Wednesday, June 11, 2014

74 (World) Kauri Cliffs Golf Course

May 27, 2014

After playing Cape Kidnappers the day before, I had a very early flight from Napier (on the south end of the north island) to Kerikeri (on the north end of the north island), with a connection through Auckland. The experience I had with Air New Zealand on my previous trip to Cape Kidnappers was just as exceptional on this one.  One difference is that the planes kept getting smaller. It started with a plane from Napier to Auckland that had two rows on each side.  After landing in Auckland for the connection, the plane to Kerikeri was a prop plane with one row on each side of the plane and I had to hold my carry-on bag in my lap.

The "airport" in Kerikeri was little more than a landing strip in a field. There was exactly one person working the entire airstrip as far as I could see. Below are photos of the entire airport building located at the Kerikeri airport. After finding the rental car counter (all five rental car companies represented are serviced at the same counter), I loaded up my rental vehicle and started out on the 45 minute drive north to Matauri Bay where Kauri Cliffs Golf Club is located.

Looking left after exiting the plane. Yes that cart on the right serves as the baggage claim.

Looking right after exiting the plane. Yes the planes are so small they refuel with a normal gas pump.
The drive to Kauri Cliffs Golf Resort was uneventful. It is in a very remote area of northern New Zealand, and the further north you go from Kerikeri, the less and less civilization you see. Eventually paved road turns to gravel roads and there is nothing but sheep and cows as far as the eye can see. Below, you can see just how remote it is at the entrance of the resort's drive.

A look down the road to the left of the entrance sign.

A look down the road to the right of the entrance sign.
Upon arrival at the resort, there is a similar sign as what is found at Cape Kidnappers.  I can only assume they are owned by the same company since they have the same green fees, same website, etc... They also have the same non-descript gate with a speaker. I pushed the button and was greeted very much the same way I had been at Cape Kidnappers. I was advised I would be met upon arrival after a 10 minute drive to the clubhouse. The previous day, I had near perfect weather through six holes, and fairly good weather through 16 holes. The travel north had warmed the air and the day was perfect my entire visit.
The entrance sign to the resort.
The drive to the clubhouse was peaceful and remote. It seemed to travel constantly downhill, amidst livestock grazing fields, towards the ocean. Along the way, there are several signs posted among the trees to remind you that you have found Kauri Cliffs.

Just inside the front gate on the drive down to the clubhouse.
As I was advised, I was met by a gentleman from Ohio. He assisted me with my bags and showed me to the clubhouse. He advised I was the first of only a handful of tee times scheduled for the day and would have the course to myself, similar to what I experienced at Cape Kidnappers the day before. I guess the perfect time to play golf in New Zealand is the beginning of the winter season.

The clubhouse at Kauri Cliffs.
The clubhouse is on what appears to be the highest point of the resort. It faces down towards the ocean and you catch just a glimpse of the islands to the left. The clubhouse reminds me of what you find in the Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA, areas and I immediately felt a sense of being back home.

A look towards the practice putting green and ocean.
After checking in, I met an older gentleman from Alabama who was set to retire in the near future. We reminisced about the south and how I long to take a month to truly experience the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail that covers the expanse of Alabama. We agreed that I would order lunch at the turn and then I was given liberty to utilize the locker room.

A view of the locker room at Kauri Cliffs.
After changing, I made my way out to a range with an even more stunning view than what I experienced at Cape Kidnappers. The practice range has greens set at various distances downhill. You also have a super view of the ocean, beaches and mountainous islands. After purchasing a logo ball and bag tag (I refused to pay $150 for a shirt), I selected a yards scorecard over a meters version and headed out.
A look down the practice range.

Much like Cape Kidnappers, yardages at the tee box and on sprinkler heads have distances in both meters and yards.  This is one of those small attention-to-detail things that make the best courses really stand out. I also like that each hole had its own name. Similar to Cape Kidnappers was the inclusion of five tee boxes. They are in order from back to front Tiger (blue), white, green, red, and yellow.  Since the blue tees are 7151 yards, I opted to play from the whites at 6489 yards and is what I will be referring to in my descriptions of the holes below.

A look down the fairway from the 1st tee box.
The first hole, Takou, is a straight forward par 4 that plays to 418 yards. It plays downhill which does help to shorten the hole a little. At first glance, it looks like the back of the green falls off the face of the earth. There is actually a fair amount of room for the ball to roll, though it is a steep downhill. However, if you do go too far, your ball will still be playable from grass that is second-cut rough.

A look into the 1st green from 100 yards out.

The second hole, Cape Brett, is a par 4 that plays to 406 yards. Similar to the first, it plays downhill towards the cliffs and ocean.
A look down the fairway from the 2nd tee box.
The green is set off to the left towards the bottom of the slope. Unlike the first hole, you do not want to go past the green on this hole. It runs downhill into a 150-200 foot ravine with a rapid creek running through it to a waterfall. The green does slope away from the ravine, moving from left to right, which will help to hold your ball on the green as long as your shot is half decent.  There  are also a couple of sand traps that guard the left side.

A look into the 2nd green from 120 yards out. 

The third hole, Puriri, is a short par 4 that plays to 324 yards. It is a blind tee shot over a hill towards the green. However, there is a tree that sits on the left side of the green that gives a good aiming spot.

A look down the fairway from the 3rd tee box.
Once you clear the hill, the relatively flat green comes into view, as does the tree you used as your aiming point. This hole serves as an excellent opportunity to make a birdie. The long hitter can use the downhill slope to his advantage and possibly reach the green in one, even from the tips that play only to 357 yards.
A look into the 3rd green from 100 yards out.

The fourth hole, Cambo, is he first par 5 of the course and plays to 522 yards. From the tee box, you get a good view of the ocean and beaches. The fairway is built on a slope that runs left to right. You definitely want to keep your drive left as the right runs down into a fairly steep ravine filled with all manners of unforgiving, local vegetation. The right also has a couple of sand traps within driving distance to make the right even more undesirable to aim for. A ball hit to the left will roll back to the center of the fairway, leaving an excellent position for a second shot.

A look down the fairway from the 4th tee box.
The shot to the green is a risk versus reward decision. If you draw as straight line from the center of the fairway to the green, there is a downhill area filled with some trees and unaccommodating brush. The fairway travels around this area and then downhill towards the green. The course tempts you to go for it on several holes and this is one of them, promptly displaying the pin location between the trees. However, the course also makes you pay for those risky shots and any mistake you make is going to likely cost you a few extra strokes.
A look into the 4th green from 210 yards out.
You can see both routes to choose from in the photos above and below.
A look into the 4th green from 170 yards out.
One thing you don't want to do is go over this green. There is nothing but a drop off about 3 feet past the green. Hit a ball there and just chalk it up as a sacrifice to the golf gods and dig a new ball out of your bag.
A look from just off the backside of the 4th green. 
The fifth hole, Boomerang, was under repair and had a temporary tee box so I couldn't get a photo of the hole's sign. It is a par 3 that plays to 162 yards. The green is guarded on all sides by sand traps. If you go long and to the right on this hole, your ball will wind up in a 200 foot ravine with a waterfall and fast moving creek.
A look into the 5th green from the angle of the normal tee boxes.
A look into the 5th green from the temporary tee boxes.

The sixth hole, Falls, is aptly named as your drive must clear a ravine that contains a 100 foot waterfall and cross onto an uphill fairway. This is a very difficult shot if the wind is blowing, as the edge of the fairway is approximately 210 yards away. If you don't make the edge of the fairway, you just offered up another sacrifice to the golf gods.
A look down the fairway from the 6th tee box.
After hopefully driving across the ravine onto the fairway, you take the walk across a long and high elevation bridge.
A side view of the bridge used to traverse the ravine.
A look from the middle of the bridge to the right, 
A look down to the waterfall from the middle of the bridge.
Another angle of the waterfall.
A closer look at the 6th fairway from the edge of the ravine.
After clearing the ravine, you face a fairly steep, uphill fairway to the green. Luckily, the green is fairly flat so if you clear the sand traps guarding the front of it, you have an excellent chance at a low score.

A look into the 6th green from 100 yards out.
After finishing up at number six, you have a three minute walk to the top of the hill. Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with one of the most stunning views you are going to find on any golf course anywhere in the world.  It is one of those views you that take your breath away and you just stop and take it all in and are thankful you are lucky enough to play golf in an amazing location such as this.
The view at the top of the hill between holes 6 and 7.

The seventh hole, Cavalli, can be described as breathtaking and beautiful and stunning and many more adjectives. However, I sum it up with one word from my golf experiences - favorite!  Before I played Kauri Cliffs, the 18th at Harbour Town (the "lighthouse hole") and the 5th at Royal Melbourne West had been tied for my favorite holes I had played anywhere in the world. In the ten minutes I sat on the tee box taking it all in, this hole moved into the spot as my most special and favorite hole anywhere in the world. I took several photos to try to capture the grandeur that this hole exudes.

This par 3 is the one exception I made to playing the whites on this day. I played from the back tees at 220 yards just so I could take the entire experience in. The white tees play from 175 yards. Now, I will be quiet for a minute and just let you take in this hole.

A view to the front right of the tee box.
An overall view of the hole, with green on the left and ocean to the right.
A look into the green from the 7th tee box.
A look onto the green from the left side at 30 yards out.

The eighth hole is a par 5 that plays at 494 yards. It is a very good and challenging golf hole and could probably push for the top hole on a lot of other courses throughout the world. Unfortunately, it follows immediately behind the 7th and just can't match it.

A view from the 8th tee box looking right.
 This hole is tough and is rated as the number two handicap on the course. The fairway is all uphill, with sand traps and bunkers lining a good portion of both sides of the fairway. The average drive at around 200-220 yards has a very narrow landing zone.
A look down the fairway from the 8th tee box.
The green is situated to the back left side of the fairway. It does have a slight slope downhill so if you have too much spin on your approach or you come up short, the ball has a chance to roll back down the fairway 30 or 40 yards.

A look into the 8th green from 140 yards out. 

The ninth hole, Giant Steps, is an understatement as a par 4 that plays to 344 yards. It is up a steep incline to the green that sit at the top of the hill. There are parts of the cart path that have to be on a 20-22 degree grade. The drive has to carry the ravine and 200 yards before you reach the fairway. The slope is so steep that the drive may roll uphill before rolling back down towards the ravine.

A look down the fairway from the 9th tee box.
A side angle view of the 9th fairway.
Once you find yourself past the ravine, it is still a long haul uphill to the green. Luckily, the green is one of the flattest on the course . Besides the few fairway bunkers, there are sand traps around most sides of the green. They just are nearly impossible to see from the slope of the fairway.
A look into the green from 100 yards out.
A look at the 9th green from the top of the cart path.

After taking a bit of a break from the crazy, uphill walk on the 9th, you proceed down hill towards the 10th tee box. The 10th, Valley, is a par 4 that plays 343 yards from elevated tees. The green travels towards the left with a creek running down the left side.
A look down the fairway from the 10th tee box.
A closer look at the 10th fairway and green.

The 11th, Totara, is a par 4 that plays 383 yards. You likely want to consider using your 3 wood from the tee box as the creek that ran along the left side of 10 crosses the fairway at around 240 yards.
A look down the fairway from the 11th tee box.
Once you close in on the green, the 15-20 yard wide creek that crosses the fairway comes into view. The green is also fairly small so this can be a difficult par to score.

A look into the 11th green from  

The 12th, Raupo, is a 163 yard par 3.It is a fairly straight forward hole. Hit it over the water and brush on to the green. Putt it in for birdie.

A look into the green from the 12th tee box.
Kiwis beside the 12th green.

The 13th, Tablelands, is a par 4 that plays to 406 yards and doglegs left. A long straight drive will get you to the turn of the dogleg, leaving a straight shot into the green.

A look down the fairway from the 13th tee box.
A look into the green from 200 yards out.
On the approach shot to the green, you want to stay right. There are steep sand traps that guard the entire left side.
A look into the green from 100 yards out.
After the 13th, you get to walk uphill for a good two to three minutes, where the ocean comes into view and you play along side it for the next four holes. These next four holes are some of the most scenic you will experience anywhere in the world.

Looking to the left from the 14th tee box.
The 14th, Waiaua Bay, is a par 3 that plays 176 yards from an elevated tee box. The ocean and islands are along the left side and the green has a terrific backdrop of the bay it is named after.

A look into the green from the 14th tee box.
A look at the 14th green from the top right hill. 
A look out to the left of the 14th green at ocean, beaches, and islands.
A look out to the left of the 14th green at ocean, beaches, and islands.

The 15th, Cooks Hook, is named in honor of Captain James Cook who wailed these waters in his first voyage between 1768-1771.  The par 5, 513 yard hole is shaped like a hook where the fairway travels right slightly and then a long way left to the green.

A look down the fairway from the 15th tee box.
A look into the 15th green from 100 yards out.
A look back towards the 15th green from the cart path.

 The 16th, Temptation, is aptly named because long hitters will be tempted to go for the green in one on this 353 yard par 4. The drive is hit from an elevated tee box with a fairway that is completely downhill to the green. There are sand traps that guard a good portion of the green and going over the green is unforgiving as your ball will likely travel 8-10 seconds in a fall to the beaches below.

A look down the fairway from the 16th tee box.
A look towards the green from just off of the tee boxes.
A look into the 16th green from 100 yards out.
A look back to the 16th green from the cart path.
A look back to the 16th green from the cart path.

The 17th, Rainbow, is a par 4 that plays to 441 yards. It is the number one handicap hole on the course. The greens are elevated and you have a wide fairway to play the ball. The closer your drive is to the right side, the shorter the hole will play for you.
A look down the fairway from the 17th tee box. 
A look into the 17th green from 150 yards out.

The 18th, Tane Mahuta, is quite the way to finish the round. If you weren't tired from all the walking yet, you will be after this hole. The grade is as steep as the 9th hole was. The hole also is a par 5 that plays to 501 yards, almost all of which are uphill.

The drive has to clear the ravine and start up the slope before you can even worry about the walk uphill.
A side view look up the 18th fairway.
A look down the fairway from the 18th tee box.
Once you finally make it up the hill, the green is set between two sand traps but is relatively flat. It is also very close to the clubhouse so you can collapse into a heap after the amazing walk you just experienced.

A look into the 18th green from 75 yards out.
After the round, I enjoyed a lunch in the restaurant before my long, four hour drive back to Auckland. The drive back gave me time to reflect on the round, and after all was said and done, it was my best experience of any of the nine top 100 courses I played while in Australia and New Zealand. Even at the high rate of $400 in the peak season, I would advise anyone who has an extra day in New Zealand to make the journey. It isn't just a beautiful course. It is extremely fun to play. It is well worth the money and time, and it will be a golf experience you will never forget.