waikato.
The 6th is a tough 392m par 4 that rewards a long drive that can avoid huge trees that encroach from the left, and still finish in the left part of the fairway. This provides the simplest angle of attack between short greenside bunkers down the depth of the green that is tilted cleverly to the fairway. An old bunker behind the green has been filled in, leaving a delicate pitch back up the slope to a green running away to the front.
The short 270m par 4 8th hole is a strategic test with two huge gums overhanging the left side of the fairway, suggesting a lay-up behind the fairway trap on the right around 200m off the tee, or a huge drive to carry it. The green has been re-bunkered with good deep pots on the right that must be tackled if laying up.
The 13th is a 350m par 4 that plays along the Waikato River to the right, with the fairway breaking steeply to that side. Playing too far left however brings timber into play, and also a menacing bunker along the length of the green.
The 14th tee is an arborist’s delight with views across the river to some splendid homes. The hole is 175m of pure carry to a very deep green with bunkers each side and a penal slope beyond.
16 is a soundly designed par 4 of 370m with a fairway bunker guarding the ideal line of approach from the left side beneath the huge gum tree. The well-bunkered green is tilted to favour a second shot from this angle.
The final hole is a thrilling par 3 of a mere 136m. However, it’s played uphill to an elevated and exposed green that could be six clubs difference depending on wind and pin location. A huge bunker beneath the green front left cuts into the putting surface with a 12-foot deep sheer face. More sand awaits in three other bunkers.
Whilst Hamilton is a private club, with excellent clubhouse facilities, visitors are welcome. Green fees are $NZ40.
TITIRANGI GOLF CLUB
No serious golfer should visit the North Island without playing New Zealand’s only Alister MacKenzie course, Titirangi.
The club is proud of the precious legacy left by MacKenzie who visited in 1926 and originated the design. He declared that the ground was "exceptionally well adapted for golf, undulating, without being hilly".
With its dramatic undulation, deep gullies, trees and especially its bunkering, Titirangi has a similar feel to MacKenzie’s Pasatiempo, even Augusta, with the pine straw beneath the trees, on perhaps a slightly less grand canvas.
The fairways are firm, fast and well drained, the subtle pure poa greens are generally large and can be extremely slick.
Architect Chris Pittman is currently engaged to undertake a multi-million dollar upgrade program, which is half way to completion. The focus of his work is to restore the design as far as practical to MacKenzie’s plan, as well as renovation of greens, tees, bridges and paths. The club is indeed fortunate to retain MacKenzie’s original drawings, as well as 1930’s aerial photos of the course virtually devoid of trees.
The bunkering at Titirangi is special in the MacKenzie style, with large irregular bunkers extending into greensides and influencing the undulation of the putting surfaces, and the work of Pittman and course superintendent Steve Hookway looks perfectly sympathetic. There’s a consistent feel to the entire layout.
The course starts a little slowly with a driveable par 4 first, and a short par 4 second, but the intrinsic course strategy is immediately evident. For example, the second fairway pitches right, where a large tree impinges on the second shot. However, playing left brings a greenside bunker into play.
The second originally played over Golf Rd that divides the property, but unfortunately the Club did not purchase the road when it was offered to them for 26 Pounds.
The 3rd is only 363m, but the second shot is all carry uphill over a gully. The ideal drive must carry bunkers and land in the left of the fairway where flatter lies exist, even though this then brings greenside bunkers on the left into play. The green tilts considerably from right to left.
The 4th is a dramatic downhill “Pitch” to a huge putting surface.
The par 5 5th displays the fine bunker reconstruction work that is being undertaken. The huge expanses of sand with tongues of fairway running down into them look as if they have been dug by horse-drawn scoop by the great camouflage expert himself. In typical MacKenzie style they nestle into the ground, and use natural rises in the landscape to create their depth and confront the golfer with a raised face towards the green.
A gully cuts diagonally across the 387m par 4 6th hole, a dogleg left, offering the chance to play short or further right before the second shot which is steeply uphill across the gully.
The seventh (left) is a marvellous par 3 over a gully to a wonderful long three-tier green set on the hillside below the clubhouse. The recently reworked bunkering would look equally at home at Royal Melbourne.
They say that the course begins on the back nine, and the 10th is just a warm-up par 4 at 352m. There are few easy pars from here on. The fairway rise in front of the tee has been removed so that the downhill drive is no longer blind. There’s a gully before the elevated green with its tricky slopes on all sides.
“This should make a famous hole,” declared MacKenzie of his par 3 11th – ‘Redan’, modelled on the hole at North Berwick. It’s 160m of carry across a pretty ravine to a deliciously-wide green defended by a series of newly-restored bunkers carved into the hillside beneath it. A bale out option exists on the right. This is the first of Titirangi’s ‘Amen Corner’.
Next is a superb 411m par 4 ‘Titirangi’ (meaning ‘fringe of heaven’). The wide, rolling fairway has been re-profiled with beautiful swales and shallow gully crossings. Another very long green well-defended by bunkering particularly for anything struck short.
13 is a deceptive short par 5 at 446m aptly named ‘Wrecker’. A tree mid-fairway interferes with a long second shot, and laying up is wise. The green has been relocated to the right, and is a huge undulating affair with glorious bunkers intruding into its surface and swales all around to impede recovery shots.
Often acclaimed as New Zealand’s greatest collection of one-shotters, there’s little argument about the quality of these holes at Titirangi, each seemingly more magical than the previous as they run to all directions of the compass. Peter Thomson’s favourite is the 14th, which he regards as one of MacKenzie’s finest, and which has remained virtually unchanged since he created it. A pure carry of over 180m to a two-tier green, with a delightful walk over a creek and through native bush to putt out.
Nearing the end of the round, what better hole than ‘Temptation’, a 342m dogleg over a deep gully that entices you to cut the corner and shorten your second shot to a great green reconstruction that features a 60m long surface full of delightful bumps and hollows and some dramatic bunkering.
The 17th is yet another long tough par 4 at 423m with a blind tee shot, that rivals many at Royal Melbourne and Augusta for difficulty.
The reconstructed 18th is a 309m par 4 with a sharp left turn before playing uphill to a steeply sloping green surrounded by sand. A professional tee adds 60m in length and brings trees into play, virtually ruling out the option to fly the corner to the green.
A private club, Titirangi welcomes golfing visitors. Green fees are $NZ60 for NZ affiliated golfers and $120 for others.
Designed by David Harmon, Kauri is New Zealand’s highest rated course, No. 49 in US Golf Magazine’s 2003 list.
The course was the first (Cape Kidnappers is second) built by American investments tycoon Julian Robertson as part of his dream to create a “string of pearls” in the South Pacific, where wealthy golf tourists can spend part of their Northern winters. A popular mode of arrival for these folk is via the one hour helicopter trip from Auckland to the Bay of Islands.
The windswept, treeless cliff top location with its breathtaking ocean vistas has been likened to Pebble Beach without the expensive homes.
The par 72 championship golf course measures 6,412 metres and offers four sets of tees to challenge every skill level. Fifteen holes view the Pacific Ocean, six of which are played alongside cliffs that plunge 250 ft to the sea. The beautiful inland holes wind through marsh, forest and farmland.
The seventh hole is one of the most talked about amongst many stunning highlights. It’s 201m of pure carry from the back tee, from cliff top to cliff top across a yawning Pacific Ocean inlet.
Thinking of golfing in New Zealand?
For a suggested itinerary or answers to any questions contact email@example.com
by Selwyn Berg, Feb 2004