With two new courses in the Auckland area and Titirangi having completed some decent restoration work, we thought it was time for The Travelling Golfer to get an update on Auckland and its surrounding golf courses.
So Asha and I recently travelled over to sample the Kiwi fare this spring.
While in Auckland we stayed inner city at the recently renovated Grand Mercure. While structurely the building is quite old, you can't tell from the inside with nice modern furnishings and rooms with views of the city or the harbour. Breakfast was a real highlight- located on the top level with great views of the harbour. This is also where its restaurant and bar is located. The Hotel is in the perfect at location in Britomart, with plenty of trendy bars and restaurants to choose from at every corner.
We then ventured to see the sights of Auckland. Highlights include the Sky Tower with its 360 degrees views and glass floors which do get the legs wobbling, and New Zealand's best art- showcased at the quality 'Toi o Tamaki' art galley. It also worth exploring the city by foot as there are little spots of interest scattered around the city.
We also recommend climbing to the top of Mount Eden for great city views and to see its huge grassy crater and lush gardens to the side of the dormant volcano.
FUN FACT: Auckland has built itself on top of 50 volcanoes that are not all extinct. In fact no one is sure when the next eruption could happen as there is a reservoir of magma bubbling 100km below. However only 19 eruptions have occured in the last 20,000 years with the most recent 600 years ago.
Now to the golf, with my first stop being Titirangi Golf Club, probably best know for the design work from the famous Dr Alister Mackenzie. The course has in recent years been given and is still undergoing a facelift by Clyde Johnson, a young course designer based in St Andrews Scotland who did his internship with Tom Doak.
The land is not perfect for a golf course with some fairly flattish spots, mixed with some steeper undulations and ravines- which all made the routing of the course a real challenge if it were to remain interesting. So its a real credit to MacKenzie how good the course is considering those challenges. This being my first visit to Titirangi, it was hard to guage what it was like a few year back before the renovations, but there look to be some holes with noticeable improvements- such as the 2nd and the 8th holes with new bunkering and use of water hazards. The white sand bunkering around the course looks fantastic and is a nice contrast to the craggy pines and green grass. This is particularly so on the par 4 18th hole with it's green surrounded by a swarm of Mackenzie-esk style bunkering.
In summary, the best holes on the course are 3, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 18 as well as other many great holes. I felt the only real weakness on the course is the treelined par 5 17th hole named 'highway'. I'm hoping some works in the future improve this rather unimpressive hole. Overall Titirangi was a pleasure to play, and should be part of any golfing itinerary in the area.
That afternoon, we ventured south to visit the new Windross Farm. Nestled around valleys and hills set on farmland, it was noticble on entry that the land must of been dead flat before the course was built (potentially in flood plains!). But, arriving as we did after 80mm of rain in a month, the course showed no signs of flooding. It reminded me of the flat farmlards in the Yarra Valley surrounded by the hills.
I wasn't able to play the course, but managed to walk around and see most of the holes. The designer Brett Robinson (Jack's Point, The Hills) has done an impressive job to make the course interesting by moving soil to create ragged dunes between each hole, therefore separating them a bit. His green complexes are also a highlight, and his use of ponds, wetlands and burns to augment what is essentially a links style course. Although there are some holes which run parallel, the designer has done well to mask this by variation in the hole design: no hole is alike. However the lack of movement in the terrain means the dunes can sometimes look a little out of place compared to the surroundings and there is virtually no movement in the fairways.
It is however a lovely setting, and the course it definelty worth travelling to play. it is in tip top condition, has well designed holes suitable for all level of golfers and has some unique and memorable holes as well..
The next day I played at Gulf Harbour. I had seen plenty of photos of the signature holes and also heard about it's troubles in the past decade. So I was interested to see if the course was still up to scratch!
The course is situated among rolling hills (quite severe at times), with some holes featured along the cliffs. I was pleasantly surprised by the front 9 and thoroughly impressed- there was not a weak hole IMO. As early as the 3rd hole I mentioned Asha that it was the type of course you could be a member due to the interest in each holes and playability. A couple of holes have a Robert Trent Jones Jr feel to them, but once you get to the 11th and onwards to the 17th, there is certainly some serious wow factor to the course. On the downside, the view of the Gulf Harbour lodge, it's surrounding marina and houses are not a particularly good sight on the front 9, but as you venture to the 'speccy' holes, all is forgiven. Gulf Harbour is definitely worth a play- and everyone needs to see the signature par 5 16th hole!
That same day, we also travelled to the new Wainui Golf Course. The course its nestled in the hills and valleys about 45 mins north of Auckland. In ways it very much reminds me of the St John course at The Heritage G & CC, in the Yarra Valley- with similar terrain, pines and bunkering. It is not until you get out on the course that you notice the interesting and quirky holes. I liked the course immediately, particularly because there were golf holes the like I had not really seen before. Some were a little offbeat, slighty quirky, but great fun to play. For the average golfer, this would certainly be the most testing of the 4 Auckland courses in this report- mainly due to the accuracy required on shots required over ditches, in between and around trees, and over and in between water hazards. The better golfer will enjoy the course and its surrounds whereas the lesser skilled player may find it challenging.
That night we stayed in the quiet beachside town of Mangawhai. Even though the town has a lovely little public course, we came to see Tara Iti Golf Club. Unfortunately, I did not get to play, but did get to roam around and see a really wonderful course, it's facilities and accomodation. I haven't played Cypress Point, but Tara Iti certainly had some holes that I think had the similar look and feel. I certainly understood why it is rated 29 in the world on debut. Particularly impressive was the drivable, but deadly short par 4 7th hole- it really stood out to me as a drool-worthy hole to play...
Of course, this is a must play course and the best in NZ for good reason. The course is not open to the public, but we can organise stay and plays for who can afford it.
After Tara Iti, we went further north to Paihia, situated in the Bay of Islands. There is plenty to see and do here- of particular note is a visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to learn more about how New Zealand's history and how people learned to live together and settle in this wonderful country. Another highlight is the 'Hole in the Rock' boat tour, or just spending some time swimming: the area has lovely calm beaches!
We then headed a further 45min north from Paihia to play the thoroughly breathtaking Kauri Cliffs. The setting is simply stunning, matched with a spectacular quality golf course and 6 star accommodation and hospitality. Set on an huge amount of acreage, the property is set in a truly wonderful part of the world with a must play top 100 world golf course.
The Travelling Golfer