John Darby has undoubtedly become one of the key figures in contemporary golf course architecture in New Zealand. There are fine tracks such as Millbrook, Clearwater, and The Hills already tucked away in his portfolio, but with the unveiling of his newest creation, Jack’s Point, in late 2008, he has arguably surpassed all of his previous projects.
Jack’s Point is nestled between 2,300 vertical metres of the saw-toothed, razorback Remarkables mountain range and the majestic Lake Wakatipu to the east, Darby was blessed with some wonderful golfing land, amongst the tussock grasslands, rocky outcrops, steep bluffs, and native bush. He is purported to have followed a design principle of minimal excavation, using the integral features of the land as much as possible.
The result is a modern throwback to classic, naturalistic architecture – seemingly influenced by courses such as Sand Hills and Ballyneal, but with a clear Central Otago flavour. The Jack’s Point routing takes the golfer from wetlands to rock-infested hillside, from lakeside through native bush, skirting dry stone walls before plunging downhill towards the water-fringed closer.
Difficult as it is to single out any individual holes for praise, it is hard to ignore the eye-catching short 7th which plunges steeply downhill to an infinity green that’s backed by a drop-off down to Lake Wakatipu. The challenge for the first-time visitor is to trust that he or she has the right club in hand, with no visual references or perspective to guide them (and that’s on a still day!).
Aesthetically, the final touches at Jack’s Point are natural and rather rustic, while the surrounding scenery must be some of the best in the golfing world. But it is the design as a whole that impresses – it has hidden depth, which reveals itself to you on repeat visits and is an incredible golfing journey.
The rest of the round has no such issues with diversity – there’s an abundance of thrilling shots to be played, but rarely the same thrill each time. A drive into a narrow tongue of land to reach a par 5 in two, a fairway wood over huge bunkers, a forced carry par-3, a stone wall providing a Cape effect off the tee, and the famous long-drop short 7th to its infinity green.
As with most places, I noticed some more subtle design features as I visited new areas of the course on my repeat visit. I gained more respect for the harmless looking short par 4 6th – in avoiding the more obviously penal drop off to the left, I learned that the opposite mistake was almost as hard to salvage,due to the greenside bunkering and right to left camber of the putting surface. I came to appreciate the tightly shaved green surrounds, and the highly taxing chipshots they presented (e.g. the 8th), and I noticed the green tilt on #14, that rewards the counterintuitive lay-up (aim WAY left).
There’s been some slight changes in course presentation, and I found them positive. The unnecessary thicker collar of rough half way up the 2nd fairway has gone, leaving a first cut that’s present purely because of the high traffic through that narrow gap. And the rough is much less penal now in certain places – most noticeable on the early holes (the wetlands around the turn still hold some extremely severe rough, marked as lateral water).
Rightly sits atop our South Island rankings, in my opinion. May stay there for some time…. Matt Richardson
Essentially, the course is a journey over a hill to the other side and back again. That journey takes you through many different phases, contours and styles, but they all hang together so well (except the 18th, perhaps). The first and the 2nd tee shot are emerald ribbons running through wetlands. Then the climb starts through 2, 3 and 4, through rocky outcrops and naturalistic unsculptured bunkering. It’s like a golf course developer got hold some prime National Park land, like the Lake District or Dartmoor – but of course you don’t get that type of land for golf courses often in the UK.
5 is an unbelievable par five – it can be reached in two, but you need your drive to reach a highly tapered end of the fairway between reed-filled cabbage and huge boulders. Then you need to crack your fairway wood blind over the corner and hope for the best. There’s an inviting bail out area but it’s just so damn tempting to go for it, even though you can’t see. The next three holes skirt the cliff going down to the lake, most notable is the tiny downhill 7th – just an easy pitching wedge on a still day, but steeply downhill with a plunge down to the lake behind. It feels like an optical illusion, you just don’t know what club to hit or what shot to play, it’s intimidating to feel so unsure.
9 to 12 come away from the lake, and are slightly reminiscent of gorse-lined links courses in the UK (e.g. some of the back nine at Nairn), all ripples, deep bunkers and plateaux greens, but with a modern feel. 13 is another fantastic short hole, a mid-iron over wetland full of rushes that runs tee to green – instant reload if you’re short. 14 and 15 climb back up the hill, heavily bunkered and dry stone walls to negotiate. 16 plunges back down to the clubhouse – a split fairway either side of a rocky outcrop. The last skirts a lake all the way down the left, it’s a great hole but it does feel a little artificial, like the designers had TV tournaments in mind and wanted an 18th that would provide excitement. My own view would be that for such a natural feeling course, to plonk a stadium-type hole at the end feels a little incoherent and unnecessary.
Just a note to end on – the greens are amazing. There’s hardly a flat putt to be found, it really accentuates the feeling that putting is a game within a game. But it doesn’t go too far – there’s no feeling that the slopes are ludicrous, and the greens are so true that you feel you get what you deserve. And only NZ$60 for an NZ affiliated golfer – what a bargain. I’ll be back time and again. I know that many of the members at my club in Dunedin have played it, and they unanimously love it. Matt Richardson