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.
Date: April 10, 2021