When jeweller Michael Hills decided to put in a few golf holes for friends and family to play next to his house on acreage near Arrowtown, the project evolved quite quickly from a couple of holes to nine holes to a full blown championship layout.
Designed by John Darby ( with Brett Thomson assisting ) The Hills very quickly established itself as one of New Zealand's premier golf courses, and certainly one of the more exclusive...
Michael Hills' jewellery business was obviously very successful, and he has put every effort into making The Hills GC another venture he could be very proud of.
Although relatively young the Hills has already hosted a number of significant professional tournaments, and again this year hosts the NZ Open. The images being televised out around the world are absolutely invaluable marketing for NZ golf, Queenstown, and The Hills itself.
Queenstown is one of those locations that comes up a treat in photographs and television, with the combination of lake, verdant green valleys, and (often) snow capped mountains a spectacular background.
Green fees at The Hills are $500 per round, so not everybody will want to play here. By charging very high green fees, and correspondingly high annual memberships Hill has created a real feel of exclusivity to The Hills.
So is it worth it?
I had followed my son Tim around The Hills a number of times when he was playing events, and was somewhat familiar with the layout. But playing oneself is a different thing, and I had the pleasure of teeing off at the Hills with local tour operator Stephen Jensen ( playing off 1 ), and Jack's Point general Manager John Griffin. John is also a teaching professional and a bit of a legend in New Zealand having coached a number of successful professionals ( Phil Tatuarangi ). He was also previously the manager at The Hills. John was our host for the day.
The general terrain is quite undulating, with significant elevation change throughout the round.
As you would expect the course was in very good condition, although the greens were a tad slower than I expected. This is probably because of preparations for The Open.
Each hole demands a decent tee shot to keep you in the hole. With plenty of strategic bunkering, the tee shot nearly always had to negotiate a cluster of bunkers, a sea of browntop ( long rough ), or water, or rocks or all of the above. It is one thing to hit the fairway, and quite another to position oneself for the approach shot. A good number of the green sites were elevated, well protected by bunkers, and generally required a well struck approach to stay on the dance floor.
The contouring of the greens, as well as the bunkering and other protection ensured that an approach shot from the non preferred areas of the fairway required a significantly more skillful shot to hit and hold the green.
I could appreciate that in tournament conditions - a bit firmer and faster- these greens could be devilishly tricky. Hard to hit and hold, and hard to read! They have movement but with mountains all around sometimes which way the green slopes ran and thus turned was hard to pick.
We played in sunny conditions, with a light breeze making it the most pleasant of days to play. It is a gorgeous setting for golf, and never lacking for interest. Apart from the golf, Michael Hill has introduced a number of sculptures/ statues around the course.
Bizarre was my initial impression!!
But I must admit I did warm to these artistic additions. I particularly liked the horses and concluded that all of these artefacts added a level of interest to an already interesting journey around the links.
The course is routed in such a way that the holes gradually move around different points of the compass and give you different wind conditions- all quite nicely done. I really liked the combination of shorter 'birdie' holes with some real brute par 4's. Because of the elevated nature of the greens in particular I would suggest there is not an easy hole on the course, but a number that are very difficult. There are just no weak holes.
As a general rule I like short par 4's that require you to make decisions on placement, sometimes dependent on pin positions, and holes 2,5 & 15 fall in that category. Each of these hole could yield a birdie or a double bogey....
All 4 of the par 5's were very good ( 1, 9, 13, 17 ) but 17 will stay in the memory banks with a lovely journey up the valley between the cliffs with bunker left and right as well, and a waterfall in one of the bunkers.
The view to the green and beyond down the valley is just lovely!
I had a most enjoyable day at The Hills, with gorgeous weather and great company.
It is a wonderful golfing experience, and if you can afford the $500 green fee you will enjoy your day.
So how good is it?
Very good, but definitely a course for the better player.
You need length, flight and accuracy!
John Darby ( & Brett Thomson ) also designed nearby Jack's Point. Jack's Point is even more visually spectacular, with views of the lake, and The Remarkables as a backdrop.
And it is less than half the price!
Which is better?
After only one game at The Hills I would say they are both very good, and I am sitting firmly on the fence!
The Travelling Golfer regularly hosts or organises group golfing trips to Queenstown. Jack's Point, Millbrook & Arrowtown, plus the variety of activities and the life of Queenstown itself, make for a golfing destination that is both fun and easy.
The Hills makes a very fine addition to that trip if the green fee is within your budget.