With international travel making its long-awaited return, here’s why golfers should look no further than across the ditch.
At the start of 2020, New Zealand was enjoying yet another summer of surging visitation. The golf tourism industry, buoyed by the continued appeal of Tara Iti paired with long-term bucket-list courses like Cape Kidnappers and Jack’s Point, was experiencing its seventh straight year of growth. Yet while the South Pacific was soaking in sunshine, COVID was already making its mark elsewhere in the world.
Twenty days after the first positive case, and with almost no warning, New Zealand closed its borders on March 19, 2020. Many in tourism and the golf industry felt it was a necessary but short-term tool to combat the virus’ spread. We bid farewell to our overseas visitors with expectations that we’d see them again soon. Little did we know that aside from a short-lived “travel bubble” with our Australian neighbours, the borders would remain shut for longer than two years.
So what does a small island nation do when it’s shut the front gates? We plan, renovate and build new golf courses! While domestic golf participation surged to a 40-plus percent lift, private capital was hard at work looking towards a brighter time when we could once again welcome visitors back to our shores.
Since that dark day in 2020, New Zealand has experienced an unprecedented number of renovations, upgrades and new courses. Royal Auckland significantly advanced its complete rebuild of 27 holes and a new clubhouse, Millbrook completed a fourth nine and made vast upgrades to its amenities, Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers both embarked on multi-million-dollar renovations that included all new putting surfaces, and Te Arai Links progressed the construction and grow-in phases of its first 18 holes. Designed by Coore Crenshaw, it will be ready to open this October. At the same time, new courses are in the pipeline by Kyle Phillips, Tom Doak, Darius Oliver and Greg Turner.
For our Australian friends, this means you can enjoy your long-time favourites alongside new additions, with a steady pipeline of new courses that should continue to pique your interest for years to come. But since it’s been a while, we thought we’d give you a reintroduction to New Zealand, starting with the path of least resistance: the direct flights from the major Australian cities.
Upon landing in Auckland, your options are plentiful and only poised to get better in the coming years. For now, we’d suggest checking out the new 27-hole Royal Auckland Golf Club, by Nicklaus Design. Get there early to enjoy the Himalayas-style putting course that sits alongside the new clubhouse.
For a change of scenery, head west to Muriwai, where the black sand links has only gotten better with time. The Tasman Sea is visible from every hole and the wind – which is dangerous from all directions on the compass – can show you a different course tomorrow than you played today. COVID provided an opportunity for a complete renovation of the clubhouse’s ground floor and the upstairs is next on the agenda. While there, check out the selection of local wines and beers available while you soak in the giant views out to the Tasman.
Even after the wettest of days in Auckland, Muriwai provides firm, fast, dry conditions. The course is easily walkable, although carts are available, but we find the course far more enjoyable traversing its bumpy contours on foot. Muriwai Beach, its gannet colony, surf school and nearby cooking school by celebrity chef Mike Van de Elzen, are minutes away, meaning there is something on offer for the whole family.
While in Auckland, visit – or more likely re-visit – Titirangi Golf Club. This gem, seemingly in the middle of the city but bordered on many sides by native bush, is New Zealand’s only course designed by the great Dr Alister MacKenzie. Titirangi has seen its fair share of upgrades in recent years thanks to Clyde Johnston, a young, talented associate of Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design, who has been working away at a restoration project that will ensure Titirangi continues to age like a fine wine. The course is exactly what you want from a historic design: a challenge that comes not through length (the back tees are barely past 6,000 metres at par 71), but through the requirement to hit good shots to score.
The city of Auckland has added more than 1,350 hotel rooms since 2020, including the eco-friendly Hotel Britomart, New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star Hotel. Other noteworthy additions include the quirky QT Auckland (a sister property to many QT hotels found elsewhere in New Zealand and Australia) and the stunning Park Hyatt, the brand’s first build in New Zealand.
Once you’ve had your dose of city, it’s time to head north. If long-time world top 100 course Kauri Cliffs (with its brand new greens) is on your radar, so should the first of two courses at Te Arai Links, debuting this spring. The Coore Crenshaw design (their first in New Zealand) is the 2022 addition, with a second course by Doak expected about a year later. Both courses are as oceanfront as they come and take the golfer on a journey thorough spells of pine forest, over (and sometimes through) dunes, and do so in a true fescue-covered links environment. Te Arai Links will undoubtedly become one of the premier golf destinations not just in New Zealand, but in the world. Even better news? Both will be available for guest play, with on-site dining and accommodation. It’s a friendly drive as well, just beyond an hour from Auckland’s CBD, located near the town of Mangawhai. If there is any question as to the quality of Te Arai Links, it shares the same development group as its neighbour up the beach, Tara Iti, which is lauded the world over.
The past few years has seen a tremendous transformation of golf on the upper North Island, and in the next few to come we expect it to quickly rival Queenstown’s popularity as a ‘must-visit’ area for those seeking the best golf experiences on offer.
THE QUEEN REIGNS
If you prefer mountains over beaches, a South Island adventure can combine golf and activities wrapped in some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand. Consider flying into Christchurch and taking in the Southern Alps before departing for home from Queenstown. This triangular itinerary allows you to cover more ground without any backtracking. Even for those who have visited Christchurch before, it’s worth a return trip. The city is revitalised, with a modern CBD, and of significant appeal is its flagship Riverside Market, with two floors of food, drinks and boutique retail. From Christchurch, one of the most picturesque drives in the world awaits: the trip to Queenstown through the spine of the South Island.
On the way, it’s worth a short detour to check out Fable Terrace Downs Resort, whose new ownership is working to re-establish the high-country facility as one of the few true golf resorts in the country. The accommodation offers 25 spacious villas in one, two or three-bedroom options, all self-contained and offering huge views of nearby Mt Hutt. The stone and chimneyed clubhouse prides itself on menus using fresh, local ingredients, and big open fires provide the perfect way to end your day. The 16th hole is a brilliant short par 3 whose vista includes the top of the mountain down to the Rakaia River below, where a range of activities are available including fly fishing and jetboating.
It’s a five-hour drive south to Queenstown via State Highway 8, with a seemingly never-ending supply of Instagrammable stops along the way. Lake Tekapo, with its turquoise water and iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, and the charming town of Cromwell are both worthy of your time, as are several stops in quaint little towns for ice cream, roadside fruit stands and coffee.
In Queenstown, the options are endless, with the list of what isn’t available surely shorter than the list of what is. Five golf courses sit within 20 minutes of the town centre. Local favourites Queenstown Golf Club and Arrowtown Golf Club are absolutely worth a look, the former built on a peninsula jutting into Lake Wakatipu, the latter a schist-laden layout that Tom Doak has proclaimed to be the best design on the South Island. Many would also be familiar with Queenstown’s “Big Three” of The Hills, Jack’s Point and Millbrook. Each offers a unique golf experience paired with jaw-dropping alpine scenery. During the past two years, Millbrook has added a fourth nine – built on the most incredible land on the property – to become New Zealand’s first 36-hole resort facility. Local resident Greg Turner spent hundreds of hours on-site to tease out a routing with design partner Scott Macpherson that traverses rocky outcrops and provides exceptional views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Staying in accommodation in town lets you walk to the restaurants, stroll Queenstown’s local shops and take in the sunset views over the lake. One of the best spots for this is The Glebe, which is a five-minute walk from the lakefront and its huge selection of dining options. Check out Madam Woo with its Malaysian Street food (try a Pork Hawker Roll – you’ll be glad you did). Afterwards, stop by Patagonia Chocolates for one of the best hot chocolates you’ll ever have, with the chocolate ladled out from a giant urn. Offering apartments ranging from studios to four-bedroom options and six penthouses, The Glebe can accommodate a couple’s getaway or a large family holiday, and anything in between. The Glebe’s location is also a short distance to the pick-up points for Queenstown’s most popular activities: jetboating, rafting, bungee jumping, hiking, cycling, wine tours and fly fishing.
With so much on offer in Queenstown, we recommend speaking with the team at Remarkable Golf Tours. They specialise in protecting what’s most valuable to you: your time. With more than 15 years’ experience, Tim and his team can handle everything from planning the perfect trip to transport around town, and we’ve yet to find anything they can’t tackle with ease. Whether it’s securing access to a popular spot, finding activities to please a wide range of people – big or small, budget or blowout – they have seen it all and have a track record of delivery. These are true locals who can ensure that you experience the best Queenstown has to offer and make the most of every moment of your visit.
If you’re like most, the departure from Queenstown will have you already plotting your return to our shores. We think there are a few reasons why you’ll want to come back. Construction will start later this year on a new Greg Turner design near Arrowtown. With a working name of Hogan’s Gully, the course will play through a series of dramatic gullies with exposed rockfaces. It’s as if previous ice ages knew that golf would be played on the site, leaving perfect playing corridors to work your way around the course.
At the bottom of the North Island, Australian designer Darius Oliver has laid out a true links on a sandy site near Ohau (about 35 minutes north of one of New Zealand’s best courses, Paraparaumu Beach Golf Links). While it’s yet to receive development approvals, the local golf community is hopeful of a start in late 2022.
Further north, near Muriwai on Auckland’s west coast, a luxury lodge and golf course are working through the development approval process now. It marks the first design in New Zealand by Kyle Phillips (he of Kingsbarns, Yas Links and South Cape Owner’s Club), one of the last remaining ‘rockstar’ architects who hasn’t worked on our shores.