The longest drive at Cape Kidnappers is between the public road and the clubhouse. It takes a full 20 minutes to cover the ground from the gate to the golf clubhouse – a journey that takes your through a sheep and cattle station and bush land. This degree of seclusion means that the golf course is on pristine land, wedged between the station and the towering cliffs of the Cape. The back nine extends along several fingers of land, separated by deep gullies which dip down to the sea. Frome these points you can look beyond the cliffs and along the shoreline across the wine country of Hawkes Bay and, at the other end, the art deco township of Napier.
The owner and architect, in recognition of the nature of the land have deliberately retained a rugged feel to the course and its surrounds. There is no superfluity. The tees are marked with simple wooden pegs. The clubhouse, though luxurious within, is compact and roofed in the local style with corrugated metal.
The scale of the landscape and generosity of land utilised for the layout makes the fairways seem small by comparison. This is a visual distortion that must be dispelled in the golfer’s mind, as you need plenty of confidence to hit out at the targets here at Cape Kidnappers.
If you can keep your eyes off the cliff top views, the main golfing points of the course are the bunkers and the greens. Architect, Tom Doak, is at the vanguard of the mission to recover some of the penalty value of bunkers. His time spent studying the works of the great architects of the early part of the 20th century has given him a healthy disdain for trees and water as hazards and led him to concentrate his efforts on land shapes and greenside bunkering.
In an industry noted for its gigantic egos and questionable sense of taste, Tom Doak is a distinctively different and intelligent course architect. At Cape Kidnappers, he has created a course of great drama, interest, originality and beauty. Any avid collector of golfing experiences should reach into their pocket books and make the trip to the North Island to play this course. It is both beautiful and compelling.
The above passage is an extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
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Average Reviewers Score:
The whole Cape Kidnappers experience starts at the front gate as you enjoy the next 20 minute scenic drive to the club house. The course is simply awesome. The ultimate test in golf.... especially in the howling gale that I played in.
But the club deserves to be the best from the warm welcome from the staff and their genuine care to make sure that you have a good time whilst at the course. Great course, great experience.
Cape Kidnappers, those famous aerial pictures had me desperate to play this course one day, and that day came last month. It was a flat calm and beautiful sunny afternoon and I have to say the drive from taupo wasn’t half bad in itself! Like Kauri Cliffs you come across another locked gate that opens this time to an interesting 10 minute drive over sheep laden hills that really gets you thinking ‘when are we ever going to get there?! Not much glimpse of the views on route and even when you arrive at the cattle ranch style clubhouse you are not greeted by the views that Kauri Cliffs offers though the overall quality of the place is obvious.
We splashed out on some caddies for this round, a couple of Americans continuing their golf course management education who were nice guys ( albeit mine had only been around for a week and wasn’t the most experienced around the course). It was a great experience having the freedom to stroll down the fairways free of the sticks none the less and I would highly recommend it even if only as a one off.
So the course overall is excellent but as previous reviews have stated, the sensational views are there but slightly more fleeting than up at Kauri Cliffs. Highlights on the front 9 that plays a fair degree inland for most for me would be 1, 5, 6 and 7. The 6th is monster 230 yarder over a gorge that is certainly a bit reminiscent of kauri cliffs. You soon see the very different design that Doak has employed here compared to its sister course up north. Less manicured, slightly more intimidating and natural looking, almost more old fashioned I suppose.
His minimalist design is certainly encapsulated on a few holes in the back 9, notably the aptly named ‘infinity’ 12th and ‘pirates plank’ 15th. The 12th on that day was almost dream like, walking along the grass towards this green that just seemed to be floating on the edge of a ridiculous turquoise watery backdrop, a moment never to be forgotten.. The 15th is a bit controversial, bunkerless, dead straight par 5 though it just messed with my head with 500 feet to the left and maybe 200 feet past the bushes to the right, I was just intimidated on the tee and promptly hit an abysmal tee shot before actually rescuing a bogey at the end. Whether its just a link hole to the famous 16th tee or is it a masterstroke in golf psychology I’m not quite sure. Other memorable ones on the back 9, I would rate the 13th and 14th as excellent with the ‘road hole’ imitation green on the latter bringing a smile to the face.. The bucket green on 18th is also a quirky feature that I liked.
So overall it’s not quite what you expect from the pictures, and a very different experience to both Kauri and Kinloch. It’s often voted as no 1 in NZ though I’m not sure I would rate it as that myself. Perhaps It needs a couple of rounds to more fully appreciate the subtlety that I may have missed. I d be more than happy to return and learn some more.
The first thing that any visitor needs to realise is that when you are actually here, it looks NOTHING like the aerial photos. Put it out of your mind – if you look at those pics, you’d think you were about to embark on an epic journey across extreme golfing terrain, heroically pummelling your driver across vast gorges harbouring hobbits and wizards and the like. I know Brandt Snedeker referred to it as “Pebble Beach on steroids”, and I’m assuming he was trying to portray some gargantuan clifftop ogre, but really, I cannot agree with his oft-quoted soundbite. It may look like that from the pictures but if that’s what you come here expecting, you may well be disappointed.
If, however, you come to realise that this course is actually rather a juxtaposition – a sublime portrait of subtlety and strategy painted onto a vertiginous and rather bonkers backdrop – you will undoubtedly leave with a smile on your face. It’s all about decisions, decisions, decisions, and the features forcing those choices are so understated, not immediately apparent to the eye, yet very real and very smart.
Take for example the par-4 7th. Not the most photographed or celebrated, semi-blind from the tee, so that the right side of the generous fairway is unsighted. But you if you find that hidden flank, you have the much easier shot to the green predominantly because of the tilt of the green directly towards you. Strike it clean, and you can get it to stop where you want it to. If you come in from the safer left side, the ball will be striking a side camber, and potentially even slide off the green altogether. The hole’s strategy is simply based on green tilt, and only works because the greens play firm and fast (which they did, even after the wettest summer in years). If you’re not paying attention, not thinking your way round - if you get mentally lazy - you will not see what you need to see in order to play the hole, and you will struggle all day long.
The entire front nine is like this. Only the short 8th has only one route to the green, everything else asks you questions. The run of holes from 4 to 7 are so intelligent, particular the par-5 4th, whose gargantuan fairway and huge bail-out area will leave you itching to attack the green in two, but any slight miscue and you’ll be gobbled whole by the cavernous greenside bunkers, with a extra green tier to climb if you can escape.
But it’s the 14th that takes the cake. Clearly based on the Road Hole (but much shorter), the target, wrapped around a carbon copy of the Road bunker, is so dicey that you either need to drive it incredibly close (and hug the dangerous right edge), or hold right back so that you have a full wedge in – you’ll need all the spin you can get. Again, lackadaisical course management (i.e. blindly pulling the big stick out and aiming for the fat of the fairway) will leave you with a pitch shot with such a high tariff that you’ll wish you’d left your machismo at home.
The other reason that you may need to protect yourself from high expectation about the showy cliffside holes is because some of them may be the weakest of this great collection, none more so than the famed ‘Pirate’s Plank’ at 15. I’ve heard that Tom Doak was not originally going to make this hole, but that Julian Robertson persuaded him otherwise. Even if that’s just idle gossip, I could see some reasons why both points of view hold water. Any walk around this property would feel rather incomplete if you did not stand on the 16th tee and soak up the scenery, but to get there, you need to build the 15th. Just an arrow-straight, bunkerless march down a finger of land, it would be the same hole if it was a strip of land between two lakes. All Doak appears to have done is mow it, which for me takes minimalism too far, and made me wonder where he was coming from.
Just a quick comment about the controversial punchbowl green at the finishing hole. I find myself giving it a guarded thumbs up, mainly because there is a slight surplus of holes at Kidnappers with a perched green site that falls off to one side (3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14 and to a lesser extent, 16 and 17). To finish with yet another one may have felt too formulaic – certainly, the fact that it bucked the trend made me appreciate the quirk. I’d found the favoured right hand edge of the fairway with my tee shot. A decision to take dead aim was obvious, but I pull-hooked my 6-iron 20m left, only to see the ball trickle down the slope and end up 6ft away. Now I’m not complaining, but it wasn’t satisfying. However, the alternative is uniformity and too much rationality, so I’ll take it.
I should also add that I don’t think you have to be a scratch player to knock it round here in a decent score. Surely there’s enough room here for any 18-handicapper to knock it round in level bogeys if they are using their brain, and putting well. In that sense, Doak has well and truly ticked the box that says that golf courses should be able to accommodate a range of abilities.
My subjective take is that this is probably the best course in New Zealand, although I find it hard to compare the cerebral minimalism on show here with the wild ride on offer at Kinloch. Dammit, I’ll just have to play them both again some day. Matt Richardson
Great review, heading there in November, cant wait!
24 May 2012
Indeed! Have you played NSW and the two at Barnbougle Dunes Matt? How would you compare them in terms of quality to New Zealands own Kauri Cliffs, Kidnappers and Kinloch?!
24 May 2012
Unfortunately no, I have only played one round of golf in Australia in my life (Brookwater). But I think that New Zealand's top 7 or 8 courses compare very well against the top British courses (I've played 21 of our Top 100, including 4 of the Top 10), although in saying that you would have to ignore any sense of history and tradition. Only one of our NZ Top 10 existed before 1970!
Whilst the course is beautifully presented (once you get there - it is 8km from the main gate to the clubhouse), we felt that it did not live up to the hype. We played 8 courses in New Zealand during our visit and this was neither the best nor the most memorable. We had a caddy, which was helpful in part (mainly in relation to the grain on the greens) but a hindrance in other respects. Good, but not somewhere that one leaves thinking that one must go back and give it another go.
High expectations after seeing photos and other players comments. This is an amazing golf course!
It's location - situated on an old sheep farm high on the cliffs overlooking Hawkes Bay. When you call from the gate to the proshop and the man says "see you in a while" he really means it. The drive beyond the gates windles through pine trees in a canyon and takes about 20 minutes.
The service - low key, knowledgeble, helpful
The clubhouse and surroundings - Petite, but including everything you could wish for. Fantasic view over the course and ocean. Lovely changing rooms. Well equipped shop.
The course - Not a course to play defensly on. Often too short approaches dwindles down either side of the green and it will be very dificult to evn reach the green with the following shot. Impossible to seperate the course from the views. At least one interesting shot on every hole. You can walk the course and even with the bridges etc we were very tired after 18.
I had the pleasure of playing Cape Kidnappers in January of this year. It was an excellent experience from start to finish. reception and processing excellent very friendly and professional. My caddy was great he knew the course very well and was extremely good company. I booked this round well in advance by e-mail based on the website slide show. However a word of warning is that you do not get the same vista as those overhead shots provide. Be prepared for windy conditions. But enjoy the golf course. My wife's experience of the spa not so good.
Situated on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island, Cape Kidnappers is a remarkable new prestige golf facility designed by American architect Tom Doak. The course occupies part of an isolated 5,000-acre sheep station and after a 8km/5 mile drive from the gates to the clubhouse you are welcomed by stunning sandstone cliff fingers that plummet 500 feet down into the waters of Hawke's Bay.
With a number of holes running toward and away from these cliff edges, and even routed along the bluffs, this is one of the most compelling modern layouts in golf with some unforgettable coastal views.
The course was in excellent condition, luckily the weather was good too with just a gentle breeze blowing across the course, the greens were smooth and reasonably fast, a couple like 8 and 14 are a touch extreme but the majority are subtly tilted, often elevated and with clever internal contouring that rewards precise approaches kept under the hole. Due to the severity of winds that typically whip across the heads here, the fairways are very generous giving players plenty of width and only using bunkers sparingly.
Most interesting of all, however, is the 15th. Named Pirate's Plank, this is a long, wide and flat par five that follows a massive cliff finger as it gently heads down towards the edge of the earth, and there is no denying that his Cape Kidnappers creation is an impressive addition to the world's golfing menu.