TRAVEL FEATURE

Northern New Zealand Golf Courses Sizzle in the Warm Climate

By Shawn Nicholls,
Contributor

NEW ZEALAND (Sept. 21, 2002) -- New Zealand is starting to make a name for itself in the world of golf, stepping out of the massive shadow cast by neighboring Australia and into the international spotlight.

First, a few years ago, New Zealand native Michael Campbell emerged in Nike clothing looking eerily similar to Tiger Woods, and went on to win several events around the world and made a respectable showing in a few majors.

 

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Then New Zealand’s rugby player turned looper, Steve Williams, took up the bag for the aforementioned Woods and almost single-handedly cemented the Kiwi’s spot on the golfing map.

And now, most recently, Craig Parry, a seasoned pro known as much for his drought on U.S. soil as for his 19 worldwide wins, swooped into Seattle and ripped the NEC Invitational title and behemoth paycheck from Woods’ stronghold.

Tour personalities are putting New Zealand on the minds of golf fans around the world, but great golf facilities are putting this unassuming island off the coast of OZ on the golf map.

The Country

In terms of land mass, New Zealand is a mere 270,000 square kilometers, while the outback measures somewhere in the neighborhood of eight million.

New Zealand is separated into two parts by the Cook Strait. The smaller chunk, home to the capital city of Wellington at one end and the famous ninety-mile beach at the other, is the northern island. The southern portion is punctuated by the Mt. Cook National Park.

New Zealand is a natural wonderland, seemingly plunked down in the middle of the South Pacific. From the glacial mountains to the cool rivers and crystal clear lakes, to the geysers and everyone’s favorite, boiling mud, New Zealand may not be your typical posh, refined vacation destination.

And as you wonder aimlessly through the country’s terrain, or lie quietly on any of its sparsely populated beaches, remember that where there is great scenery, good golf is surely to be just around the corner.

Top Courses

With numerous courses countrywide worthy of mention, it is near impossible to fit them all into this space. So this week, WorldGolf.com will take a look at the northern region of the country, while the south’s golf options will be detailed next week.

One of New Zealand’s most frequented tourist sites in the northeast’s Bay of Plenty is also home to one of its better golf courses. With the presence of a mountain looming in the backdrop, the breathtaking blend of white beach meeting light blue ocean makes the Mount Maunganui beach a perfect location to spend a December day.

And just minutes from this tranquil setting is the Mt Maunganui Golf Club (64-7-575-3889) , home to this year’s Asia Pacific Senior Amateur Golf Championship.

With wide, but tree-protected fairways, luscious greens, and its fair share of deep bunkers, the championship track is a formidable challenge, but also one that should be played just for the scenery and on foot.

The clubhouse features glass walls that allow for more breathtaking views of the course, a perfect opportunity to reflect on the 18 holes of the day, and perhaps just enough to convince you to indulge in a few more.

Also situated in New Zealand’s large Bay of Plenty region, five minutes north of the town of Taupo is the Wairakei International (64-7-374-8152), internationally recognized by Golf Digest as one of the top 20 golf course outside the United States.

Designed by five-time British Open champ Peter Thomson, the par-72 championship track makes full use of the land allotted. Few holes border one another, with the fairways themselves being well protected by massive trees and bunkers. The first hole alone, one of the course’s shorter par fives, features 11 sand traps.

The signature hole may very well be the par-4 eighth, nicknamed Farmer’s Folly, as the small landing area will test golfers from the tee, while the real challenge comes in navigating across the man made lake and several protective bunkers to find safety on the tricky green.

Gulf Harbour (64-9-428-1380) is northern New Zealand’s Pebble Beach -- the course by which many others in the country are compared.

The course and accompanying country club, home to the World Cup of Golf in 1998, are situated snug in the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, just north of Auckland. Robert Trent Jones, Jr. is responsible for the design, and the holes sparkle of his unique touch. Native grasses and vegetation give the course a natural feel.

While the hilly, wide-open front nine will persuade you to let loose off the tee, it is a stark contrast to the back nine, which suddenly because tighter with the addition of the ocean on the horizon.

The dramatic and scenic back nine culminates with 15, 16, and 17, all of which are immediately made tougher by the presence of the ocean, and have accurately been coined “The Trilogy.” No. 15 is a short par 3 that plays directly into the ocean. While most should be able to avoid the water, the whipping winds and the downhill nature of the hole are sure to make the tee shot a knee knocker.

But that challenge is quickly forgotten once you arrive at the No. 16 tee. A dogleg to the right offers the more adventurous a great chance to get a lot of distance off the hole, and perhaps make a good score coming in, but the ocean, which runs the length of the hole and curves behind the green, is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Nicknamed Ta Moko, which means “you be the judge,” it eerily sets up as a hole that John Daly may be tempted to dump a half dozen in the ocean trying to reach the green, much like he did years ago at Bay Hill.

Best of the Rest in the North

The Hutt Golf Club (64-4-567-4722) is located just 20 short minutes from Wellington. Opened in 1892, it is the oldest on the north portion of the country. Also in Wellington, this time a tad closer to the city’s international airport, is the Miramar Golf Club (64-4-388-2099).

Finally, close to two dozen playable tracks are scattered around Mt. Taranaki, many of which are positioned on the western coast of the north island. The scenery of the ocean and mountain aside, spending a few days sampling the golf in this region is well worth the time.

Shawn Nicholls is a WorldGolf.com staff writer.

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