Sunday Mail
Steve Waddingham

"The Best Par None"

April 28 2002
Sunday Mail
Kauri Cliffs
Slice of heaven across the pond – Bunkers aren’t the only hazards at prestigious Kauri Cliffs golf resort, writes Steve Waddingham

Thrills and spills in New Zealand usually mean bungy jumping off the Skipper’s bridge, jet boating the Shotover River or whitewater rafting a remote gorge. But for a golf addict, all the white-knuckle excitement you need can be found simply by standing on the fifth tee at the Kauri Cliffs resort in the magnificent Bay of Islands on the North Island – just over 200 adrenalin-packed uphill metres with three options: be on the green, be in the front bunker or be hitting another ball off the tee.

The good news for those not contemplating a career, as a pro golfer is that, according to resident professional American Dwight Segall, the back tee on the fifth is almost never in play. When the wind blows from the north – almost always – its just too tough for even the best amateurs. Kauri Cliffs is unashamedly at the top end of world golfing destinations. Green fees for casual visitors are NZD$400. a round and accommodation in the Lodge runs to NZD$800. a night twin share.

But for Australians who want to visit the layout which influential American magazine Golf digest named the best new course in the world last year, there is a weekday special for Australian visitors during the off-season (May 1-September 30) at NZ$625 to stay and play including breakfast, dinner and pre-dinner drinks.

For that sort of money, golfers have every right to expect something out of the ordinary, and Kauri Cliffs certainly delivers. American visitors have compared the setting with California’s legendary Pebble Beach, although the course is closer in style to some of the great Irish layouts.

It is set on a 2025 ha estate owned by Julian Robertson, a retired billionaire Wall Street hedge fund manager, and his wife Josie, who split their time between New Zealand and Idaho. Eight of the holes are arranged along the sweeping cliffs overlooking the sea, with magnificent vistas across the nearby Cavalli Islands, and seven more have sea views. In addition to the ocean, the bunkers (complete with sand imported from Malaysia) and the savage rough, the hazards include the possibility of become lost in the scenery and driving your cart off a cliff.

While the course has the open links-style look, there is also a feeling of being the only 0players on the course because no group is allowed to tee off within 30 minutes of the group ahead. In the American style, golf at Kauri Cliffs does not finish with the final putt on the 18th hole. There is no better end to the day than a quiet drink on the balcony of the magnificent Lodge overlooking the course as the sunsets over the ocean. Meals in the dining room are of international class.

For non-golfing visitors, Kauri Cliffs and the Bay of Islands offer plenty of attractions. The property has three private beaches, including the magnificent Pink Beach made of crushed seashells. Local diving and fishing are superb, including one of the word’s best stocks of striped, blue and black marlin and mahi mahi (dolphin fish) just offshore. The good news for New Zealand golf enthusiasts is that Robertson recently bought a similar property further south in Hawkes Bay with plans to create another international golf resort. And there are reports that a third resort, on the South Island, is on the cards to complete Robertson’s dream of turning his adopted home into one of the world’s great golfing destinations.

New Zealand already boasts more golf courses (more than 400) per head of populations than any other country in the world. While Kauri Cliffs will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the average golfer, there are plenty of golfing treats available which are more accessible. We started at the Clearwater resort in Christchurch, on the south Island. An “inland links” course, with hardly a tree coming into play, Clearwater showed its teeth the day we played, with a southerly buster ripping in from Antarctica and rain whipping sideways.

But it remained an enjoyable challenge, although frustrating thanks to the magnificent crystal clear lakes which give the course its name – and enable wayward golfers to clearly see their golf balls well out of reach. Clearwater is at the top end of golf prices (Kauri Cliffs excepted) at NZ$100. a round, but one of the joys of visiting New Zealand is that its one of the few Western countries where the Aussie dollar is worth something. Up north, there is a gem near Auckland, on the Whangaparoa peninsula, Gulf Harbour has been in action for less than five years, but already has hosted the World Cup.

At NZ$75 it is more than competitive with Australian resort courses and boasts scenery few of them can match. Many of the holes are Cliffside, overlooking the Hauraki Gulf.

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