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.
What you think of Formosa depends on your expectations. If you are expecting a top quality beautifully maintained course, you will be very disappointed. But if you understand its history and revise your expectations, you could well be very pleasantly surprised.
Built in the 1990's as a challenging resort course on spectacular land overlooking the beautiful inner Hauraki Gulf and its islands, it hosted the NZ Open in 1996. It was stunning and very difficult. But like many resort courses, it failed to be commercially viable and fell into disrepair under successive owners. Lack of investment and proper maintenance over the last decade has resulted in a poor golfing experience, despite the setting.
BUT...the new owners (mid 2020) are making a huge effort to bring the course back into a good playable condition. Bunkers are being re-sanded, and the overall condition is improving by the week. With only a handful of members and few visitors (at the moment) and only $45 ($55 non NZ-affiliated) you can get on the course so easily, and it represents great value for money.
Overall the course is a bit resort-like - not to everyone's taste, but is very challenging with very complex greens and surrounds. With hundreds of alien palm trees lining the fairways, it can feel like you are in Florida.
Some of the greens are enormous with huge slopes, making putting a game in itself. Pick the right tees! The pro tees stretch to over 7,000 yards! The white tees are quite playable.
The front nine runs away from the coast with a number of beautiful driving holes and water coming into play on several holes. The 7th is a gorgeous par 3 now the trees have been cut back.
The back nine runs around the coastal edge, providing distracting views. Again the holes are set up to create a real challenge for the driver, but provides an easier option for 3 wood/hybrid. Hole 11 is stunning playing downhill to the coast, and then holes 15 (short par 3), 16 (reachable par 5) and 17 (mid par 4) are 3 very attractive and strategic holes.
Given the recent improvements I would really recommend a visit as its good value for money...but don't forget to have the right expectations...its still not in amazing condition, but getting better by the week.
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.