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Spectacular golf in New Zealand

New Zealand, December 2008
Kauri Cliffs
The oceanfront fifth hole at Kauri Cliffs.

American golfers who have chosen to cross the Pacific Ocean rather than the Atlantic for great golf have invariably sought out the fine Sandbelt courses of Australia. But thanks to two courses created by Wall Street legend Julian Robertson and a new course by Jack Nicklaus, New Zealand is more than just a country golfers fly over on the way to the first tee at Royal Melbourne. What it lacks in number of courses New Zealand makes up for in quality. For West Coast golfers who aren't eager to fly all the way to Scotland for bad weather and worse food, look west — Robertson's two tracks alone more than justify the trip.

Kauri Cliffs
7,119 yards, par 72; Green fees: $260;

Opened eight years ago on the northeastern coast of the North Island, Kauri Cliffs was the first salvo in Wall Street tycoon Julian Robertson's bid to make New Zealand a golf destination.

He landed one hell of a blow. This David Harman design occupies a spectacular setting overlooking the Pacific and features numerous forced carries over breathtaking — and knee-knocking — gorges. The four-hole stretch from 14 through 17 clings precariously to the cliffs and, depending on the wind, can offer you some of the most memorable birdies (or unmentionables) of your life.

But the real quality of Kauri Cliffs is evident in the inland holes. The 560-yard par-5 4th, named "Cambo" after local hero Michael Campbell, is a superb risk/reward challenge, with a ravine lurking on the right and bunkers short left. Nos. 10 and 11 are short par 4s with receptive landing areas, but both demand premium shots on the approaches.

This is the kind of course that demands you play 36 a day — if you have balls remaining for the second round.

Cape Kidnappers
Hawke's Bay
7,119 yards, par 71; Green fees: $260;

There are few more majestic sites for a golf course than the 5,000-acre sheep station on the southeastern tip of the North Island that was handed to designer Tom Doak by Robertson in 2003. Doak designed a masterpiece that is ranked No. 41 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World, its holes draped over seven fingers of land that slide down to the very edge of the 600-foot-high cliffs.

Three holes in particular — Nos. 14, 15 and 16 (which feature names like "Widow's Walk" and "Pirate's Plank") — are daunting promontories that seem balanced delicately above the sheer drop.

If you're afraid of heights, you might want to pack some pills for this round. Cape Kidnappers earns the highest accolade possible for a serious golfer to pay — it's so good, and the setting so stunning, that you forget about your score.

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