Spectacular golf in New Zealand

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The oceanfront fifth hole at Kauri Cliffs.
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
Kerikeri
7,119 yards, par 72; Green fees: $260;
01164-94070060, kauricliffs.com

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;
01164-68731018, capekidnappers.com

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.

Wairakei Golf Course
Taupo
7,050 yards, par 72; Green fees: $95-$130;
01164-73748152, wairakeigolfcourse.co.nz

Ask most golfers in New Zealand to name their favorite
courses, and chances are most will include this beautiful
layout set amid the breathtaking volcanic cones in the Lake
Taupo region of the North Island.

Designed by Michael
Wolveridge, Commander John Harris, and former British Open
champion Peter Thomson, this layout slices through a dense
forest and was really the first New Zealand course to earn
international acclaim.

You’ll most remember “The Rogue,” the
600-yard 14th hole that demands three smart, safe shots to
have any chance at reaching the green in regulation.

Kinloch Golf Course
Kinloch
7,209 yards, par 72; Green fee: $137;
01164-73778484, kinloch-golf.com

It sounds as though it belongs in the Scottish Highlands, but
Kinloch — Jack Nicklaus’s first course in this country — is only
a short drive from Wairakei.

What he created is a challenging
but fair romp, dotted with plenty of fescue and bunkers, and
sporting a lot of elevation changes that test your imagination
and patience.

The Bear keeps the test going right to the last:
the 18th hole opens with a blind tee shot and ends with a
stern approach shot over a pond.

The South Island

New Zealand’s South
Island is beautiful, but it
has suffered from a lack
of big drawing cards for
golfers. That is slowly
beginning to change,
however.

In Queenstown,
Millbrook Resort ($45-
$110; 01164-34417000,
millbrook.co.nz) is a
pleasant course designed
by local legend and PGA
Tour star Bob Charles.

A new course nearby
is Jacks Point ($50-
$76; 01164-34500248,
jackspoint.com), where
the tee shot at No. 15
demands you hit across a
sheep pasture and back
into the fairway.
This could be the course
that pulls golfers South.

Where to Stay
Robertson’s properties are
as good as his courses.
Try The Lodge at Kauri
Cliffs (rooms from $640
per night, kauricliffs.com)
or The Lodge at Cape
Kidnappers (rooms
from $590 per night,
capekidnappers.com).

In the Lake Taupo region,
visit Huka Lodge
(01164-73785791,
hukalodge.co.nz), where
rooms start at $890 per
person, per night.

Getting there
Air New Zealand offers
3 nonstop flights daily
from Los Angeles and
one from San Francisco.
Call 800-262-1234 or visit
airnewzealand.com for more information.

For more great courses check out bestofgolfnewzealand.com.


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