HAWKE'S BAY, New Zealand -- Golf has always been a passion for the Kiwis. With roughly 400 courses spread across the North and South islands, New Zealand boasts more courses per capita than anywhere in the world.
The small country of 4.4 million people has produced major champions Sir Bob Charles and Michael Campbell; the most famous (or infamous) caddie ever in Steve Williams; a Golf Channel analyst in Frank Nobilo and a teenage star on the LPGA Tour, amateur Lydia Ko.
American hedge fund giant Julian Robertson put New Zealand golf on the international radar by developing Kauri Cliffs in 2000 and Tom Doak's Cape Kidnappers in 2004.
These two world top-100 courses on the North Island complement classics such as Alister MacKenzie's Titirangi Golf Club near Auckland, the Wairakei International Golf Course in Taupo and Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club near Wellington. Jack Nicklaus added The Kinloch Club near Wairakei in 2007.
Doak is currently designing the Tara-iti Golf Club in Mangawhai, 100 kilometers north of Auckland. The oceanfront links will certainly bring a new wave of golf explorers should it open as scheduled in 2014.
On the South Island, Queenstown offers five strong courses surrounded by the Remarkables Mountains, including three with ties to John Darby, a local real-estate developer who studied course architecture at Harvard University.
The Queenstown Golf Club, also called Kelvin Heights, and the stunning Jack's Point, designed by Darby in 2008, straddle the scenic Lake Wakatipu.
The Hills Golf Club, a private club that offers public play, started as Sir Michael Hill's backyard par-3 playground before Darby completed it in 2007. It has hosted three New Zealand Opens and two New Zealand PGA Championships. Charles, the first left-handed player to win a major, and Darby built the original 18 holes at Millbrook Resort in 1993 before Greg Turner added the Coronet nine in 2010.