The up-market golf resort of Formosa is a 45-minute drive (or a short ferry hop) to the east of Auckland. As a member of the Best of Golf New Zealand group of premier resorts, it can be taken for granted that golf will be great at a venue considered good enough to host the New Zealand Open in 1998.
Laid out on a large 440-acre cliff top site and modeled on Augusta National by course architect Bob Charles, the 18 holes at Formosa are the centerpiece of a resort that includes 50 villas, a conference centre, pool, spa, tennis and squash courts on the property.
The course runs along cliffs above Hauraki Gulf so some sensational sights out to sea can be guaranteed to raise your spirits even if the dozens of bunkers and hundreds of Pohutukawa and palm trees planted around the course are hampering your golf game!
The feature holes at Formosa are those between the par threes at the 11th and 15th, along the edge of the cliffs. The best of these holes is probably the 540-yard, par five, right doglegged 12th, where a waste bunker down the left of the fairway and two greenside bunkers short right of the offset green are formidable protectors of par.
Very much a resort style course it none the less has some very good holes. Hole 5 represents a spectacular short par 4 with real risk vs reward options and 12 is a scenic but challenging par 5. All the par 3s are very challenging especially if the wind is blowing. Unfortunately the course has suffered from lack of maintenance of late with all bunkers turned into GUR due to lack of sand. Hopefully it can return to its former glory.
Abysmally neglected course… bunkers scoured of any sand… signage missing on many tees… fairways inconsistently mown. A once proud venue reduced to crud.
When I moved to New Zealand nine years ago, I remember seeing this clifftop course bordering Auckland Harbour from the plane – it was the first glimpse of New Zealand golf that I saw, and I remember thinking it looked pretty decent from the air, although a bit resorty maybe. Then all I read online was that it copped a lot of flack, mostly for its conditioning, but also the design. When I became the NZ Correspondent for top100, I got to find out what the Kiwi golfing fraternity thought of it, and frankly, it seemed to be the most polarising course in the country (Arrowtown aside).
So to cut a long story short, I did not know what to expect. And you know what? It’s actually pretty good. Yes, the bunkers are in terrible condition, they don’t drain properly, and as a result are often rock hard. The club / resort is well aware – I was told that this was the next area for investment, and so it should be. But the conditioning otherwise is totally fine, not incredible, but nothing unbefitting a mid-range resort course, and certainly nothing to complain about.
As for the design, well, erm …. it’s a mid-range resort course, very much from the era it was built in, and appearing to be aimed squarely at the Asian market. It’s not an architectural masterpiece by any stretch, there are no classic holes, but almost every hole has something to recommend it (except maybe the short 7th, which seems like an awkward, uphill par 3 that simply links 6 and 8). There’s even some quirk – I’m talking 17 here, with its colossal beanpole of a cabbage (?) tree in front of the green.
Ultimately though, I walked off 18, and thought that I’d like to come back. I don’t know why, I wouldn’t normally feel that way about conventional resort courses, maybe it was low expectation going in, but I fancy another crack. Especially once the bunkers are sorted.