Tuesday, June 10, 2014

38 (World) Cape Kidnappers Golf Course

May 26, 2014

I was excited that I could include two rounds of golf in my business trip to New Zealand. I had been in Hamilton for a three day show. After the show concluded Sunday afternoon, I visited the set of Hobbiton and then hopped on a flight from Hamilton to the southern city (on the North Island) of Napier.

Let me advise I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Air New Zealand. There was no security to speak of in Hamilton Airport. I dropped my bags off at the counter, proceeded to the waiting area, and then when the plane was ready, walked across the tarmac and boarded the plane. There were no dehumanizing TSA pat downs or body scanners. No one was treated like a terrorist.  Spouses and children walked their loved one to the tarmac door and kissed and hugged good by. When you reach your destination, all suitcases are wheeled out on a wagon looking thing and you pick your bags up adn just leave. There is no true baggage claim like large airports elsewhere. It reminded me of flying in the U.S. in the 80s. It was a very welcome change.

We were in a fairly small plane, with two rows on each side of the plane (I think it had 44 seats). We were scheduled to fly to Wellington on the southern tip of the north island and then I was to catch a connection to Napier. However, upon approaching Wellington, the weather turned horribly rotten. The plane was thrown around in one of the worse storms I have experienced while flying, and the plane diverted to Palmerston North. I was worried since my tee time was 9 am the next morning. All the rental car places were closed at the Palmerston North airport and I had no other way to get to Napier. I also only had the one day in Napier to play Cape Kidnappers before I was scheduled to leave for Kauri Cliffs. Fortune (and the golf gods) smiled upon my trip and Air New Zealand prepared the same plane I had just taken from Hamilton and flew me and another lady to Napier from Palmerston North. It probably had more to do with needing the plane in Napier the next morning for a flight, but that kind of service deserves to be recognized. So, I arrived in Napier at around 10 pm, picked up the rental car, and checked-in to my hotel. I fell asleep straight away with much anticipation of my 9 am round the following morning.

The golf resort is located in Hawke's Bay, the city next to Napier. It is about a 20 minute drive or so from downtown Napier. The drive up to the course entrance is next to the ocean, with tall cliffs the entire drive. I had read about it in  Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die,and have seen some amazing photos of Cape Kidnappers, with the back nine stretching out and down several "fingers" of jutting cliffs that protrude out into the South Pacific Ocean, with Hawke Bay also prominently on display.

The entrance to the resort is easy to miss. There were no signs that I could find and there is a locked, automatic gate with a call box next to the road. After advising my name and tee time, the voice welcomed me, and while the gate was opening for me, the voice advised it would take 15 minutes or so to arrive at the clubhouse where I would be greeted. I entered and started the long, meandering, thrilling drive to the clubhouse.

They aren't joking. Slow down when you drive.

To get to the clubhouse, you have to drive through what appears to be a cow and sheep farm, as well as a heavily wooded area. When driving to the clubhouse, you definitely want to drive slower than normal as there are no fences and the livestock pretty much runs free across the roads at any point during the drive. It is also a long and winding road upwards as the cliffs grow the closer you get to the clubhouse.

The narrow drive up.
Once you drive a few kilometers, you reach a fork in the road. The right takes you to the lodge and the left ends at the clubhouse. A sign, below, is situated at the fork to let you know you've finally arrived.


The clubhouse at Cape Kidnappers.
The clubhouse is fairly understated from the outside. However, the hardwoods of the interior are very welcoming and friendly. True to what I had been told, I was met as I drove up by a gentleman from Iowa who manned the clubhouse by himself (apologies as I have forgotten his name). We chatted for a bit and I learned he had moved to New Zealand specifically for the job at the club. I can't say I blame him. I was advised I was one of only three players scheduled for the entire day so had the course to myself. I wasn't expecting it to be busy as it was the start of the winter season but it is neat to have a top 50 course in the world to yourself. He also advised the greens had been cut this morning and were very fast. That was an understatement. They were the fastest greens I have played at any course, anywhere in the world.
Looking back towards the entrance from the restaurant. 
A look into the right side of the restaurant.
A look into the left side of restaurant and the bar.
After checking in, I drove back to the parking lot, where I was met with a cart and taken back to the clubhouse. As you can see from a few of the photos, the day started off picture perfect, with blue skies and very little clouds. It was a bit chilly at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but as it was the beginning of the winter season, I couldn't have ordered up a better day. Later, the winds picked up to a gusty 25-30 mph around the 6th hole and the weather started to turn around the 14th. With the winds gusting, it made the course a completely different monster to tame. I started the round with the bag on my shoulder, but the combination of the strong winds and huge slopes of the course convinced me to pick up a pull cart at the turn.

I stretched and warmed up on the practice range. You hit towards the edge of a cliff that drops to the ocean below. The ocean goes on as far as the eyes can see and it is one of the best views I have ever had at a practice facility (at least until I visited Kauri Cliffs a few days later).

A look down the practice range from the tee boxes. 
Cape Kidnappers utilizes five tee boxes. From back to front they are blue, white, green, red, and yellow. As the blue are more than 7100 yards, I opted to play from the white tees at 6686 yards and is what I will be referring to when describing the holes below. The club has scorecards and sprinkler head markers in both meters and yards which made for a much easier day to judge distances.

The first hole is a par 4 that plays to 415 yards. It is a dogleg right, that has a valley at the turn of the dogleg. There is more landing area to the left side of the fairway to assist with this. If you hit the drive down the right side, there is a good chance it will run downhill and out of bounds.

A view down the fairway from the 1st tee box.
The turn is approximately 220 yards out. So, the fairway should be able to hold most drives up to 280 yards. From this first hole, I could tell the course was treated to the highest maintenance.

A look into the 1st green from the turn of the dogleg.
As you can see from the photo below, the valley is quite steep, with out of bounds right next to the right edge of the fairway. The green slopes right to left and leads the ball towards the left, green-side sand traps. Those traps are exceptionally steep when looking out of them towards the green and make for an incredibly difficult up and down.

A look into the 1st green from 170 yards out. 
A look back down the fairway from behind the 1st green. 

The second hole is a 530 yard, par 5 that plays fairly long and straight. After driving across a small ditch, the fairway runs alongside a large grouping of cows. There are some sand traps located about 180 yards down the right side of the fairway. After you pass those, there isn't much of a challenge until you arrive at the green.

A look down the fairway from the 2nd tee box. 
 The front of the green is guarded by several sand traps and some thick, tall grass. There is a sizable landing area to the right of the green if you want to avoid the traps altogether.
A look into the 2nd green from 40 yards out.

The third hole is where the course really starts to show off its uniqueness. I unfortunately didn't take a photo of the view to the left but there is a large cliff over there. Looking into the green, you can see where the land starts to conform to the will of the cliffs. This is also where you get your first glimpse of the ocean as it peaks out to the left side of the green.

It's only 155 yards from the whites, or 215 from the tips, but if the wind is gusting, this makes for a difficult shot. Luckily, the wind wouldn't kick up for me until another couple of holes.

A look into the 3rd green from the tee box.

The 4th, a 512 yard par 5, is a very tough tee shot. It is a blind tee shot over a valley. There is a pole on top of the hill that offers guidance of where to aim.

A look down the fairway from the 4th tee box.
Once you clear the hill, the ocean comes into view in all of its grandeur. The fairway slopes down and then back up towards the green, and has a slight dogleg right in the last 150 yards. You definitely want to stay in the center as there are small cliffs on either side of the fairway, that will make recovery of your ball almost impossible.

A look down the fairway from the top of the hill.
A close look at the two-tiered, 4th green.
The green is a tricky, two-tiered affair. I hit my approach to the top of the ridge, only to have it roll backdown on to the fairway 30 feet away. There is also a sand trap that guards the front of the green. However, it also stops balls from rolling back off the green and down the cliff so where it is placed can definitely save shots.
A look at the trap guarding the front of the 4th green.

A look down the fairway from the 5th tee box.
The 5th hole, a 400 yard par 4, is one of those golf views that takes your breath away and you just stare out at it for five minutes. The blue ocean is behind the green and helps frame it. To your left is the first time you get to see just how high the cliffs are.

The drive is across a cliff that cuts the fairway in half. There is a large landing area to the right that leads down and to the left, following the lay of the land.
A look down the cliff from the left side of the 5th tee box.

The fairway rolls for a long way, like a true links course. There are hills and dips and it doesn't look like a lot was changed from the original landscape. Numerous bunkers and sand traps line both sides of the fairway, leading you to make a different decision on how and where to hit the next shot depending on where your ball came to rest.
A look into the green from 180 yards out.
A closer look at the type of traps that line the 5th fairway.
Hitting into this green can be tricky business. It has a steep slope leading down into the cliff on the left. Luckily there are traps there to catch and hold your ball. The green also slopes from left to right, away from the cliff. However, there are additional traps on the right side of the green for the slope to lead your ball into.
A look into the 5th green from 100 yards out.
I couldn't find the marker for the 6th hole. It is a long par 3, playing 212 yards from the white and 225 yards from the tips. It plays across a deep ravine, at least 200 feet deep. The green slopes back down towards the ravine, forcing you to land the green. For most players, this means using a hyrbid, long iron, or wood. As fast as the greens were running on the day I played, it was near impossible to get a green in regulation. But, opting to go long instead of short was a very good decision for this hole.

A look into the green from the 6th tee box.
The ocean helps frame the green, much like the 5th hole. Looking back and to the left from the tee box, you are able to see more than one of the cliffs in the distance.
The view to the left of the 6th tee box. 

The 7th is a par 4 that plays 420 yards and turns back inland away from the cliffs. It is a sizable drive over a ravine. The fairway sloping back toward the ravine makes it a more difficult shot for shorter hitters as the ball will likely roll all the way back down if it doesn't clear the hill on the drive.
A look down the fairway from the 7th tee box.
 Once you clear the hill and walk another 60 yards or so down the fairway, the green comes into view. It is across a second ravine and is guarded by five or six sand traps.  If your shot goes too far and to the right, it is likely to roll down the ravine and be a sacrifice to the golf gods.
A look into the 7th green from 150 yards out. 

Once again, the shot to the par 3, 172 yard, eighth hole is across a ravine that eats golf balls that are never seen again. The wind was blowing directly into my face at 30 mph, and the greens were slick and the ball wouldn't stay on the green. After losing two balls, one into the ravine and the other rolling down off the green and back down the hill, I finally took my 3 wood and hit it past the green and on the hill behind it. With the conditions of the day, this is one of the toughest holes I have played anywhere in the world.
A look into the green from the 8th tee box.
The bridge that traverses the ravine on both the 8th and 9th holes.

The 9th hole is a 385 yard par 4 that plays back towards the ocean and clubhouse. The ravine you hit across at the 8th cuts completely across this fairway as well. Fortunately, there is a large landing area to play your ball right or left, whichever you prefer.

A look down the fairway from the 9th tee box.
There is a large sand trap on the left side of the fairway at approximately 210 yards out, that is hidden from view while standing on the tee box. There is plenty of room right so probably better not to tempt fate on this one.
A look into the 9th green from 170 yards out.
The green is elevated and guarded on the front and left by numerous sand traps, and is guarded on the right by thick vegetation, and it is tucked in to the left, half hidden by a large tree. As an old man once told me while playing, it is almost always the wisest play to hit the ball straight. In this case it holds true. Then you are left with a safe pitch onto the green.

A look into the 9th green from 120 yards out. 

The 10th is a 435 yard par 4 that runs parallel to the practice range. It runs slightly downhill the entire way with the ocean in magnificent view across your field of vision. It plays generally straight until the last 50 yards or so of the hole.

A look down the fairway from the 10th tee box. 
Once you close in on the green, you see the golf course starts to take full advantage of the cliffs. This hole, the cliff slopes sharply away and to the left of the green. The course is kind enough to have a sand trap located there as well to hold your ball from running all the way down.

A look into the 10th green from 120 yards out.

After finishing 10, you leave your bag at the path and take the club(s) you will need. You walk down to the tee boxes located at the edge of the next cliff and hit back inland towards the green.

 The 11th is a 200 yard par 3. The winds confused me a bit on this hole.  They were blowing straight into my face though I was standing as close to the ocean as one can get on the cliff's edge. Usually, the wind would blow in from the ocean but not here.  Strange and still unsure why. The winds blowing in towards me at 30 mph made this an incredibly difficult shot. I took my driver to make sure I cleared the ravine to get to the green.

A look into the green from the 11th tee box.

A look down the fairway from the 12th tee box.
For the par 4, 430 yard 12th, you drive back towards the cliff's edge where the green sits precariously. It is a slight dogleg left with rolling hills that try to lead the ball down ravines on either side. I have to admit, even though the view of the ocean is spectacular from numerous "cliff" holes, it isn't as exciting as it looks in the aerial shots that make Cape Kidnappers stand out.
A look into the 12th green from 150 yards out.

The par 3, 13th hole plays along the edge of the cliffs and parallel to the ocean. It is 125 yards to the green. As you are playing across a ravine, and with strong winds, this is a tricky shot. Hit the ball too high and it flies down the cliffs toward the ocean. Hit the ball too low and it doesn't clear the hill, again rolling down the cliff towards the ocean.

A look into the green from the 13th tee box.
 The views were so outstanding at this hole I had to take several shots from different angle.

A look behind the 13th tee box down the cliffs.
A view of the green from the right side while standing on the cart path looking towards the ocean

The 14th is a fairly short par 4, playing to 338 yards.  Your drive crosses a very steep ravine onto a rather flat fairway that turns slightly right towards the green.

The bridge used to cross the ravine to travel from tee box to fairway.
Once you are across the ravine, it is a fairly straightforward hole with a relatively simple green. A low score is obtainable, even by high handicappers. There is a deep pot bunker located on the front left of the green that is almost invisible until you are with in 100 yards or so.

A look into the 14th green from 80 yards out.

The 15th hole is the last that plays towards the edge of the cliffs. It is a mammoth 600 yard par 5 (650 yards from the tips)! It is also the number one rated handicap hole on the course. It is a long, straight, (long, straight - used for effect), and again a long hole until you reach the green. There are a few dips and bumps along the right. There are steep cliffs along the left with amazing views of the ocean. However, the aerial shots make this hole look so much better from a thousand feet up than standing on the fairway itself.

A view down the fairway after a 245 yard drive. There is still a long way to go!
There are also signs and a fence posted along this fairway.  Two steps past that fence and it is a 400 foot drop to the ocean below.

Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger!
A view to the left of the 15th fairway.
 After a 245 yard drive and a 210 yard 3 wood, I finally had the green come into view. The hole is so ling I didn't even hear the mowers down by the green from the tee box.

Almost there! 
I think that part of the reason that it is slightly underwhelming from the famous photos you see on line is that the side of the cliffs are hidden from view. From the air, the "fingers of the cliffs" are just stunning. From the fairway while playing, it is just long lengths of grass that suddenly drop off into space, at least from a distance.
And finally!

The stairs that lead up to the 16th tee box.
The 16th is a par 5, 490 yard hole. It also has the best view of any tee box on the course. After a lengthy climb up stairs set into the side of the hill, you arrive at another one of those views that takes your breath away and leaves you staring out in wonder at the awesomeness of nature.

A look to the right while standing on the 16th tee box. 
A look to the left while standing on the 16th tee box.
A look down the fairway from the 16th tee box.
It's a long drive to reach the fairway (approximately 230 yards), but it is also an extremely elevated tee box. Driving to the fairway should be no problem unless you tend to slice. Off to the right is another ravine just waiting for a sacrifice to the golf gods.

Once you hit across the wide open space, you find a gradual uphill fairway that leads to a green protected by numerous downhill slopes that try to lead the ball into the various traps surrounding the green.
A look into the 16th green from 100 yards out.
I couldn't find the markers for either the 17th or 18th holes. Below is the 17th tee box.

A look down the fairway from the 17th tee box.
 The 17th hole is a par 4 that plays to 437 yards. It dogleg rights, and at the turn of the dogleg, starts a fairly significant uphill climb to the green. The left side of the green is guarded by sand traps and the green slopes towards them to see if they can draw a ball down into them for a difficult third shot.
A look into the 17th green from 150 yards out.
The 18th hole is below. It is a 430 yard, par 4 finishing hole that plays back towards the clubhouse. From the tee box, you can see the clubhouse in the distance.
A look down the fairway from the 18th tee box.
After clearing the small ravine that crosses the fairway, the fairway slopes fairly steeply and to the right. The best play is to the left side and let the ball run downhill towards the green.
A look into the green from 175 yards out.
 If you stay on the left side of the fairway, the straight on look in helps you avoid the back right traps.

A look into the green from 100 yards out.

Once I finished, the lunch I had ordered at the turn was waiting for me - a seafood bisque and a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. It was well worth the price to warm the bones after a chilly and windy round of golf. I always cringe when a green fee travels northward of $200, and in this case it was $313 NZD for an international visitor. The remote location, the 20 minute meandering drive, the wandering livestock, the views of the ocean, the friendly staff, and the immaculate condition of the course made every bit of that green fee worth it, however, and I hope to return one day to play Cape Kidnappers and it's two sister courses again.

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