When the Millbrook resort first opened with what is now known as the Remarkables 18, it was 1992, and there were very few top class courses in New Zealand. Whilst it was clear that it was not a layout that surpassed Paraparaumu Beach, Titirangi or Wairakei (Arrowtown was a very hidden gem at that point), it was considered by most to be one of the Top 10 courses in New Zealand. Forward-wind 17 years to 2009, and nine courses had been built across the country in that time that are above the Remarkables 18 in the current edition of our Top 50 New Zealand courses.
No doubt spurred on by this sudden barrage of competition, Millbrook engaged the former Kiwi professional, Greg Turner and his associate, Scott Macpherson (who has various architectural credits at the two Fairmont St Andrews courses Kittocks and Torrance, as well as Close House in England) to extend the course to a 27-hole layout and to revamp four holes on the original back nine.
The brand new nine they built was named after the mountain and ski resort to the northwest, Coronet Peak, and was constructed to the west of the existing resort. The project was completed in 2009, allowing three different 18-hole configurations to be available for the next 13 years. The new Coronet 9 was almost unanimously considered to be the strongest of the loops during that time.
In 2018, Millbrook Resort outlined plans to extend from 27 holes to 36, with Greg Turner and Scott Macpherson once again taking the architectural reins. The fourth nine, known as the Mill Farm nine during construction, eventually combined with the existing Coronet nine to form the Coronet 18. It opened to the public in January 2022, after several months of members-only play.
Whilst the original Remarkables course followed rather clean, well manicured lines, the Coronet 18 blends more with the natural rugged features of this rather beautiful corner of the planet – schist outcrops, big undulations, and low-lying wetlands.
The Coronet was due to host the New Zealand Open within two months of opening for public play, but unfortunately the situation around the COVID pandemic put paid to that tournament for the second year running.
Millbrook has recently had a new addition to the fold – the brand new Dalgleish 9, which appeared to be called the Mill Farm 9 during its construction, and now forms the middle 9 holes of the Coronet 18. A confusing array of names, but basically it’s now an 18 hole golf course entirely designed by Greg Turner and Scott Macpherson.
I’d played the (2009) Coronet 9 a couple of times before, and had really liked it, apart from the rather feeble short 2nd (which is still the weakest hole on the course, thankfully). I was a little disappointed to now find the encroachment of high end housing so close to the 4th and 5th, but I guess we have accept that golf courses need to be funded somehow. Such a shame though, that corner of the course was beautiful before, and now that is only true if you look in one direction. But otherwise, that 9 had, and still has, a lot going for it. Variety, strategy, undulation, beauty, great playing surfaces – I’ve reviewed it in the past for anyone who’s interested. And before I forget to mention it, the playing surfaces are still great, with firm, undulating greens.
So what of this new 9 (holes 6 to 14)? The majority of them are set on a plateau high above the rest of the resort, and to reach these heights, a route needed to be found up there. I wonder if the stiff climb up there (and back down) is maybe the main reason for the decision for mandatory carts on the course? I’m not a fan of driving round a golf course, and I don’t particularly approve to be truthful. I’m sure you’ll have your own opinion about this, but to have the option to walk removed for all seems unnecessary, as I’ve certainly walked more hilly courses than this without too much bother, and there are many fitter humans than I.
Turner and Macpherson managed to find one intermediate step up on that climb, wedging the stunning par 3 6th into a channel, with a sheer rock face on the right. I particularly liked the way the bunkers framed the hole from the tee, encouraging a left-to-right mid-iron to gain access to many of the pinnable locations. The 7th tee shot is another visual feast, a drive between two rock-faces, heavily bunkered on the left hand side, with the Remarkables mountains dominating the skyline.
Unfortunately, once that top plateau had been reached, the routing tended a little towards that of a formulaic resort course, although it is clearly more thoughtful from a strategic point of view than, for example, its neighbour the Remarkables 18. The 11th, on the other hand, is fantastic, perhaps the best on the course, and one of an extremely strong quartet of par 5’s. What I loved most was that Turner and Macpherson had tucked the green behind a rock-strewn mound. To reach this in 2, you would have to work the ball left to right through a funnel, without being able to see the result until you were just short of the green. It was the sort of twist that you see at Arrowtown, dramatic but non-conformist.
I think this run of holes from 6 to 14 sums up how I feel about the Coronet. I think I was hoping to find what I believe golf in these parts should be – to paraphrase Brandt Snedeker, I wanted Arrowtown on steroids. Arrowtown is entirely natural, quirky, completely unique and fun as hell, but it does lack scale, both length and width. Given similar terrain, but more of it, you want a talented designer to take what was so special there, but match it and surpass it. And in places (4, 6, 11 and arguably 13), that’s what you get, and it’s wonderful. And I have no issue with the gradual transition from rugged to more manicured over the last 5 holes - 15 and 18 are standout moments here, although do not resemble Arrowtown one bit.
Don’t get me wrong – this is a really good golf course, and belongs in any Top 10 NZ rankings list, which is getting to be an increasingly hard club to be a member of. But for me, the reason it’s not in the absolute higher echelons are due to those more orthodox moments, and for that slight lack of a coherent identity. However, you could also say that the fact that it has rugged natural vistas together with high end housing pretty much encapsulates what Queenstown is all about these days, so it some ways, it fits its surrounds like a glove.