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.
Somehow, it wasn't what I expected. The design was more subtle, and the views were not as 'Pebble Beach' as I imagined. With that said, it was an extremely enjoyable day of golf. I notice other reviews say that the front and back are unequal, either in terms of views or the entire golfing experience, but I really enjoyed the routing, and while the best overall holes are found on the back, I thought the overall design of the front was superior. 1-3 is a really solid opener with a par 4, 5 and 3 all in a row. This gives a nice preview of what's to come. The blind tee shot on the 4th was a little gimmicky in my opinion, but probably the only design gimmick like that on the course. Everything else was very well laid out and thoughtfully designed. I like how the ocean view is "revealed" between 4 and 5, and this allows you to get your bearings of the land that you're on. The 6th is a spectacular par 3, truly special and the best of the par 3s in my opinion.
The short par 4s, such as the 7th, truly shine at this course. Wide fairways and unique approaches which require accuracy if you want to bring birdie into play. As a low-teen handicap, I found myself preferring to miss in the right places and give myself a good chance at par, which did work the majority of the time. The design does make you think, but golfers of any skill level should be able to manage their way around the course and shoot their handicap on a good day.
I found holes 8-11 fairly dull, particularly 8 and 11 which I found to be the weakest par 3s on the course. The green on 12 is simply spectacular though, and 13 is a genius short par 3, followed up by an incredible short par 4 (even though the false front slopes aggressively bank into the bunker. Whatever you do, miss long). 15, while the view is stunning, would be an extremely ordinary hole at any other golf course. This hole requires three solid shots to reach the green, however with a fairly wide and straight fairway with little hazards or sloping (except hitting it off the cliff on the left into the Pacific Ocean, 500 ft below), this is not a big ask. 16, on the other hand, is an incredible par 5 with a phenomenal tee shot, perfectly designed fairway and green complex. This is definitely the greatest par 5 I've ever played. 17 and 18 is a decent finish, although 17 reminded me a bit too much of the 1st hole.
My biggest complaints are the price and the greens. For the money, there is much better value golf to be found in New Zealand. Kinloch, only a few hours away, is better golf, in better shape, with views that are equally stunning (but not as unique). And it's less than half the price of Kidnappers, for locals at least.
The greens were extremely, extremely slow and sandy, which meant that shots into the green (particularly chips and pitches) reacted unusually and unpredictably. The slow greens made it easy to 2 putt, but tougher to 1 putt, making birdies a premium. If I was nowhere near the pin (and some of the greens are actually pretty big), I had to ram the putt basically as hard as I could and hope I got it close-ish to the pin. This led to numerous 3-putts, which is uncharacteristic for me. I asked one of the employees in the clubhouse (younger Kiwi guy) if the greens were normally like that and he sort of shrugged it off. When you play a course of that level (and for that much money), I would expect faster and truer greens than my local muni. However, the fairways were tight and absolutely perfect, and the bunkers were gorgeously maintained.
There is no doubt in my mind that while Cape Kidnappers is an incredible golf course and one of the better tracks in New Zealand, it is not worthy of a spot in the World Top 100. But if you're coming to NZ on a golf trip, it's definitely a must-play.
Cape Kidnappers was such an anticipated round and one of the most disappointing to me. It's a great golf course. The conditions are superb. Where I feel flat was the visual aspect. Having seen so many ridiculously beautiful pictures prior to arrival and then there's one hole you feel what you had expected. Paint that great marketing. Again it is a stellar golf course with variety of elevation changes, and some blind shots. A few holes as you navigate the playing surface that dissects the valleys you feel claustrophobic. My best advise is remove those pictures taken from planes that display the course, because when you get there, none of that exists. It is a special place which requires you to make the journey.
Everything about this course just screams at me to come back and play me over and over! After a really nice day with sunshine and no wind, this was a dream come true. The grounds were in perfect condition and very well looked after. You will never get tired of the views from this course so drop everything you do and book your round NOW!
A truly unique, cliff top course on the North Island of New Zealand. When I say cliff top, I mean cliff top- the holes that are on the ‘fingers’ of this property can have as much as a 500 foot drop into the Hawkes Bay water. The sheer scale of this place is amazing, and has to be seen, to be believed. Following the long 10 minute plus drive from the properties gates to the clubhouse, you know you are in for a treat. Although it doesn’t have the linksland undulations that people may be expecting, the routing is a work of art, and it’s a true testament to Doaks work here that the inland holes are as good as the cliff top ones. The greens are shaped beautifully, and combining this with the well-placed fairway bunkers means players are always thinking. The 4th is great par 5 with a blind tee shot, that can be reached in 2 if a risky line is taken. It seems every inland hole has a strong strategic element that Doak provides, but it’s the back 9 that players have normally come to see. 12th has a green shaped in which it looks like its an infinity green that backs up on the cliffs themselves. The 13th is probably the first real hole where you can appreciate just how high up you are, a short par 3. 15th is probably the signature hole, a long, tight par 5 with massive drops either side! It is certainly intimidating, and I did manage to hook 2 Titleists into the Pacific Ocean. Something a caddy encouraged us to do was to hit a tee shot from the 16th tee straight out into the ocean. It was onlt then that you realise how high you are, as it seems like the ball stays in the air for what seems like minutes! 18 is a brilliant finisher, the approach into the punchbowl green is one of the most fun shots I’ve played. All in all it is so much more than the views that make this place a must see at some point, with great design to admire too
I played Cape Kidnappers in February 2019 and was able to play it twice the same day. I experienced all sorts of weather in the two rounds.
I read some of the other reviews and I understand some of the criticism as a resort course with a very different front nine to the back nine. I can understand some of it but I do think Cape Kidnappers is worthy of being discussed as a top 100 golf course in the world. It is not in my top 100 but that does not mean it does not belong in the discussion.
Given the land at the end of the long drive, I think Tom Doak did an excellent routing through his use of the various canyons and cliff side plateaus. The views towards the middle through 16th tee can be distracting and I normally do not consider views to be part of a golf course, however, here they must be considered as they are an integral part of the course.
I did not experience any slow play. We played the first round in a cart in 3 hours and the second round in 2.5 hours (second round was a twosome). That provided more than enough time to remember the course and think about its difficulties and strategy while even pausing for views on the second round.
The first is a straight forward par four of 440/390 with an interesting slightly elevated green that is well bunkered in front and you cannot miss left as you could end up out of bounds. That is a common theme on this golf course as there are green complexes that if the green is not hit, you must miss on one side or the ball will either end up lost or very far away with a blind recovery shot.
The second, a mid length par five was for me one of the weaker holes on the golf course, a gentle dogleg right.
The third, a par 3 of 215/155 over a chasm to a green with steep fall offs front and left I felt played too short from the 155 yards given the size of the green.
The fourth, a par 5 with a somewhat blind tee shot over a chasm I felt was pretty good the first round, but once I figured out for the second round where to hit the tee shot it felt a little less special. The green is elevated but as long as you stay left you avoid all of the trouble.
The fifth was the first really nice hole, a mid length par 4 with a green with a big fall off front left. We played it into a wind both rounds which made it play much longer. The play on this green is to miss long but not too long given the tilt of the green.
The sixth is the first par 3 of longer length, 225/190 over a chasm. Once again, the miss is to the right despite the bunker there and you cannot be short. A ball missed left is likely lost. This is a true risk-reward hole.
I liked the seventh, playing into a saddle and then down to a green that must be hit or missed left. Missed to the right and you have either a lost ball or a very long walk down a steep hill to find your ball with limited chance of recovery.
The eighth is a mid length par 3 of 182/172 that once again crosses a chasm. It is another risk/reward par 3.
I loved the strategy of the ninth hole, a par 4 of 403/385 asking you whether you wanted to try to hit a driver down the hill to leave a shorter shot or lay back and have a 140-160 yards shot into this green situated into the hillside with trees left and big dips fronting the green.
The tenth is a longer par 4 of 470/410 to a wide fairway but the first of three infinity greens. There is a nasty fall off and a nasty bunker to the left of this green. The bunker comes right to the edge of the green. It is a superbly designed hole.
The eleventh is a long par 3 of 225/200 over another chasm where the chasm comes right to the edge on the left side. Yet again another risk reward par 3 but somehow it feels different to the other two in both look and the way you decide to play it.
I could argue the twelfth is the best hole on the golf course with another wide fairway on this long par 4 of 460/430 yards to another infinity green that slopes right to left and front to back with a swale taking balls down to the back left. This is an enormous dip in the land front left of the green. This hole has an amazing view designed to distract you. It's about perfect for the land.
The thirteenth plays south and is a short par 3 of about 130 yards. It is well protected and allows you to catch your breath to a hole that funnels everything to the middle of the green.
The fourteenth hole is an excellent short par 4 over a chasm that will tempt the longer hitters but you can't go right or long. I think this hole favors a shorter hitter who does not try to take it on. There is a deep pot bunker in the fairway that must be avoided.
The fifteenth starts back to back par fives. In my first round the wind was not howling, well over 40 mph with gusts. I lost my tee shot to the right, I lost my dropped third shot to the right, and and I lost my next dropped shot to the right. On all three shots I aimed more and more to the left, even over the fence. When finally at the green my caddie walked just off the front of the green on the left front (facing the green) and threw a ball as high as he could straight up and it blew off the other side of the green and we did not find it such was the strength of the wind. On the next hole, the par 5 sixteenth, playing back the other way I lost my tee shot left despite aiming over the trees on the right. At that point with only two balls left, I dropped a ball and used my putter the rest of the way on sixteen. On the second round there was no wind and I made birdie and par.
As to the fifteenth is a very long par 5 of 650/551 and you must hit the fairway on both the tee shot and second shot. You cannot go long, left or right or it is a lost ball. The green is one of the flatter ones on the course and is the final infinity green. It is a strong hole if there is any wind.
The sixteenth plays from an elevated tee and once again the fairway must be hit as it is a lost ball either left or right after a long forced carry. There is a really good green at the end of this hole. The sixteenth tee has the best view of Hawk's Bay. It is magnificent.
The seventeenth is a long par 4 of 463/420. The tee shot is pretty easy to this slight dogleg right. There is an elevated well bunkered green. It is a very good hole.
The final hole is a long par 4 only from the back tee at 480 but a shorter par 4 from the blue tee at 390 hole. The green sits in a bowl like effect and is perhaps the most interesting looking green complex on the golf course. Some have criticized the green as rewarding poorly struck approach shots but I found it to be a lot of fun to watch what a ball would do. I found it to be a great finish.
I really liked Cape Kidnappers. Yes, it is a resort golf course but a very good one. The views obviously can be distracted. There is a good mixture of long and short holes, risk/reward holes and decision-making. The green complexes are all very different as the greens are placed on different types of terrain, whether raised or flat. The three infinity greens are amazing. Some might say three of the par 3's look similar but I felt they played differently and looked slightly different.
As I said, it is not in my top 100 of the 706 different golf courses I have played, but if someone were to have it on their list, I would not debate it too hard. Each hole is unique and must be thought through to play it well. And you will definitely have fun.
I was fortunate enough to play Cape Kidnappers in 2003, well before the course opened. At that stage the bunkers had no sand, but the course was in pretty good shape, and made a huge impression…
I returned a year later for Tom Doak’s Renaissance Cup tournament, and joined in the merriment playing in some not so gentle ocean breezes on this most exacting course.
I keep going back…
The fun really begins when you first enter the front gates some 8 kms from the course itself. The driveway heads down a deep gully with just enough room for the road and the rocky creek beside it. From there the road heads steeply up into the heavily forested hills, and suddenly the outlook is dark and foreboding…
And then you emerge out in to the farmlands above, famously sited on fingers of land jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, and divided by a series of deep ravines.
The driveway bucks and rolls as it goes down into and up out of those ravines as you make your way to the course proper.
You arrive to find that the clubhouse looks like a classy shearing shed - entirely appropriate given the site is a working sheep farm.
The course itself starts off by heading inland for a few holes. The first hole sets the scene - a bruising 402 metre par 4 dogleg with a deep gully in front of the green. Par here is a good score.
The next few holes are framed by some beautiful strategic bunkering, and have lovely sculpted greens with enough movement to get your attention without being silly. None of the holes are particularly tight of the tee, but if you do miss the fairway the longish fescue surrounds are not friendly. These are just quality golf holes in a lovely rural setting.
By hole 5 The Pacific Ocean is part of the backdrop, but hole 6 really grabs you by the throat!
A 206-metre par 3 over the deepest of ravines, it only needs the hint of the sea winds to make par nigh on impossible. It makes a spectacular picture though, and you will not forget the massive bridge that takes you across the ravine to the green- the first of a number at Cape Kidnappers. These bridges will stick in your memory banks as one of the lasting visions you will automatically remember as unique to this course.
Holes 7 & 8 head back away from the ocean playing through some wild territory beside the ravine, and are another two very entertaining golf holes, while 9 returns to the clubhouse. With a blind tee shot and an awkward second shot, I never really came to love the ninth hole, but as a whole the front nine is just quality golf, and great fun too!
Play that front nine in good form and good conditions and you would never want to leave- or maybe you would… the back nine beckons!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I just can’t imagine how this could be ranked 44th in the world and here’s why. The front nine is a very average parkland layout. It lacks imagination or finess. Whilst the back nine is better it really doesn’t please the eye in any way. I don’t think a course should be ranked highly on the basis that it has some pretty views of the sea.
The greens are unreceptive and grainy which makes them very inconsistent. The 1st and 18th which define a course by its open and close are two fields in my view. If I was paying NZ$ 150 to play I would feel Ok but NZ$ 500+ is ridiculous for the standard.
Lastly, this is a public course and therefore attracts golfers that think a 5 to 6 hour round is normal.
We missed out on Kauri Cliffs as the weather was horrendous when we were due to play so were delighted to make the long drive (from the entrance it's 15 mins to the clubhouse) to Cape Kidnappers on a sunny and relatively still day. It's always tough when you have such an amazing reputation, though had heard some negative comments before playing about condition of the course in light of the reputation and cost. I had also read how little famed architect Tom Doak had had to do to the land to create the course and felt after the first few holes that he perhaps should have done a little more. It didn't feel special, but perhaps in retrospect that was aligned to the immense expectation of greatness that images (mostly aerial) of the course create. But then we hit the back nine and it was made all the more enjoyable by no one around us wishing to spend the exorbitant amount of the green fees as we had the course almost entirely to ourselves. We certainly ambled and took in all the views we could which are undeniably incredible, as are some of the holes. The long, thin, Par 5 16th stood out in my book and a birdie at the 18th always makes you want to come back for more, but if I did, I would try and sneak two back nines and leave the front alone! Wonderful practice facilities as you would imagine and a perfectly suited clubhouse. Not somewhere you'll play everyday, but definitely worth than one off golfing treat.
A course of two halves, the front nine is inland and a rather ordinary rolling parklands affair but as you turn and head out to the coast its quite a different course. Its flat with little to no trees and some truly spectacular holes though it is hard to get the sense of the fingers of land you see on all images of this course. Is it the number two course in NZ? I say no, there are far more enjoyable courses in NZ and whilst it boasts a couple of the very best holes in NZ the rest of the course lets it down. It is very well presented although the greens are a little too fast for the wind conditions, we had balls blown off the green and even had to put allowing for the wind not the borrow. Glad I played it but wouldn't pay that kind of money toplay it again.
Fantastic place to play golf although hard to say it is value for money. The course is magnificent with some stunning views and scenery. Well worth a visit and am glad I played but there are other courses in NZ of equal standard for far less outlay. But can't really fault it