New Zealand’s greatest courses, a report from Stuff, by Phil Hamilton that I am happy to pass on, Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club is at #2. This is a shortened post version.
New Zealand has among the most golf courses per capita in the world but until recently the quality of those courses, apart from a couple of notable exceptions, was pretty ropey.
Most magazine rankings use resistance to scoring as one of their main criteria but we prefer to concentrate on fun. Any mug can make a hard course (just lengthen and sprinkle liberally with water and sand), the real skill is to make a course that is challenging and enjoyable for both average and good golfers.
Instead we focus on the quality of the design and the most important factor – how keen are you to get back out there again?
It is strange that New Zealand, a country with such a large coastline and so many golf clubs, has such a shortage of good links courses. Thankfully, we now have one that ranks with the very best in the world.
High praise indeed but Tara Iti (100 kilometres north of Auckland on the east coast) is already being mentioned in the same breath as Cypress Point by some architecture critics. This is a masterpiece and quite clearly it is New Zealand’s best course by some distance.
Until Tara Iti opened last year, Paraparaumu had been the country’s best course since it was rebuilt by Alex Russell in 1946.
Although crammed into a relatively small piece of land, Paraparaumu is a masterful example of how best to utilise the humps and bumps of the sand dunes.
The collection of par threes is the equal of any course in New Zealand with the most fearsome this country’s answer to the Postage Stamp, No 16. Just 130m it can ruin a score card with a misjudged tee shot into the small green, benched into a dune, leaving a golfer with few recovery options.
But it’s the par fours that are the real strength here. The eighth, 13th, 15th and 17th are all superb holes and the equal of any in New Zealand. The 17th demands a tee shot over bunkers to get the best angle into an angled green with a brutal drop-off on one side while the short eighth tempts the unwary into the direct route.
The 13th is a burly two-shotter with a drive to another rumpled fairway and then a long second uphill to a green benched into another dune.
3. Cape Kidnappers
Tom Doak’s first course in New Zealand is a stunner. Built high above the ocean on a Te Awanga sheep farm in the Hawke’s Bay, it’s a subtle masterpiece despite the jaw-dropping views.
While it’s the holes along the cliffs that are most often photographed, the inland holes are easily their equal.
The only course in New Zealand designed by the greatest course architect, Alister MacKenzie, Auckland’s Titirangi has stood the test of time.
The par threes are superb individually, although one mild criticism is that on some days three out of the four can require the same club.
The 13th, the Wrecker, is one of the best par fives in the country with a semi-blind tee shot across a gully that is used brilliantly through much of the back nine.
5. Kauri Cliffs
Impeccably conditioned, this is a fantastic experience although the quality of the holes doesn’t quite measure up to the views.
Often under-rated because of it’s lack of length, Arrowtown is a unique course and certainly among the most fun in the country. The high-profile neighbouring courses may get all the publicity but they can’t match the charm of this gem.
The front nine is a delight, with one stand-out hole after another through schist-lined fairways, where driver is usually not the best option.
The back nine is not as good as the front, although it does have some highlights, particularly the par-three 14th and 16th holes, and the 18th is a fitting finish.
7. Jack’s Point
Jack’s Point is something of a flawed masterpiece. The course, near Queenstown, looks fantastic and fits the land beautifully. However, in places aesthetics seem to have been favoured over playability and the finish (long par four alongside a lake) could have been lifted from a modern template of resort courses, which is a pity.
The designer, John Darby, has said he likes his courses to look hard and play easy. Well, he got that right on the fine opening hole but the second looks hard and is hard. It’s the first of several uphill holes to plateau greens, a feature that is overdone, although given the hilliness of the course it’s understandable. The second is a good hole, if a bit narrow, but the best of these holes is the glorious 15th which is a version of the classic Cape hole but with a rock wall standing in for the usual lake edge.
The course was recently redesigned by Greg Turner and Scott Macpherson who have done a wonderful job. It now has some of the most interesting greens in the country and holes to match.
There are a great set of par threes beginning with the third, that has a tremendous green made up of two distinct bowls, with lots of scope for banking shots into difficult pins.
The par fours are equally good with the 299m 14th a highlight with those braving the right-hand hazard rewarded with a better angle into the green.
This is certainly among the most beautiful courses in the world, with the contrasting colours of the grasses and the astonishing sculptures spread along the way. It is a lovely walk and the quality of the holes is good, even if they don’t quite match the surrounds for interest.
The start is solid but unspectacular with the first real highlight the fifth, a delightful short par four with a wicked push-up green that can give the unwary fits.
The back nine builds to a tremendous finish with the highlight a par-five 17th through a canyon, although the 14th and 15th are both also good. The par-three 16th is great fun too, with it’s punishing false front and much of the green hidden from the tee.
Kinloch, near Taupo, is a fantastic looking course, full of interest with rumpled fairways, crazy greens and in impeccable condition.
Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the promise of its appearance. While it has some good holes, with the fourth and fifth the pick of them, too many are over-bunkered.
Despite the over-bunkering, there are stretches of holes that aren’t particularly memorable or, in some cases, memorable for the wrong reasons.
There are also too many forced carries off the tee, particularly for a course that gets its fair share of wind.
While fun to play, you are left with the feeling it could have been a lot better