Touring golfers visiting New Zealand will certainly want to play both Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs, so comparisons will always be drawn. Kauri Cliffs is a little closer to the ocean and has been laid out to make the most of the sea views. The 6th, 7th and then the run from the 14th to the 17th are all as close to the water as the topography allows.
Common to its sister course Cape Kidnappers 500 miles to the south, Kauri Cliffs is a cliff top golf course situated in an enormous tract of land. As course designer David Harman pointed out ďat Kauri Cliffs, there are 4,500 acres; I see a couple of hundred golf holes. How do you tie them together? Thatís the challenge.Ē Even though the golf course fills a small part of Julian Robertsonís land, the routing is elongated to make the most of the stunning sea views. The straight-line distance from the two extremities of the course (the 7th tee to the 14th tee) must surely be the longest of all non-links courses anywhere in the world.
Nothing whitens the knuckles quite like the experience of being asked to play across gorges and onto fairways bordered by the healthiest looking long grass in the world. Most balls that find this deepest cut of rough are gone forever. Playing Kauri Cliffs is quite a formidable test from the tees and Iím sure Iím not alone in fearing that a mounting tally of lost balls was beginning to detract from the views. An important decision for the golfer at the outset of his or her day is to select an appropriate set of tees from which to play.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs and the golf course are well admired by all who visit this striking part of the North Island. Travelling American golfers, who form an important part of the visitor base, compare Kauri Cliffs favourably with Cypress Point and Pebble Beach.
The above passage is a brief edited extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
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Iíll try not to dwell too much on this but put quite simply, if you are passionate about playing the best that golf can offer then you must play Kauri Cliffs at least once! Played here on part of a southern hemisphere golfing odyssey and it was certainly the most memorable experience among many great ones. As an overall experience it was sensational.
Obviously itís a bit remote ( as often the best courses can be) at roughly 3.5 hours from Auckland but the combination of scenery, conditioning, golf holes and service is utterly world class. The price is high of course, but lets face it, this could be once in a lifetime stuff. So the drive down involves stopping at the locked gate, speaking into the intercom before they open it up and let you drive a few kms to the beautiful clubhouse, already makes it feel pretty prestigious and special. We arrived first thing in the morning and had the place almost entirely to ourselves ( told there were only about 10 people out for the whole day). The view from the practice ground makes it difficult to focus on swing thoughts as we hit from the triangular piles of balls lined up, must be the most scenic range on earth.. Anyway, the course..
We played off the tips and it was certainly a challenge with a 2 club wind or so. You can see from the off itís manicured to perfection and the greens were 12 on the stimp that day. In terms of memorable holes, there are many! The par 5 4th is a sensation risk reward hole with the green emerging from a characteristic gorge and well framed bunkers either side. From there the run of holes 5 to 7 are epic.. 2 par 3s played over 400 foot gorges with the 5th demanding a precise fade and the 7th providing what I thought was the most stupendous view ( until I reached the back nine).
The start to the back 9 offers a different style with holes 10-13 playing without the stupendous sea views but are all excellent holes with very different characteristics. A short beautiful downhill par 4 followed by and excellent flat hole with an island green surrounded by reeds ( possibly the hidden gem on a course that offers many more visually stunning holes). The blind par 4 13th has an excellent approach to a well guarded green and leads on to the final stretch that is without doubt the most visually spectacular collection of any I have played. 400 foot cliffs onto pristine blue water and countless islands off to the distance. 14 to 17 all play in a similar direction along the cliff tops but each has a unique quality and its hard to pick out a favourite. Many seem to rate 17 as the standout though I really enjoyed the almost driveable par 4 prior.
So what are the flaws? I think as Matt Richardson states, the par 3s 5 and 7 are similar(ish) though both may go into my favourite par 3s of all time. The 9th and 18th could also be looked at that way and the opening 3 holes just donít make your jaw drop as much as the rest. Comparing it to the others on our tour, and as a golf course in its own right we rated Barnbougle and Kinloch as superior and more cerebral layouts. As an overall experience however, taking all aspects into account Kauri maybe just came out on top..
What an astounding course Kauri Cliffs is Ė so many spectacular stand-out holes, in such outrageously beautiful surroundings, with the myriad of tiny islands jutting proudly from the ocean that make up the Cavallis creating a constant background canvas. Not to mention that the place is immaculately conditioned, and it all feels like itís on such a grand scale.
After three gentler openers (though not exactly easy), the course starts to show its full magnificence with the par-5 4th, a dog-leg right with a huge drop off down the right hand side, the final approach played to the backdrop of an amazing coastline to the south. Then the real intimidation begins. Standing on the 5th tee, with a 2-iron in my hand, I looked up to see what seemed like a postage-stamp patch of emerald green nestled on a steep hillside, with a huge chasm catching anything short or right, and tightly bunkered. My swing thought (unusually for me) was ďcan I manage to swing this club before the paralysis sets in?Ē Actually the greenís a little bigger than it looks, but still a tough target. Then youíve got the 7th Ė 220 yards of almost total carry, with similar contours to the 5th, but this time itís a steep drop down to the ocean, hundreds of feet below.
After the turn, a bit of variety unfolds with three holes along the base of a valley (a short par 4, a long par 4 and a long par 3), all with encroaching reeds and wetlands on the left, with all three greens being peninsulas jutting out into the oblivion. The next four turn back for the clubhouse, skirting the clifftop, with the views becoming truly awe-inspiring. The stand out of the three is the 472yd 17th, an elevated tee shot needing to find a fairway angled sharply to the left, atop a hogs-back. I suppose it would be possible to pick holes in the design Ė 10 to 12 feel like different versions on the same theme, as do 15-17, not mention the strong resemblances between 5 and 7, and also 9 and 18. But if theyíre all different versions of such jaw-dropping holes, I donít really see the problem.
I played off the tips, this being my first attempt at playing a course over 7,000 yards, even though I am a reasonably long 8 handicapper. What the experience brought home to me (apart from admiration for the ability of tour pros to get such consistent length and accuracy with the big stick) was that Kauri Cliffs is a course that strongly rewards good driving, and even more harshly punishes waywardness. I found myself 23 over after 13 after having a minor nightmare off the tees, but then nailed every drive on the way home, completing the final stretch in 2 under. For those like myself who think that golf should be mostly about clean, long and straight ball-striking, and less about a putting competition, this design plays right alongside those ideals. Itís there for the taking, but my God you have to play well to take it. Iíve now played 57 of the courses featured on this website, and this course beats the rest hands-down, itís not even a fair fight. Matt Richardson
Starting from the gate after a 4 or 5 mile drive to a central clubhouse, the course then winds its way gradually toward the sea with a series of solid holes played through shimmering fescue grasses.
Standout moments early include the short par four 3rd which is featureless from the tee but has a pushed up green that is tough to hit from the left half of the fairway. The 4th is an heroic par five for the big hitters who can carry right side bunkers and then blast over a corner hazard and into a large green perched at the end of a sheer drop-off. Unfortunately there are few options here for the average player who cannot make either shot. Both the 5th and 7th are long all-carry par threes with the sea out to your right, while sandwiched between is a brutal par four that demands a strong drive across a ravine followed by a blind, rising approach.
The back nine begins with some decent strategic golf within a deep valley, the ocean out of sight for a couple of holes but right back in your face at the long one-shot 14th, which is set hundreds of feet above the water and stares straight down to the Cavalli Islands. The next three holes along the coast are the most dramatic as the golf gets closest to the cliff edges and the outlooks are totally uninterrupted. Though exciting to play, the horseshoe finish at the reachable par five 15th is a tad severe and probably makes the safe play too attractive for those looking to make a birdie. The sometimes drivable 16th, heading toward the distant sea, also sadly favors the conservative play. It is followed, however, by the best and most spectacular hole on the course, the elevated tee shot on the 17th played across a gorge to an oblique shelf fairway that follows a ridge as it falls toward a well-bunkered green and an unbelievable backdrop.
Overall the course was in excellent condition, there are some awesome views of Matauri Bay and the Cavalli Islands and it is quite easy to forget to play the game with the views on offer.
The greens were fast and true almost resembling snooker tables.