Located 25 miles to the north of Auckland on the Whangaparaoa (“Bay of Whales”) Peninsula lies Gulf Harbour Country Club. The course is the focal point of a development that incorporates a residential community, hotel and marina. The Pacific Ocean location is truly stunning with the Hauraki Gulf as the aquamarine backcloth.
Gulf Harbour is the only golf course in New Zealand designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr and the layout is routed round a rolling hillside where the changes in elevation make for exciting and challenging golf with the added bonus of free panoramic views. For such a young course there’s a surprisingly natural feel to the layout and this 6,400-metre course is a serious test. Host venue to the 1998 World Cup of Golf (now re-branded as the World Golf Championships), Gulf Harbour witnessed England’s one and only World Cup win thanks to the pairing of Nick Faldo and David Carter. In 2005, Niclas Fasth lifted the New Zealand Open title at Gulf Harbour and the following year the event was won by Australia's Nathan Green.
Despite its championship pedigree, Gulf Harbour Country Club has four sets of tees and the course is thoroughly enjoyable for handicap golfers. With varied holes, exciting risk and reward choices and a stunning closing sequence of holes, Gulf Harbour should be placed on every serious golfers must-play list.
Perhaps the most remarkable hole at Gulf Harbour is the 7th, the shortest par four on the course which doglegs right alongside a menacing lake that runs all the way from the tee to the small green which is also well protected by bunkers to the left. Gladly take a par here at “Te Tahuna” and move on the to 8th tee with your card still intact. Another great hole is the 405-metre 16th (“Ta Moko”), a dramatic par four set on top of the cliffs. The tee shot is played over a ravine to a fairway that doglegs to the right – those attempting to fly the corner in order to shorten their approach may find they are at least a ball short when teeing up on the next hole!
Gulf Harbour is a challenge for golfer of all levels but more than that, it is a course to come and truly enjoy. Whether you are playing well or not, the course layout has something to admire at every turn. Whilst the back nine will always take the plaudits, the front nine is well laid out with some challenging par fours and three feature holes around the lake.
Moving to the back nine and the course really starts to excel. After the challenging 11th hole par 5 up the hill, you cross the road for stunning views back towards the city and the course gets better as you reach the signature par four 16th - a true challenge and a great photo opportunity.
For me Gulf Harbour is a hidden gem in Auckland's and New Zealand's golfing scene. Whilst past glory may include the World Cup of Golf and New Zealand Opens, the course is still in fantastic condition and should be a must on any golf trip to New Zealand
Located on the Whangaparaoa peninsula, on shores of the Hauraki Gulf, just 30 or so minutes north of Auckland, this superb Trent Jones layout offers a world class golfing experience and is a course I consider worthy of a significantly more lofty ranking position. The club has been a creditable host venue for the World Golf Championships and the NZ Open.
Measuring almost 6,400 metres from the tips. Gulf Harbour boasts a rating of 74.8 and a slope of 136. Playability at this track is excellent. The course offers five sets tee blocks, thereby, adequately catering to the scratch marker and the higher handicap players alike.
Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, the greens and fairways had recently been cored [a necessary evil] and due to unseasonably heavy rain, the course was ‘quite wet’. The conditions, however, did not detract from the outstanding design and spectacular scenery which abounds on this great course.
Your round commences meekly enough and gradually builds beautifully through 7 and 8 and into an outstanding back nine, where the panorama from the short par 4, 12 is sensational.
16, a 394 metre par 4 is index 1 on the card and is followed by a great par 5 of 510 metres. They wend their way along and across the cliff tops in spectacular fashion, where fortune favours the brave, to a grandstand conclusion to the round at 18.
The spacious greens are quite undulating and at their best, [not recently cored] are reportedly, receptive and provide a universally true but testing putting surface.
The fairways are generally wide and accommodating, and typical of Trent Jones design, each offer a variety of risk and reward options. From the tee, correctly selecting a fairway location, in most instances, critical. This said, on many holes, a ‘bail out’ location is at the disposal of the long marker to ensure a pleasurable round for all.
The 19th does justice to the Gulf Harbour experience with a welcoming clubhouse, providing excellent service and typical Kiwi hospitality.
As for the course, as the last reviewer commented, it’s a fairly straightforward first 6 holes, cutting a swathe through houses overlooking the fairways. Nice contours, but nothing special in terms of design or difficulty. The remainder of the front 9 takes a clockwise loop round the lake – all excellent tests, but these are the sort of resort-type holes that you can see countless other courses around the world – flat, relying on water as the predominant feature. The second nine is a far superior affair, starting with the par-5 11th snaking its way steeply up a hill to find a green nestled at the top. The stretch from 14 to 17 is the highlight, with the signature 16th being the clear stand-out hole. The drive across the corner of the clifftops stands there looking so inviting, a gap cleared between two huge trees looking like goalposts, tempting the so-called brave – it looks deceptively makeable. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of an optical illusion and it’s actually a 295yd carry from the back tees, so you’re not brave, you’ve actually foolish (when I say ‘you’, I mean ‘me’). It’s a shame there was no course planners available when I went, could have saved myself a few shots.
Overall, I’d be hard pushed to choose a favourite Auckland course between this and Titirangi – Titirangi’s the work of a genius, but it’s made the most of relatively unpromising land. Gulf Harbour has a much more high-flying, expensive feel to it, it rarely leaves you guessing – you see the trouble in front of you, the green complexes are unfiddly – you get what you deserve here. And like most New Zealand courses, a bargain at the price. I’ll be back. Matt Richardson