Touring golfers visiting New Zealand will certainly want to play both Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs, so comparisons will always be drawn. Kauri Cliffs is a little closer to the ocean and has been laid out to make the most of the sea views. The 6th, 7th and then the run from the 14th to the 17th are all as close to the water as the topography allows.
Common to its sister course Cape Kidnappers 500 miles to the south, Kauri Cliffs is a cliff top golf course situated in an enormous tract of land. As course designer David Harman pointed out “at Kauri Cliffs, there are 4,500 acres; I see a couple of hundred golf holes. How do you tie them together? That’s the challenge.” Even though the golf course fills a small part of Julian Robertson’s land, the routing is elongated to make the most of the stunning sea views. The straight-line distance from the two extremities of the course (the 7th tee to the 14th tee) must surely be the longest of all non-links courses anywhere in the world.
Nothing whitens the knuckles quite like the experience of being asked to play across gorges and onto fairways bordered by the healthiest looking long grass in the world. Most balls that find this deepest cut of rough are gone forever. Playing Kauri Cliffs is quite a formidable test from the tees and I’m sure I’m not alone in fearing that a mounting tally of lost balls was beginning to detract from the views. An important decision for the golfer at the outset of his or her day is to select an appropriate set of tees from which to play.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs and the golf course are well admired by all who visit this striking part of the North Island. Travelling American golfers, who form an important part of the visitor base, compare Kauri Cliffs favourably with Cypress Point and Pebble Beach.
The above passage is a brief edited extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
We had a lot of rain at Kauri Cliffs even after waiting out a three hour rain delay in order to start, which meant I could only play one round on the golf course. Due to the saturation of the golf course, we played tees perhaps a bit shorter than the listed yardage of just under 6500 yards as some tees had been moved forward. Due to the rain I was unable to take notes as I played as well as take as many photos of the course as I would have liked, so this review will be more general than I normally would do.
Based on the tees we played, I am guessing we probably played around 6300 yards. The set of tees was 6467 that we tried to play as we knew the course would play much longer due to lack of roll. It rained during most of our round as well, interrupted by brief periods of overcast skies. With the lack of roll on the tee shots, the course did play longer. The back tees are just over 7100 yards and when possible I walked back to them to have a look at the tee shots required. I think the course plays about the same for the longer hitter from those tees as it did for me from my tees as a medium length player because the fairways are so generous and the placement of the fairway bunkers are just about perfect for a mid-length player from my tees and a longer hitter from those tees. However, on a dry day the longer hitter probably has the advantage due to the additional roll on the ball as many of the holes felt more downhill than uphill (9 and 18 are very steep uphill). The first four holes feed down the hill as you make your way close to the cliffs.
Kauri Cliffs has some outstanding water views (when the rain stopped and the clouds/fog cleared) as well and on a sunny day they must be breathtaking. We were able to get a glimpse of these views more on the back nine and they are stunning, much better than at Cape Kidnappers. I have read you have views of the Pacific Ocean from fifteen holes, all but the three holes that are lower that begin on the back nine.
Kauri Cliffs has the routing and feel of a very good resort golf course. It has very generous fairways and larger greens typical of a resort course. Unlike other resort courses, it does not get much play, possibly as few as twenty rounds a week. It is superbly conditioned (even with the rain I could see that). I played it in February, 2019. Whereas Cape Kidnappers is as pricey as Kauri Cliffs, it is more of a challenge as Cape Kidnappers' fairways do not feel as wide. At Kauri Cliffs the fairways are very generous but everything is done just right. The routing has the front nine on one side and the back nine on the other. In both cases you move away from the clubhouse in a circle and then back again. My one critique is that the 9th and 18th holes end on a long uphill and feel somewhat similar despite one of them being a par 4 and the other a par 5. I was pushing a trolley, so it was arduous to get up these hills due to the sogginess of the course. The greens are all the appropriate size for the longer holes versus the shorter holes. There is a mixture of uphill and downhill holes on both the front and back nine. Basically you go down, level off a bit, and then come back up to finish each nine.
On a short yardage, my 10 handicap becomes more like a 7 because my lack of distance does not come into play as much and I can hit 7 iron or less into greens instead of hybrids. I shot 78 and did not know it until the round was over such was my concentration of trying to keep dry as well as trying to see the views when the rain lessened. I made a lucky birdie with a thinned tee shot on the par 3 12th, two other tee shots would have been out of bounds on a dry day, and my caddie was an assistant pro from my home club who was working there for the "winter." He was an excellent reader of the greens. Sometimes golf is crazy/small world. The reason I mention my score and some highlights is to highlight that this course should not beat you up too much other than where there is a forced carry such as on the long seventh. I read the review where one person complained about the bunkers being as tough as at Carnoustie but neither I nor my playing partners found them to be any more difficult than those found at a really good resort course, such as Pebble Beach or The Ocean course at Kiawah. That was the case both with the bunkers on the fairway or green side. Some were deeper than others but all of them were very playable and you could advance your ball from the a fairway bunker or get it reasonably close from a green side bunker.
Kauri Cliffs is very worthwhile to play, and if I went back I would be sure to play it twice the same day (should take no more than 3 hours each round if in a cart). I thought the back nine was a bit stronger than the front nine. Perhaps because of the rain, there was not a single hole I noted as being really good, but I do not want to suggest that there was a hole that I did not like. They are all good, from the first hole a slight downhill par 4 with a very large green, and the seventh, a long uphill par 3 over a chasm, the 12th which is a flat par 3 of 180 yards over wetlands to a slightly raised green, and 14-17. I thought the finishing hole, a par 5 of 500 yards which plays about 50 yards longer due to the severity of the hill, was not as interesting off the tee but did have a lovely green to it. However, there wasn't one hole that is spectacular such as the 11th at Ballybunion Old or the 13th at Paraparaumu Beach. As I said, it feels like a very good resort golf course of which they are not many. That makes it special. Staying at Cape Kidnappers or Kauri Cliffs is very expensive with rumors of $3500 per night but you do not have to stay there to play.
This was a world top 100 course for years after its debut, but I believe it has fallen off the list. I do not think it is a top 100 in the world but I would not argue it too much. It definitely sits inside my top 200 because it is fun to play, not overly difficult yet is very memorable. It is very fair but not without challenge due to the size of the greens and the wind likely comes into play quite often. According to the assistant pro, the greens are typically pretty speedy and a little larger than other greens but are adequately defended with good bunkering and undulations. They do roll true. I would have liked to have played it twice the same day because it was enjoyable and I could have taken better notes. I recommend if you are in the area that you play here and try to play twice in the same day as it will be worth it.
The Bay of Islands, near Kerikeri on the north island in New Zealand is one of the most spectacular vistas to be found anywhere in the world. And that is the backdrop to Kauri Cliffs, making it a gorgeous place to stay and play golf.
Billionaire Julian Robertson purchased an old cattle ranch, and employed David Harmon to design his course which opened in 2000. No expense was spared in
setting up the course, clubhouse, and accommodation. And no expense is spared in making sure the maintenance of the course is absolutely pristine.
How many courses do you go to and find only a handful of players on the course, but a flotilla of mowers out in formation on a daily basis? The crisscross patterns on the fairways, and the purity of the putting surfaces are ample evidence of the effort made to keep this facility in A1 condition. Even hitting a few balls on the driving range is an experience with fabulous views to The Bay of Islands as a backdrop.
The course itself is quite entertaining, and has enough interest to make you want to return. But it is all a bit surreal! It is a great experience, with good golf, great views, and if you can afford to stay and dine - a wonderful ambient hospitality.
The course starts off by heading down to the cliff tops, so the first 4 holes are basically downhill. The most interesting of these is the short par 4 third hole. It has a single tree guarding the front of the green and a steep drop off at the back off the green – don’t go there!
For me the start of the back nine is the highlight of the course. You may find that a big statement as holes 10, 11 & 12 are sited in swampland without any of the spectacular views. These holes require decision as to line and length, with strategic bunkering and swampland in play on all shots. I think these are terrific golf holes.
Kauri Cliffs is a must play golfing destination. You will want to put this on your bucket list and play it at least once in your life, more often if you can afford the price tag. And it is just a wonderful place to stay.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I was excited at the opportunity to play this golf course, which has received a lot of hype through the media. I've played many of the courses rated in the Top 100 so I researched the course to see what I needed to prepare for the game. I also played similar golf courses in the region.
When I arrived, the friendly staff friendly pointed me in the direction of the carpark and told me where to find the proshop. During the walk from my car to the proshop, three different groups of foreigners asked me to carry their golfbags for them. They seemed indifferent when I informed them politely that I didn't work for the course.
I booked a midday Saturday tee-off in Spring and practised at the putting, chipping, and range facilities. The freshly-sanded greens were 14+ Stimp rating and hard. Apparently they were to be cored the following week. The fairways were cut to less than 5 millimetres and hard. The rough which skirted the fairways were 5 centimetres in length, wide and strong-bladed, and dense-like Bentgrass. The rough around bunkers were 10-20 centimetres in length Bentgrass. The rough beyond that were areas of long and dense Bentgrass and what looked like Sand Tussock. The bunkers were excellently drained, deep pitted, with excellent sand. On the practice range it was clear that it would be tough for a drive to stay on the fairway, let alone a pitch to stay on the greens.
The weather was fine, starting with a slight sea breeze, which made some approaches interesting on the seaward facing early holes. The later holes towards the clubhouse faced the setting sun.
Playing the course requires careful course management. Good tee shots can roll from one side of the fairway to the rough on the other side. Approach shots that fall short of the green can roll off the back. Balls on the edge of the fairway can be difficult to find and play. When the fairways are cut so short and the ground is so hard it is difficult to play irons.
Fortunately, I never found the bunker but my playing partners found them impossible to play out of. In front is often a steep wall topped with long grass. Behind is a cliff and to the sides are other bunkers. They may look good in a photo but they are unnecessarily sadistic. One described them as exponentially worse than Carnoustie!
Views aside, I don't know what designer David Harman was thinking when he designed Kauri Cliffs. A resort course is meant to be rewarding yet challenging, not a dispiriting journey along inviting cliffs.
I have read the reviews and wonder whether I visited the same course. Did I just visit the course on a bad day? Why are the greens and fairways so hard and fast during a wet Spring? Or is it just that Kauri Cliffs is like the rich popular bully at school that few were brave to admit they hated?
As I was reading this I was expecting a 5/6 ball rating and thought there must have been a mistake that you put two....Most people would be quite happy with firm and fast greens, isn't that the age old boast; "Our greens are 12 on the stimp!". Also not too sure what relevance the fact you were mistaken as a worker has to do with the course.
Pointless review I think.
I’d suggest you avoid wearing a white boiler suit and green cap for your next round
I don't see how Nick's comments are helpful. A good description of the course with good tips to prepare.
Hi Clive, did you play any other courses in NZ and does Kauri Cliffs compare to those?
And how does it compare to other courses you’ve played - is there any place you’d give a 6 ball rating to?
In response to BB, I have played many New Zealand, Australian, British, and American courses. In New Zealand, I would rate (in order) Cape Kidnappers, Tara Iti, Wairakei, Titirangi, Paraparaumu, Terrace Downs, Royal Wellington, Royal Auckland, Wainui, Millbrook, The Hills, Clearwater, Kinloch, and Jacks Point as a better playing experience. Internationally, my favourite courses would be Troon, Old Course at Saint Andrews, Pebble Beach, and Royal Melbourne.
I certainly don't recognise Kauri Cliffs from this review and would strongly recommend the course to anyone the cost is high but with that you get great conditions as well as a free flowing round. It's unlikely you will be just passing so it requires a specific trip there, i would do it again without any hesitation
Interesting review Clive, must have been a very strange day as I've never heard anyone describe the course like that.
I've only played Kauri twice, but found it fairly easy both times if you planned your shots well, even with fairly solid winds, and at different times of year. Once in a November for 64 net, and once in a May for 67 net. Neither time did I find the fairways running as crazy quick as you describe though. You are right about going off them, it's hard to find the ball, but they are perhaps the widest in the country though. The greens were fast and hard, but I appreciated that. Didn't find any particular issues with the bunkers, they had great sand and very well maintained.
If you were going to describe any course in NZ as a 'dispiriting journey it would be Kinloch, That course absolutely beats you down over and over. But everyone says that!
Same as kidnappers it's hard to fault the course itself. Although it's not very easily accessed and again the cost is too high. Due to a lack of people playing ( like kidnappers can only be down to affordability) the course remains in pristine condition and cannot be faulted.
Played on March 23, 2018, as the final course of a AUS/NZ trip. I would definitely rank Kauri Cliffs among my top 3, along with Cape Wickham and Tara Iti.
All has been said about the setting. It is absolutely stunning. The course sits high above the sea level with fantastic views that carry far to islands and beaches. Rarely have I seen such beautiful surroundings. The design is also great, quite diverse, with holes 6,7,8 and more importantly 14 to 17 the most memorable in my opinion.
Kauri Cliffs has long been placed among the world’s top 100 and a trip to New Zealand is not complete with out the wonderful experience of playing here. They also offer wonderful albeit very high end, luxury accommodation. The course provides a thoughtful routing with about 50% of the holes taking place on the cliff tops, hence the name. While the course is fun, it’s all about the views and these are all world. They turn your round of golf from what would just be a nice resort course into something very spectacular from a sightseeing perspective. I will add that there are also some really interesting walking bridges on the course taking you from tee boxes to fairways/greens. These are spectacular as well in my opinion.
My favorite holes would be the par 3 7th which plays 200 meters from the back tees on the side of and over cliffs all the way to the green. Right is incredible scenery and a big drop. Also the views from the 15th, 16th and 17th greens are probably the most memorable part of the course and make it well worth the visit.
Should the accommodation be full or just plain out of the budget range I would highly recommend the alternative we found nearby in downtown Kerikeri. The Stonestore Lodge was one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip. The host Richard was absolutely wonderful and while I’ve never before mentioned an accommodation in a golf course review this one deserves it. Richard’s place is a very unique B&B surrounded by nature and even though we were there on Feb 14 arriving late we were able to eat within a short walk of his place in the best restaurant we visited on the trip.
When you do head for Kauri Cliffs, and most golf travelers do, take this piece of solid advice and stay with Richard at Stonestore Lodge. Oh and enjoy the beautiful scenery at Kauri Cliffs but expect a resort course with out of this world views.
The long and winding dirt entry road reminded me of the ones at Yeamans Hall and Sand Hills and helped to build the sense of anticipation, not that you need much once you see the dramatic land forms and the South Pacific. The golf course was designed by the late American architect David Harman, who doesn't have any other notable courses to his name.
The course runs through 800 acres of fern forest, marshland and cliff tops on one of the most dramatic pieces of land I've ever seen. I begin with my simple conclusion of Kauri Cliffs: this place doesn't suck! It is one of the prettiest places on the planet.
The book Golf's 100 Toughest Holes lists Kauri's par three seventh among its choices, for good reason. The 220-yard uphill hole is played from one headland to another with a 350-foot drop in between and a 6,200 square foot green. For added pleasure, there is usually a crosswind coming off the water. Once you are on the green (and the eighth tee) you are looking at simply one of the Best Views in The World.
We played on a day with a two to three club wind and brilliant sunshine with temperatures of about 75 to 80 degrees. As my Kiwi friends would say, it was a bluebird day. Standing here it is hard not to be in a state of ebullient satisfaction. I would have been content pulling up a chair and just sitting there all day looking out at the water.
The front nine is the better of the two, partially because the views are so awe inspiring on the front that you are inevitably let down on the back.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Final round in NZ for the time being. I thought I wouldn't be able to squeeze that round in my schedule but I'm so glad I did. I had heard that the scenery was even better than Kidnappers and I have to agree. It was my better playing experience in NZ because finally, the wind would not blow my 100 kg away like it did literally at Paraparaumu and for 11 holes at Kidnappers.
On a pure course quality point of view, I would rate those two ahead of Kauri cliffs though. I'm a little surprised that no one in the previous reviews mentioned some of the weak holes on the property. Yes, 14-17 is out of this world. The best holes on the best piece of land. But then you reach 18 which in my opinion is very poor, uphill and totally uninteresting.
Even worse, is the dreadful 9th which has to be a contender for worst hole on a world class course. Funny enough, I birdied both. I guess these two are only there to bring you back to the club house. I think 6 is pretty poor too and I would question the par 3 12th where you basically don't see the green.
I liked the position of the blue tees on 4th and 8th where you feel like you're below fairway level. The 4th is a good hole and is called a risk and reward par 5 in their stroke saver. Well, if the prevailing wind from the sea is on, few players would even reach the green in two on this 500 meters hole!
And in this condition the lay up is not very interesting on a first visit as all you see is a pitch shot short of a mound tilting to the right where the fairway is at its narrowest, only to find out afterwards that there is tons of space behind and left of that mount.
Condition of the course is excellent, so is the staff. The scenery is really quite fantastic and the overall experience is a truly great one. That being said, and my rating might sound harsh after you've witnessed 14-17, I think there are too many poor holes on this course. But the best ones surely will stick for long in my memory!
Above the tenth fairway the plush guest/accommodation villas are inconspicuously ensconced in the undulating ground, adjacent to the clubhouse. From there, the outstanding ‘Bay Of Islands’ panorama is rated by golf aficionada as some of the most spectacular in the world. I must concur – “wow” factor here is 10’s.
After a most cordial welcome and comprehensive ‘heads up’ on the course and environs, a quick warm-up on the simply fantastic practice facility, and to the fray. I jumped at the opportunity of an early tee time as the forecast ‘showers’ had not arrived. Yet. From the outset, the wind was howling and becoming progressively stronger. I decided that the back blocks were definitely not an option and went forward to the white tees.
The front nine wends its way, in an anti-clockwise direction to the south of the clubhouse and the back nine, the reverse, clockwise, generally northish. Kauri plays to a par of 72, at just over 6500 metres from the tips.
Notwithstanding having played Royal Troon and St Andrews in a gale, I’ve not played in such testing conditions. Back to the present. We battled through the first few holes and only lost a couple of balls. The 4th, a great par five, [should be a seven] at 510 metres, played straight into the gale. Walked off with a ‘birdie’ six – ecstatic. It was unfortunate that we encountered Kauri at its most testing as the course and accompanying scenic extravaganza would be superb on a more benign day.
Indicative of the conditions; Heading into the wind toward the 9th tee – completed a ‘u’ turn to go down to the white tee and ‘whoosh’, the windshield was blown completely off the cart and landed some 50 odd metres down the cart-path – never known it to happen before.
By the time we had negotiated the front nine, just to add a little spice to our experience, light rain had arrived and the wind’s chill factor doubled. Starting to become a serious factor in the enjoyment of the Kauri experience, but for yours truly, quitting was never an option.
The fairways provide a perfect lie in every instance but the fescue grasses aligning them snavel any wayward shot. Tip – ‘have an adequate supply of pills on hand.’ A practical local rule/innovation I’d not encountered before, their Irish Drop Rule: "Any ball lost in the long rough may be treated as lost in a water hazard. One shot penalty at point of entry.” Practical, as it obviated my going back to replay a shot on no less than nine occasions. Yes, nine – expletive – lost pills.
As the round progressed, I noted just how beautifully the holes set up. Fortune favours the brave, the gallant/skilful are rewarded but an errant shot severely punished, nowhere better illustrated than on the doglegs left, 16th and 17th.
From the tips, in the conditions encountered, Kauri is a lengthy proposition, to say the least. Long off the tee and finesse around the greens are essential to score well here. This said, the variety of teeing grounds available ensure that players of all standards are catered to and may complete an enjoyable round at Kauri. Five sets of tees are available ranging in from the Tigers at 6539 metres.
Each hole at Kauri, presents and plays differently. The design variety of this course is just great. Holes differ in length and configuration and are not repetitive in any way. Notwithstanding the recent lengthy period of wet weather the fairways were in impeccable condition and in virtually every instance a good lie was to be had. The general topography of the fairways is undulating and an interesting variety of up-hill, downhill and side hill stances were encountered.
Although generally huge, the greens are an interesting diversity of shape and size, lying variously square on and diagonal to the line of play and with an average area of 576 square metres (6,200 sq. ft.). An interesting variety of contours were to be found on Kauri’s excellent putting surfaces. Most are well guarded with strategically positioned and beautifully presented bunkering.
Kauri is seaside, however, most definitely not links. Sheer cliffs dropping some several hundred feet to the Pacific Ocean – wow! Mission accomplished by designer David Harman in maximising the scenic extravaganza on offer whilst managing to retain an excellent degree of user friendliness.
Surprisingly, there are only 4,000 odd rounds played at Kauri per year, comprising primarily international visitors, predominantly from the USA. Kauri’s strength is its warm hospitality and the scenic extravaganza. Alas, walking is not a practical option for all as the course is quite undulating and there are several considerable distances between greens and tees. The least consequence of which is the ever-present dilemma encountered in our sport – the duration of the round. Nett result – had a million. However, all in all, Kauri is certainly an experience not to be missed. Tip: “ I reiterate; have an adequate supply of pills on hand.’