IT IS remarkable that golf could be overshadowed in Queenstown, but it is.
Call it the Stuart MacGill of South Island tourism – world-class in its own right, but unfortunately not the first star picked.
MacGill’s archrival happened to be cricket’s greatest leg spinner, Shane Warne. And Queenstown golf faces similarly stiff competition via a smorgasbord of recreation from the peaks of The Remarkables to the bottom of Lake Wakatipu.
Though thrill seekers would consider it a two-horse race between the region’s acclaimed ski slopes and adrenaline rushes like bungee jumping or jet boating, there’s absolutely breathtaking scenery for nature lovers, Arrowtown for the history buffs and a host of delectable restaurants for the foodies.
Oh, and Queenstown happens to be at the epicentre of New Zealand’s famous Central Otago region – voted in the world’s top-five new-world wine producers.
Golfers who’ve seen pictures of Jack’s Point, The Hills and Millbrook may find it ludicrous that some of the country’s best layouts (those standing at the foot of snow-capped mountains and bordering vast lakes)wouldn’t be the centrepiece of this treasured Kiwi destination. But Queenstown’s tourism industry is unlike any other in the world.
And who is the beneficiary?
You, the travelling golfer.
As a wise man once told this writer, it is the colours of Queenstown that make its golf so captivating. The signature palette of this alpine region is a combination of glowing white from the snow-capped Remarkables mountain range set against beautiful shades of brown from Queenstown’s unique soil and rocks. Contrasted with the green of six manicured golf courses within 25 minutes, Queenstown’s spectrum makes for a truly special experience – regardless of the layout you’re playing.
The marquee courses here are the ones spruiked to the world, and rightfully so. Jack’s Point, The Hills and Millbrook were this year ranked in New Zealand’s top 10 by this magazine. Jack’s Point, 10 minutes from Queenstown airport, achieved the No.2 ranking on the back of its location; wedged between the eastern shores of Lake Wakatipu and 2,300 vertical metres of The Remarkables. Put simply, every inch of this John Darby design is utterly spectacular. The 6,388-metre masterpiece will have you weaving through native tussock grasslands and dramatic, rocky outcrops while playing down steep bluffs and swathes of native bush – all the while taking in continuous lakeside scenery. Our tip: take five minutes on the tee at the signature par-3 seventh to soak up its otherworldly views.
Jack’s Point is also constructing The Village – a vibrant residential community built around Lake Tewa. The Village will comprise of a mix of luxury boathouses, affordable apartments, restaurants, cafés, retail stores and small innovate businesses with the aim of creating “an exciting work and lifestyle mix”.
Darby’s other Queenstown design, New Zealand Open co-host The Hills, combines severe changes in elevation, world-class conditioning and the mountain motif for an unforgettable round at the Kiwi No.6.
Millbrook Resort, which next month will be the primary host of the New Zealand Open, is Queenstown’s only 27-hole venue, with construction beginning soon on a fourth nine to complement its residential/resort development. The Remarkables and Arrow nines were designed by legendary Kiwi golfer Sir Bob Charles, and renovated by former tour pro Greg Turner in 2010 to include the addition of his Coronet nine. While Charles’ 18 holes are more forgiving for the average golfer, Turner’s Coronet loop will have you hitting dramatic tee shots and thrilling approaches to a series of boldly-contoured greens.
Millbrook’s point of difference is a sleepy village atmosphere enhanced by paved pathways linking historic cabins that separately house the clubhouse, pro shop and café/restaurant. Walking through Millbrook Resort is a charming nod to Arrowtown’s goldmining history, and throughout the course you’ll also see rustic tributes to the property’s original purpose as a 450-acre wheat farm. Notably the driving range, which is housed in a restored original high-country woolshed.
You couldn’t call the remaining courses in Queenstown ‘hidden gems’ or ‘unsung heroes’ because these fantastic layouts are no secret to the golf world. Arrowtown Golf Club [below] is one of the most popular courses in New Zealand and counts renowned course architect Tom Doak as one of its biggest fans. “Arrowtown – it’s so short some people won’t give it credit but it’s unique and on my list of favourite places in New Zealand,” Doak said.
Ranked Kiwi No.13, the ruggedly handsome Arrowtown starts with a tight front nine meandering through canyons and schist rock, while the back nine is more open but features water on seven holes. The best time of year to play Arrowtown is undoubtedly March or April, when the autumn foliage is simply breathtaking.
Set on its own peninsula at Kelvin Heights and surrounded by gorgeous Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown Golf Club is one of the most picturesque golf course settings in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Pristine pine trees line the fairways of this parkland-style layout, while rock features and panoramic vistas of the lake and mountains are enjoyed throughout the round. With its par-72 (74 for women) course measuring 6,103 metres, Queenstown Golf Club is among the most enjoyable rounds you’ll play in New Zealand.
Where To Stay – The Rees
Shortly after this scribe stayed at The Rees Hotel Queenstown, it was crowned ‘Best New Zealand Ski Hotel’ at the World Ski Awards in Austria.
It came as no surprise that The Rees was selected from a shortlist of seven properties across New Zealand as its accommodation, service (and wine list) are absolutely world class. The Rees blends chic, 5-star accommodation with the comforts of home and the service/facilities typical of an elite international hotel. The Rees’ location on the lakefront and its terraced construction has guests enjoying jaw-dropping views of Lake Wakatipu and The Remakables from the privacy of large private balconies. It is also the ideal golf and ski accommodation option for families, couples and groups; generously sized hotel rooms as well as one, two and three-bedroom apartments are a perfect end to a day spent at one of Queenstown’s fantastic courses.
Plus, no hotel or restaurant in Queenstown could come close to The Rees’ acclaimed wine selection – The Rees was awarded the 2016 Award of Excellence by US Wine Spectator for the fourth consecutive year. In addition, The Rees’ flagship restaurant, True South Dining Room, was given two stars in the World of Fine Wine’s 2016 World’s Best Wine Lists.
Wanaka Golf Club [below] was among the best $70 rounds of golf this writer has come across. This tastefully designed 18-hole course has some of the most interesting tee and approach shots you’ll encounter at a public-access course. Set on undulating land perched high above Wanaka’s town centre, there are inspiring vistas of the mountain range and Lake Wanaka from every hole on the front nine.
Due to Wanaka’s popularity surge in recent years, the club has had to increase its fleet of motorised carts and is improving the facilities to cater to large golf groups.
Our tip: if you’re not hitting the slopes, Wanaka is perhaps just a day trip or overnighter for most travellers, given it is no more than an hour’s drive from Queenstown. Wanaka is no longer a secret with the popular Cardrona, Treble Cone and Snow Farm snowfields close by, but unless you’re skiing you can probably play a morning round at Wanaka and spend the rest of the afternoon/night checking out the town and lake.
Try Something Different
Although it’s inland, Cromwell Golf Club’s terrain still offers a coastal links feel. Cromwell [below] was crafted out of marram grass and sand dunes with hard, fast-running fairways and dramatically undulating greens keeping the excitement levels high. While New Zealand holds a reputation for unpredictable weather, Cromwell’s inland climate sees it available year-round for golf with little disruption. And with visitor green fees ranging from $50 to $75 (seasonal), you’d be silly not to play Cromwell while travelling through the South Island. Need more convincing? On the banks of the Kawarau River, the Cromwell basin is a part of the Central Otago wine region – boasting 11 wineries nearby for grape lovers.
The Gibbston Valley
It would be difficult to top Central Otago as the world’s most picturesque wine region. The globe’s southernmost wine producer has six sub-regions that take in spectacular lakes, mountain ranges, gorges and valleys. Closest to Queenstown is the Gibbston Valley, set among rugged mountains and the rocky Kawarau River gorge. More than 70 per cent of the grapes grown here are pinot noir; with chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling and sauvignon blanc making up the remainder.
In addition to the Gibbston Valley winery, there is also Mt Edward, Amisfield Winery & Bistro, Brennan, Chard Farm, Coal Pit, Mt Rosa, Peregrine and Waitiri Creek that are must visits. Brennan Wines was this writer’s pick – the boutique winery’s outstanding service and philosophy (producing limited quantities of exceptional wine that truly represent the region) were hard to beat. Allow a full day to tour the Gibbston’s variety of cellar doors.
Queenstown’s restaurant scene offers everything from local and ethnic cuisine to award-winning chefs across 150 cafés and restaurants. For fine dining, be sure to book in at Rata – the creation of internationally recognised, Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett – or Eichardt’s Bar if you want luxury cuisine in the form of mouth-watering tapas. For a fix of epic meat, visit Botswana Butchery and ask for the little black book of special cuts.
Queenstown is also famous for faster food options such as curry, Chinese and pizza, but the world-famous Fergburger is essential while you’re here. Its iconic and affordable burgers have queues lining out the door. But don’t worry, one of the most delicious burgers you’ll ever consume is made at lightening speed.
How To Get There
Remarkable Golf Tours (RGT) is your go-to company for incredible golf trips to Queenstown, with a ground-based tour agent providing you local information first hand and somebody on the other end of the phone you can trust to organise the best of what Queenstown has to offer, whether spectacular golf courses, delectable restaurants and wineries or breathtaking sightseeing.
RGT was established in Queenstown in 2007 to provide a range of golf services for visitors to New Zealand and have arranged tours for thousands of golfers from all corners of the globe.
RGT has expanded its vehicle fleet to cater to a range of group sizes from couples to large touring parties, and the service remains focused on the finer details of planning that ensure a seamless golf trip. However large or small your group is, take the opportunity to contact Remarkable Golf Tours to see what they can offer you. For more information, visit remarkablegolftours.co.nz