Tara Iti Golf Club opened in late 2015, and is located just over and hour north of Auckland on New Zealand's north island. The course was designed by Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf team, and this course is quintessential Tom Doak.
American Ric Kayne teamed up with local John Darby to find the land, and the pine forests at Te Arai was the second property that they asked Doak to assess. When Tom Doak did his initial inspection the land was heavily forested right to the sea. But it was all sand based , right on the beach, and with a beautiful island backdrop. Apparently it didn't take Tom Doak long to establish that the land was worthy, and work out an initial routing. But there was still much to do, and even when the pines came down the natural undulations that one comes to expect on a real links course were missing...
Looking at the finished product now it is hard to grasp the scope of the skills the Renaissance Golf Team has employed in constructing the dips, valleys, and movement through the course that make it look and play like a classic links course. Apparently it took 2 years of painstaking work to create the overall links landscape after the trees were removed.
Tara Iti may well become known as the best course in New Zealand, knocking off another Doak course in Cape Kidnappers. Kidnappers is spectacular and expertly designed, but Tara Iti will get the purists vote.
After my involvement in the development of Barnbougle Dunes, I find it hard to make impartial decisions comparing the relative merit of Tom Doak courses. I always rated Barnbougle Dunes as his best course. It's pure links in a lovely setting with a design that gives all level of players challenges- yet offers all level of player a way to play each hole. No two holes resemble each other, and with the variety of pin positions and tees, and variation in the weather, the course plays differently each time.
And it is just great fun!
It is a course you could play every day.
Tara Iti also sits in rarified air. Unusually it took me three plays before I really became an advocate, but I am now tempted to declare that the front nine holes at Tara Iti is Tom Doak's best work. The setting is gorgeous, the fescue fairways and greens are firm and fast- the ball just does not want to stop rolling, and with a gentle zephyr blowing off the sea, this is pure links golf...
At Tara Iti they have a strict caddy policy, so as you stroll to the first tee you need not worry about your golf bag- just limber up for a memorable golfing experience. Tara Iti is a private members course and undoubtably the most exclusive in New Zealand. The services that accompany the golf are first class, from your greeting on arrival, to the simple but classy clubhouse, and hospitality services within.
The first hole does not disappoint with a unique medium length dog leg par 4 that has a wide fairway to hit to the right, and a decent carry over yawning bunkers on the left if you want to shorten the hole, or improve the angle of attack to the green. My first reaction when I approached my tee shot and saw the siting of the green tucked around the corner was- how cool! Yet the hole displays classic risk reward strategies. It is a memorable hole!
The second hole is a shortish par 3 with a carry over bunkers to a very large tiered green. The backdrop is spectacular, but your eye is immediately drawn to the pot bunker in the centre back of the green. Owner Ric Kayne resides on the famous sixth hole at Riviera- which of course has the bunker in the centre of the green- and this hole at Tara Iti playfully acknowledges same...It's a fun hole, and one where we spent ages trying putts from different positions.
Hole 3 is a long dog leg par 4 which heads to the sea and then turns right around the dunes. It has a really interesting green site sloping away front to back at and angle between two dunes. Most times you will need to land your approach short and bounce it in. Very Cool!
In contrast hole four is a short uphill , driveable par 4 with a green that demands a precise approach. It's a challenge I wanted to take over.
Hole 5 is a par 5 with larger flatter terrrain for the drive and second shot- and the sliver of fairway is surrounded by a sea of sand with bunker tongues protruding into the fairway demanding your attention. For me this hole is made by the deep sandy bunker/gorge that needs to be negotiated to get to the green. It looks great and yet you definitely don't want to be playing your next shot in it's depths. The green is well contoured and the pot bunker left will see a lot of action.
When you walk over the dune on to the sixth tee , most will stop and take stock of where they are, and take a photo. It really is a beautiful hole with a lovely backdrop. The tees are elevated on the dunes, and the hole heads down into a valley behind the frontal dune, and then back up again to a lovely green set in the dune above you with sea behind. This was one of my favourite holes at Tara Iti.
Hole seven is a short par four hole that is also a favourite, and in my opinion the best hole on the course- but then again I am a sucker for a good par 4 that makes you think.
From an elevated tee, the green is reachable with one good solid blow. But it must be accurate! The fairway below is angled and tightens the longer you hit. The conservative approach could be as little as a 5 iron off the tee and a wedge in. The green is slightly elevated, and tiny with enough contour to scare anybody. The putting surface is firm and fast as you would expect, so any approach must be accurate to not just hit the green, but to stay on that dancefloor. Each day with different winds, and different pins we found different ways to play the hole, only occassionaly succeeding. Brilliant!
The front nine closes with a wonderful green complex on the ninth hole, a long par four requiring two good shots to get home. The green is set between two dunes- forward and back, and the shot coming in from the left hand side can run through the green and off the dune and back to the green. It s a fun hole.
The back nine has a slightly different feel to the front nine. It was completed later , and has not quite settled into the landscape as much. And it is a broader canvas than the front nine with a more pronounced overall fall to the far end of the course. I enjoyed the 3 par 3's on the back side starting with a long challenging one shotter on the 10th. Depending on the tee you play and the wind it might require a long iron, or a driver- but you must be accurate as all roads take you left to a collection of greenside bunkers with a jungle of vegetation the central feature. The par 3 15th runs parallel to the beach, and is a world class hole. Off the 'normal tees' one might hit a mid to short iron, and it is 'just right', but off the new back tees put in by Ric Kayne it is a long iron or wood, and championship standard- too hard for me!
The final par 3, the seventeeth is shorter- usually a short iron- but this hole has teeth! The wind is a real factor as the hole heads directly to the sea, and the playing surface is a small target and hard to hold. Many matches will be decided on this hole- in any sort of wind the player who can hit and hold this green will likely win the hole. I love the fact that a short hole like this can challenge any level of player, and that length is not a factor.
Hole 11 is a par 5 with a lovely green complex, hole 12 has similarities with hole 4 West at Royal Melbourne with its uphill tee shot, Hole 13 is a short uphill perhaps driveable par 4 with a tricky green, and hole 14 is a longer downhill par 4 with a gorgeous backdrop. And you definitely need to bounce your ball in here to stop it.
One of the outstanding holes on the back is the par 5 eighteenth hole, a double dogleg, which bends and swerves along a valley between dunes with tongues of bunkers protruding into the fairway to keep you honest. If you play the hole well, you should have a short iron approach to an elevated green with enough rock and roll to demand you concentrate to that last putt.
Overall I thought the bank nine was excellent- but I am not warm and fuzzy about it like I am the front nine. No doubt as the back nine matures it will improve, and I reserve the right to revise my assessment on future investigation...
So is Tara Iti New Zealand's best course?
I think for those that are influenced heavily by the location and vistas, Cape Kidnappers will remain their favourite. It is a spectacular setting with expert design in diificult terrain.
But the purist will pick Tara Iti for its variety, shot values, and pure fun!
How does Tara Iti rank in Tom Doak's outstanding portfolio of designs?
I am of the opinion that TD is the leading designer of our time- and Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Stone Eagle, Rock Creek Cattle Co, Ballyneal, Old MacDonald, St Emillion, Streamsong Blue and others are testament to that view. I think the front nine at Tara Iti is as good as anything he has produced, and that overall it sits in the top 5 Doak courses.
Teeing It Up at Tara Iti
Tara Iti is a private members club, and as such not open to the public.
Access is possible on a very limited basis on application to the Director of Golf, or invitation from a member.
The Travelling Golfer may be able to assist in this regard if circumstances permit.
Tara Iti is a very special golfing experience. We rate it a Travelling Golfer "must play!"
The Travelling Golfer can tailor a golf trip to New Zealand to suit your group. For itinerary suggestions please see Destinations: New Zealand
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