Created by John Darby and Bob Charles, the course at the Millbrook Resort opened in 1992, seven years before its co-designer, the 1963 Open Champion, was knighted.
Located near the former gold mining town of Arrowtown, in the shadow of the Remarkables mountain range, Millbrook engaged the former Kiwi professional, Greg Turner and his associate, Scott Macpherson – who worked on the two acclaimed Fairmont St Andrews courses in Fife, Scotland (Kittocks & Torrance) – to extend the course to a 27-hole layout and to revamp four holes on the original back nine.
Millbrook’s original front nine is now called the Remarkables (named after the mountain range and ski resort to the south). The original back nine is now called the Arrow (named after the nearest town, Arrowtown) and the new nine is named Coronet, after the mountain and ski resort to the northwest, Coronet Peak. The new Coronet nine was constructed to the west of the existing resort and the project was completed in 2009, allowing three different 18-hole configurations to be played.
The old 18-hole course contains a number of elevated tee shots from where the golfer can really take stock of the spectacular mountain scenery. The 558-yard, par five, 5th hole, for instance, sweeps majestically around a small lake and a series of bunkers, offering a classic risk-reward choice – play it safe down the left of the fairway or cut the corner and risk ending up in sand or water, for the reward of playing an approach to the green in two.
The new Coronet nine is widely considered to be the best of the three loops at Millbrook, but there’s little to split the Remarkables and Arrow nines. However, the Turner Macpherson renovations to holes on the Arrow layout, and the fact that the New Zealand Open is staged across the Arrow and Coronet nines, suggest which two of the trio form the premier 18-hole configuration.
The Millbrook Resort hosts an annual seniors event, billed as New Zealand's newest and richest senior golf tournament. Aussie Michael Harwood won the inaugural event in January 2010, claiming his share of the NZD$200,000 purse. The resort’s tournament prestige has been further elevated since 2014 with the resort co-hosting the New Zealand Open with The Hills. For the first three years, the final two rounds of the championship were played at The Hills but in 2017 Millbrook will enjoy that particular honour.
The resort now boasts 27 holes of championship golf, with the possibility of another 9 holes in the planning stages.
The original course was designed by Kiwi golfing legend Bob Charles in conjunction with John Darby, and opened for play in 1992.
In 2010 Turner & McPherson introduced another 9 holes, and renovated the existing Bob Charles course. Currently there are 3 distinct nine hole courses:
The Remarkables nine holes were all part of the original course designed by Bob Charles, and still retain the look and feel of the original course, although Turner & McPherson added some bunkering and tweaked the course a little. It is beautifully maintained and visually striking as the course is set in a natural amphitheatre with those lovely alpine backdrops… Charles chose to site the course so that most of the fairways are on flattish ground in the valley (the old wheat fields), and a majority of tees AND greens are on elevated ledges. Charles was an exceptionally good golfer, and was known for hitting the ball long and straight. His golf holes tend to reflect his style in that the holes require long straight hitting. Quite often you will drive from an elevated tee to a relatively straight treelined fairway below you, and then approach a green sitting in the hillside ahead of you. Turner and McPherson have attempted to add some interest and strategy to the course by introducing more central fairway bunkering but overall the course retains that old world character. It is perfect for professional golf, as the professionals love flat lies, and greens without too much complication. For the amateur it is a nice place to play, but can be quite difficult, and does not offer much in the way of strategic decisions.
The Arrow nine holes was also based predominantly on the Bob Charles course with revision by Turner McPherson. The first 5 holes of the Arrow are quite different from The Remarkable nine in that the land is almost entirely flat- so no elevated tees or greens. These 5 holes are relatively straight treelined holes, and in my opinion a step below the quality of the rest of the resort course - there is simply is not enough interesting territory to negotiate. Nevertheless each hole is nice to play, and well maintained, it’s just not memorable! The last 4 holes of this 9 are a different story- Turner and McPherson have been given a free hand here and created entirely new holes to finish the 9. These holes are a matching set with the newer Coronet nine. The design is much more modern and strategic, and the bunkering and green complexes demand your attention. Decisions have to be made about whether to lay up (6th), go for the green (7th), which club to approach the green with (8th )….. Turner may not have got it all right but in my mind it is much more interesting to play. I particularly liked the very short par 4 eighth hole where one can hit a putt or wedge with the short approach to the green. It is a very short hole, and a difficult little par The key is the severe green This is a hole I could play over and over to sort out the angle and method of approach, and of course that would change with a change of pin position… I liked these 4 holes by Turner, although his strategic designs like 6 and 7 could be tweaked to better match the objectives of the design.
The latest nine holes – The Coronet – was entirely a Turner McPherson design. The design strategies are very good, but sometimes miss the mark. In my opinion the green complexes need a little softening in parts on holes 2, 3, 5, and maybe 8. The third hole is a strong long par 4 in a spectacular setting. Most will be approaching the green with everything they have to a green heavily protected by slope and bunkering. It is my opinion that such a hole does NOT require a severe green as well! The short par four, fourth hole is intended to give players options to play but instead most hit the same shot every time- the detail in the build does not quite match the intended strategy. Nevertheless the Coronet nine has a lot to recommend it. The holes do ask you to make decisions, and the routing of the nine heads through interesting territory I like it and it is my preferred nine at Millbrook.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
This course very much has a resort type feel to it and is not one that will stick in my memory. Some good holes but also some average ones. The remarkables nine had a real back and forth feel to it with a lot of fairways in parallel to each other. Coronet number 9 was my pick of the holes, it used to be number 18 and is an amazing finishing hole so try to play with that as your last hole. If possible try Arrow as your front nine and Coronet as your back.
I agree. The Remarkables and Arrow nines are a bit dated and a some holes quite dull (although the mountain views are nice). The new Coronet nine is much more interesting a rather shows up the old nines. Good views and equally good golfing are available nearby at Arrowtown Queenstown and Wanaka at much less expense and without the bad service at Millbrook
I’m pleased to report that the new nine makes a massive improvement to the golfing side of the resort. First things first – which combination of 9’s makes the best 18? I’d have to say that despite the new final four holes on the Arrow Nine being well thought out and executed, and unquestionably being some of the highlights of the other 18, unfortunately the mediocrity of the remaining holes from the Arrow Nine (10-14 from the original back 9) means that the Remarkables Nine (the old front 9) still just shades it overall for me as the ideal compliment to the Coronet. A shame – Turner and MacPherson’s new 8th hole on the Arrow Nine will be missed if you plump for Remarkables – Coronet (as I believe you should). 374m (409 yards) off the back tees, the green complex shapes your strategy from the tee. A kidney shaped green not a million miles from a classic Redan shape, it has a shaved run off area to the back right, and is angled so it will really only accept an attack on the pin if you have flirted with the left hand lake off the tee.
The new Coronet has a substantially different feel to the other 18. In fact, Turner and MacPherson seem to have purposefully created a separate world – their shaping and styling is much cleaner on the final 4 holes of the Arrow Nine, more in line with the rest of the original course. The new 9 feels less manufactured, blending more seamlessly into the surrounding scenery, utilising schist outcrops, marshland, and a pre-existing stream. It’s also much more strategic in nature – there are distinctly different routes to most greens, and the type of decision forced upon the golfer is rarely repeated. For example, there’s the gargantuan 570m (623yd) 6th, with its island fairway inviting a conservative lay-up in contrast to the slender and heavily bunkered bolder line. The 459m (502m) par 4 has, given its length, an appropriately generous landing area with no bunkers guarding the entrance. However, there is a well crafted hill short and left of the target, leaving a choice for the approach – fly it straight on, or use the contour to your advantage. And although I find it hard to describe, there is something rather intriguing and unique about the short par 4 4th – I can’t think of a hole I’d compare it to, in the same way that it’s hard to find a hole that reminds you of that classic little oddity, the 12th on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Wide-open land off the tee, but the ring of bunkers puts your tee shot under siege. The approach is bizarre, but it somehow works beautifully. Having hit the middle of the fairway (into a 2 club wind), I was left with a 70m pitch into what looked like a miniscule infinity green - it’s actually of a reasonable size, it’s just the mounding renders it semi-blind. Visual and psychological trickery at its best – the unease was palpable, and I’m sure it contributed to me catching it a shade thin, and losing it off the back edge. I’m guessing that I would still feel deceived on my next visit, even though I now know the true size of the landing area.
Overall, I think Turner and MacPherson have brought ingenuity and lateral thinking to the ball game, and almost every hole has something new to offer. The perception is of a refusal to play it safe – there’s not one ‘standard’, conventional hole out there, and for the most part, these gambles seem to pay off handsomely. The only one I don’t ‘get’ is the little par 3 2nd. I can’t quite fathom what it’s supposed to be all about; maybe I’m missing something. But no matter – thank God for architects injecting character and personality into their art; something slightly lacking from the original 18.
I’ve still got that little niggle that it feels like a place that the well-to-do come to, so they can play some ‘comfortable’ golf off the front tees, and drive round in buggies. Truth is, the niggle is irrational, because off the tips, this is now a 7,000+ yards course, and has become a rather testy proposition. But I’m commenting purely on the aura of the place – probably a lot to do with all the on-course real estate, and the continued building sites scattered here and there (high-end accommodation, no doubt). It’s like the polar opposite of that quixotic notion of playing through a beautiful wilderness, taking on nature in its raw form. At least in that far corner of the Coronet Nine, for an hour or so, with the splendour of the mountains surrounding you, you very much get that romance, and the feeling of a purer golf experience. Matt Richardson
Sure, it is definitely a resort course, and it’s true, it’s not incredibly difficult. But it’s no pushover either. At the time I played it, they were constructing a new nine, the Coronet, 4 holes of which were complete, open for play, and tacked onto the original course’s first 14 holes. Apparently, there will be 27 holes available in the end, and you’ll choose whatever combination you wish. Layout-wise, it’s a little unimaginative. The first nine pretty much just goes up and down, holes side by side, with a separate section round a lake. Solid undulating holes, well-shaped and sculptured. The par 5 5th is a standout hole – cracking a drive from an elevated tee leaves you with a second that skirts a lake on the right, up to a green nestled in the hillside. Deep rough either side will swallow errant shots.
The clear weakness to this course are holes 10-14 from the original course’s second nine. Flat, uninspiring, with still fairly young trees that separate the fairways. Could be from any club course. The four new holes are somewhat different in style – the use of rocky outcrops is evident, greater elevation and undulation, and a boulder-strewn stream, all giving a flavour of Central Otago that the original course perhaps did not have. The 17th, which will eventually be the 3rd on the Coronet nine, in particular is a fantastic long par-4.
I was able to see a couple more near-complete holes from the Coronet and it looked good. So my feeling is that when complete, it will be a no-brainer which 18 you should choose when you visit. Overall, a decent track, that by the way is in fantastic condition. If you wanted a UK equivalent in terms of style and quality, I would say it’s similar to East Sussex National. Just a quick mention to one little touch that I had not seen before anywhere – the holes all have slightly hollowed brass bases, kind of shaped like a doughnut, that chime out when the ball hits the cup. The ball always seems to bounce twice on them before settling, sounding uncannily like ‘ker-ching’. Given the (probably) half billion dollars worth of real-estate overlooking the course, the irony was not lost on us. Matt Richardson