When the head professional at one of New Zealand's highest ranked courses suggested his course was just a pitch-and-putt job alongside Kauri Cliffs, I was skeptical. Now six weeks after visiting Kauri Cliffs, I am still dreaming about a golf course that few people--even in New Zealand-have experienced. Yet here is a layout which has the potential to become one of the best golf courses in the southern hemisphere.
Kauri Cliffs has a mortgage on the spectacular and outstanding design. To put things into perspective, it's an oasis such as you've never tasted. And it should be top of anyone's "must play" list of golf courses in this part of the world.
Opened in February 2000, Kauri Cliffs is a four-hour drive north of Auckland at Matauri Bay, just north of the Bay of Islands. If you're thinking it might be a little too far off the 'beaten track' to warrant a detour to play golf, try these testimonies.
Michael Campbell and Phil Tataurangi came up and say they both came off with comments such as breathless. Breathless at the thought New Zealand could now boast such a world-class golf course. Even the great Sir Bob Charles, New Zealand's only major championship winner and one of New Zealand's best course designers, agreed.
This reporter played it and when finished decided the opportunity was too valuable to waste; so I went back out and played again until it got too dark to continue. Kauri Cliffs is that good. In fact, it's almost surreal as you stand on several greens and gaze down on the Bay Of Islands below.
Kauri Cliffs is the work of Florida-based designer David Harman, who has worked on more than 200 courses world-wide-including several in Asia-mostly with Arnold Palmer's design company:
The location for Kauri Cliffs was chosen by American Julian Robertson. Robertson, the owner, travels to New Zealand at regular stages and on one trip from New York he wanted a golf course of his own. He came north for a holiday, loved the place and now returns as regularly as his work permits.
"When I first came up here to have a look at the place, this was as far north as I had ever been," says recently appointed club pro Dayne Bulloch.
"This is not only a great golf course, it's I been good for the community up here too. Of the 25 green staff, only four had worked on golf courses before and out of that, 10 guys are from Matauri Bay, which is the little community just over the hill from here."
Plans are to build a lodge, rather than a clubhouse, with half a dozen chalets running down the slope to the 10th tee. Naturally the lodge will be sited to take full advantage of the multi-million dollar view.
Even the inland holes, which don't have the spectacular ocean view area are well designed. Actually there are only four holes (10-13) where you can't see the ocean, winding through wetlands. It's here we find the short par four 11th, Bulloch's favourite hole. "There are the wetlands on the left which comes out in front of the green leaving you with a shot to what is almost an island green. A lot of golfers seem to ear mark 11 as their favourite hole."
Campbell rated the par-five 4th as the best par five he has played anywhere in the world. "It's a great risk and reward hole," says Bulloch. "If you don't knock it on in two you are either in the bunker or the hazard."
The course, which measures 6398 metres, can be an extremely tough challenge, particularly when conditions turn against you. However, it's a challenge which changes quite markedly when attacked from the different tee blocks that are set up on each hole. It's worth swallowing your pride before you tee off because there are no bail-outs, except for a few options on the par threes.
At the moment Kauri Cliffs is averaging not much more than a dozen or so players a day, although the weekends are much busier and a lot of people are coming up by helicopter to play and stay.
Certainly the quiet little town of Kerikeri nearby is an ideal holiday destination, boasting some lovely little restaurants.
The area has a lot of local history including Treaty House. "This is where New Zealand is supposed to have started," Bulloch says. "There's a lot of other things like the famous Hole In The Rock, great marlin fishing. You can come here, play golf on Saturday, fish on Saturday afternoon, play again Sunday and then go home.
"Even now a lot of people come, pay their money and you can see them thinking: 'what is this place?'"
Kauri Cliffs, which is open to the public, had a 'soft opening' earlier this year while the clubhouse and lodge will not be completed until the coming months. There are only 12 carts available because the owner is trying to encourage walking. While it is an expensive challenge it is also one of the most breathtaking you are ever likely to experience. Green fees for New Zealand GA affiliated members is NZ$175, including cart. If you are non-affiliated it is NZ$225, including cart. Expect to pay an extra $50 come 2001.
For more information on a course everyone in New Zealand that knows anything about golf is talking about, call Kauri Cliffs on +64 9 405 1900 or visit www.kauricliffs.com.