As at Kauri Cliffs, entry is via a locked gate and a most pleasant 8 km drive through a lush grazing hinterland to get to the course. The Clubhouse/pro shop is utterly in sync with a working sheep station. It exudes a warm, comfortable, almost rustic ambience, strategically located to benefit from the unbelievable panorama above Hawkes Bay.
Cape Kidnappers – can only be described as a Tom Doak masterpiece, and the day I chose to play CK, could only be described as almost Melbournian. I left Napier in drizzly rain, 20 k’s up the road, brilliant sunshine. It was nearly an hour’s drive and on arrival – back to bleak and daunting.
There are only about 5000 rounds played here per year, but they really do it right at CK. On arrival, valet equivalent enquires if gear is in the boot, rounds the lot up, sets it on a cart and readies it for play. My car then whisked away and parked, ‘somewhere’, and I was shown to the office of head pro, Jon McCord. Jon, a most genial ‘giant’ (about 6’ 15”) American who provided a warm welcome and gave me a ‘heads-up’ on the course, facilities and everything else a visitor might need to know. Then directed to the practice facility (world class everything) and advised I would be called to the tee shortly.
Rated by Top 100 Golf Courses of the World at a creditable, 40th, worldwide. I was subsequently slotted into a convivial group of punters of similar vintage to myself and hit off on a blustery, almost sunny, opening hole. This course plays to a par of 71, stretching to just over 6,500 metres from the tips. There are five sets of tees available and in our case the decision to go forward to the white blocks was unanimous.
Light rain and more wind by the end of three, fleeting sunshine again by five and piddling down again by mid seven – complete with chunks of ice (sleet) in the gale force wind. As cold as I have ever been on a golf course.
The par 4, 5th sports two fairway bunkers and offers an interesting ‘high or low road’ option from the tee. The left or ‘low’ being the preferred option for we mere mortals. Six is an outstanding par 3, of 190 odd metres. Across a huge gulley, to an elevated green and just making the short stuff may be the least of your concerns as the contours on this green will test the best.
Seven, at index two on the card is a corker. A pushed drive left me with little option than to pop a wedge over the crest on the fairway, leaving me a most exhilarating downhill approach to a long, narrow, devilishly tricky green. A great hole.
After putting out on eight, the wind and sleet really turned it on. I drove into the maelstrom to the 9th tee, turned the cart downwind, toward the green and a sudden gust plucked the windscreen from its mounting and deposited via an aerial route, some fifty odd metres downwind, towards the ladies’ tee.
My two sparing partners were part of a group of 14 and not overly concerned at dropping half of their ‘quite significant’ green fees and adjourned to be ‘backside up’ to a massive log fire at the bar, with a very ‘loaded’ hot toddy. Well, “Old Ma Croker never bred a squib” and after a liberal dose of Dr. Walker’s Scottish hypothermia preventative medicine and several minutes of dangling my hands under the hot tap in the toot, my replacement cart was readied for me and on the blocks for the back nine. Managed 15 stab. points on the front which seemed to be playing predominantly with the prevailing wind (gale) and into the back nine, which wasn’t.
The 11th is yet another formidable par 3 which plays considerably longer than the yardage indicated. The aptly named 12th, ‘Infinity’ requires a deft second as it culminates on a narrow green, seemingly, on the edge of the earth. 13 is the shortest hole on the course is to my mind, one of the best on the CK layout. Measuring just 120 odd metres, and can play anything from a lob wedge to a flat out mid iron depending on the conditions.
The 16th tee provides a scenic extravaganza prior to the run home. The quirky punchbowl green on eighteen a treat and a grand conclusion to the round. To my mind, the inward nine is probably a more stringent test of golf than the front, and certainly the more scenic. I completed the back nine in 16 stab points, 31 for the round. From the white blocks, on this course, under these conditions – stupendous.
An interesting aspect of this great Doak design is the contouring both on and around the greens. He calls for thought provoking and accurate play both to and on the greens, well prior to selecting the ‘flat stick’. I found the putting surfaces to be true, fast and consistent. The design, variety and contouring, first class, offering all manner of undulation, break and borrow. Pin placement options are unlimited as greens are of massive proportions. On average, they cover an area of 6,200 square feet or 576 square metres. Doak at his best.
My preconceived expectations based on the aerial photography were in reality not quite so significant on the ground. On playing the course, I must conclude that I found the fairways quite generous, the playing surface excellent and lies/contouring not overly severe. “Extreme golfing terrain” has been used by some reviewers (they may not have played Kinloch).
Here again, the infamous fescue grasses align the fairways, ready and willing to pilfer any errant pill. Like KC, the Irish Drop Rule is in existence at CK. "Any ball lost in the long rough may be treated as lost in a water hazard. One shot penalty at point of entry.” Practical, as it obviated my going back to replay a shot on several occasions. Only five – expletive – lost balls here.
Cape Kidnappers, a simply great golfing experience. Oh how I would like a return bout in a little less trying conditions.
Date: November 30, 2015