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
I have mixed feelings about this course. True, the setting is great and the views magnificent. This, together with the long private road after the entrance, the clubhouse, the facilities, the staff, make you feel you are at a special place. I had a great day of golf, and I certainly do not regret the experience nor the trip.
But come on, 2nd in New Zealand, before Kauri Cliffs or Jack’s Point ? 44th worldwide before courses such as (in totally different styles) Cruden Bay or Woodhall spa ? I strongly disagree. If you take out the setting, the lay out, in my humble opinion, is rather ordinary. I found 15, one of the holes where you get some of the nicest views, in itself uninteresting.
I have often wondered why a course like Old Head, in Ireland, which setting I find even more stunning than Cape Kidnappers, is not even in the World top 100, and in fact rather low in the British Isles ranking. Same question goes for Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria, which I also would rank before Cape Kidnappers. These are courses I played a few years back, with less benchmarks and references. I imagined the weaker holes accounted for that.
But I do not find them any weaker than Cape Kidnappers. And even the greatest courses have some weak holes. Royal County Down is a top league course despite its less interesting back nine because of an out of this world front nine.
So what explains that difference of treatment ? An excessive hype around Tom Doak design ? I would be curious to hear your views.
Likewise I had mixed feelings about Cape Kidnappers - and also about Jacks Point and Kauri Cliffs. All of these "Top NZ Courses" (throw Tara Iti and the Hills in there too) are NOT NZ courses. They are American courses in NZ and designed to bleed as much money from tourists as possible, whilst keeping NZ golfers away. If you are coming to NZ to play golf, sure - play and enjoy these, but also go to some proper NZ golf clubs, meet some kiwi golfers and enjoy the challenge of NZ style golf courses.
Regarding your comments around Britain and Ireland Course ratings - I have always felt the ratings on here are:
1. Biased towards Surrey courses
2. Biased against hotel/resort courses
Having just been to New Zealand last year to play all the mentioned courses as well as Cape Kidnappers in part I agree with some of your comments. It felt far less dramatic than what you see in all the photos of the fingers of land running into the Pacific. However, the brilliance of it and a large part of the reason for its high acclaim boil down to the beauty of the routing over a property that while spectacular is far from ideal golf land and this is exactly why it enjoys the rankings that it receives. Naturally rankings are subjective so opinions will vary greatly just as your does. However, the more you see the more you realize what fits your eye and what you really like. For me, Jack’ Point and Kauri Cliffs were 100% about the amazing views and worth going to see just for that. Most people will visit them and think they are among the best courses they have every seen but not realize that the golf course design and the routings on both leaves a lot to be desired. Neither of those are anywhere near my personal Top 100 for example. However, for another person they will be the greatest golf experience on the planet.
Old Head is another fitting into the above category indeed. The main critiques are usually surrounding the internal holes which are bland at best. Add this to the general opinion that few of the perimeter holes are of great architecture and when you complete the picture it falls short, not from a “take your breath away” perspective by any means but simply from a golf course architecture perspective and routing one. This is what makes the general consensus among many panelist feel that Cape Kidnappers would be far stronger hole for hole and with regards to the architect making the most of the property than Old Head for example. Again, it’s subjective and you and anyone else can feel totally different and still be right in terms of what suits your eye or what’s more fun for you.
Interesting comments, I might give you that there are some American parkland-like courses in NZ but Tara Iti is about as American as haggis. There are 40k + courses in the US and less than 10 links courses if we really stretch the definition. I’ve managed to play a few courses in the US over the years including most of the US top 100 for example and I can’t for the life of me think of anything even similar to Tara Iti. What am I missing? Would you consider the likes of Pacific Dunes, Sand Hills or Fryers Head typical American courses? What about Barnbougle and Capewickham?
I’d also be very curious to hear how you might defend the position of the Surrey bias. Outside of being full of Golden Age architecture by some of the great names in GCA it’s also an area that is largely built up with sand pockets that allow for the best possible playing conditions outside of the links courses in the UK and Ireland. Those are exactly the reasons the courses in Surry receive so much acclaim. What would you say should take their place and why?
As for hotel and resort courses, this is also simple to figure out. In many cases hotel and resort courses have been built for completely different reasons than other courses. The aim often has a push in the direction of creating open, easy and fun courses where golf was not the main intent or the main revenue driver, where maintenance is much less of a cost for example. Costs are often cut and courses can take on “dumbed down” versions of what might exist for a private members club or even at many high end public course. Again however, there may always be exceptions and there are plenty. What example could you offer that would back up your statement? I’d be very interested to hear that.
Hi dd in nl.
I guess you are right. As there are 40k courses in USA there is no single style. However many aspects of Tara iti I've only seen in American courses before. It certainly doesn't remind me of UK links or anything else in NZ.
The Surrey bias is due to money. Very average routings like New Zealand are at 60 whilst courses like Northamptonshire county, Coxmoor dont make it at all.
Regarding resort courses. Ok I'm arguing against myself somewhat here I know but the back 9 at forest of Arden is possibly my favourite 9 holes in England. And I could play that 4 times for what my round at NZ or Woking cost.
According to the 2015 “Golf around the World” study, by US organization National Golf Foundation, which was funded by the R&A: There are approx. 34K golf courses in the world, with around 16K of these in the US (I thought it was around 24K).
If you’ve enjoyed any of the World Top 100, then you’ve been teeing it up within the top 0.29% of all Golf Courses.
Not played Golf in NZ yet, so that’s all I’ve got to offer
Is it a parkland course if it's laid out along cliff tops without any park? Should there be a 'spare no cost' category to define routings such as this?
Can I come back and play again please?
It's all been said about the clearly spectacular nature of this golf course, so I shall not repeat hole specifics but will say the constant undulations are ever changing and the conditioning was superb (I was one of four players that day!). Everything about the course from arrival to departure was top class and I genuinely can't fault it. But and it's the only but I can think about for Cape Kidnappers, it just didn't blow me away like Barnbougle Dunes & Lost Farm do.
Still, brilliant golf on a brilliant sunny and mostly calm day and in a magnificent part of the world. Stay a few days in Napier and the region in general; you won't regret it.
Fairways and greens are perfect. Front nine with up and down hills. Back nine more flat. Greens well defended.
New Zealand is a lot bigger than one might think. Our initial thought was to stay the night in Kerikeri and then drive down to Napier the next day. The distance didn’t seem too unreasonable for US standards, 8 hours, relaxed, so what, right? Well, in the end we decided to fly. Best. Decision. Ever. Taking domestic flights in New Zealand is super relaxed. Show up 15 minutes before departure…no worries. The car rental company will have a tin can for you to leave your key in when they are closed. The gentleman at the check-in didn’t open up until 10 minutes before departure. That meant we had stressed for nothing arriving 12 minutes before departure. The problem with driving in NZ is that this relaxed attitude carries over to the roads and after 23 years of living in Europe, driving as slow as they do here is extremely stressful. Our experience with flying here was wonderful and entertaining as well. The one minus point was between Kerikeri and Napier my clubs decided not to make it.
Cape Kidnappers has long been hailed as the #1 course in New Zealand and when you finally get to play your clubs are off on a trip of their own. Luckily the club offers very high-end rentals and that was a very welcome surprise upon arrival. I have to say the course really surprised me in that I had expected most of it to be spectacularly placed along the cliffs and while this was the case most of the time you don’t exactly realize it. It truly is the end of the planet and nearly everyone has seen the spectacular photos of the almost finger-like cliffs with fairways stretching out towards the sea. In fact, the front nine is excellent and enjoys a wonderful routing through very interesting rolling terrain but the cliffs and the sea are nowhere to be seen for much of it.
The par 4 5th hole has the most spectacular green complex on the front 9 and offers the first real sensation of where exactly we find ourselves. The par 3 6th hole plays from cliff top to cliff top and is a visually tough shot and depending on the wind can also be an even greater challenge ranging anywhere from 6 iron to driver from the back tees.
The back 9 is arguably the stronger and more spectacular of the two, though I have heard a difference of opinion here. One of my favorite holes – perhaps a bit cliché – was the long par 4 12th “infinity” which runs out to the end of the world, or so it seems. The infinity green is perched far atop one of the finger outcroppings and sits high above the cliffs and Hawkes Bay.
The very short par 3 13th may well be my favorite hole on the course and with that I start to see a pattern in my appreciation for Doak’s short holes. I think he has developed mastery in this area. On his best courses he seems to throw in some simply amazing and treacherous short 3’s and 4’s. Then I’m thinking along the lines of Tara Iti, Barbougle and Pacific Dunes. All having standout short holes.
This short par three plays only to 112 meters but beware as danger lurks around every corner. It plays from the end of one cliff top finger to another. As dramatic a landscape you may never find. It also has one of the most spectacular “catch” bunkers in the world that sits back left between the green and the abyss. It’s a scary bunker but believe me when I say that I ended up there is blessing from above, as missing anyplace else on the left is like falling off the edge of the planet.
Coming in Doak has routed this course at the highest level and finishes with a classic punch bowl green on the 18th. However, if he witnessed where my ball came to rest he would have had a heart attack and claimed the maintenance was slightly off. It did give us a good laugh though.
I don’t need to say this but a visit to Cape Kidnappers should be on every golf fanatics bucket list. It’s that good even if it’s no longer the number 1 course in New Zealand. Leave it to Doak to find a way to out do himself at what feels like the most remote location in the world for golf.
The entry drive at Cape Kidnappers is dramatic, right up there with Sand Hills, Morfontaine, Yeamans Hall and Kauri Cliffs. Cape Kidnappers has been one of the most hyped courses built in the last twenty years. It begins with a good first hole, but overall I found the 2nd through 6th, 10th, 11th and 17th a bit underwhelming relative to expectations.
The course has very wide fairways, and Tom Doak, the course designer, always leaves a bailout area and a more forgiving route to the green for less skilled players. This less skilled player, for one, appreciates this design philosophy. The other side of this design philosophy is that if you play aggressively and make a mistake, there is a big penalty. The big penalty at Cape Kidnappers is being in the high rough, which is almost certainly a lost ball.
Despite the initial letdown of the front, I did like the variety of hole types. The course has some short par threes and some short par fours, which are nice because they take away the tedium of hitting hybrid clubs off the fairway all day long.
Cape Kidnappers also puts a premium on putting, 'cause there ain't a flat green out there. I enjoyed the par three sixth hole, which reminded me a bit of the "Calamity" par three at Royal Portrush, but with the big drop-off on the left side of the hole instead of on the right. The hole plays over 200 yards and is a tester. It offers a preview of the immensity of the rocky gorges to come. The drop from the green to the water below is over 500 feet.
Like Cypress Point, Kidnappers features back-to-back par fives. The sixteenth is a par five in the opposite direction from the fifteenth, this time playing downwind. The hole is only 500 yards from the tips. The fairway heaves quite a bit in different directions, and the green is elevated and funky. It is a very different hole than the fifteenth and has a wide fairway.
Cape Kidnappers is in many respects ultimately like Pebble Beach. What makes Pebble Beach so great is a half dozen spectacular holes, which compensate for many holes that are good, but not great. Cape Kidnappers also has a collection of holes that are so superior in their own right that they make up for some average holes and make it a worthy course to be included among the best in the world.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs