Tara Iti is situated a hundred kilometres north of Auckland on the east coast of the North Island, close to Bream Bay. Local developer, John Darby, (who boasts an enviable track record of successful golf projects in New Zealand at Millbrook, Clearwater and Jack’s Point) in partnership with Los Angeles-based financier Ric Kayne, created the facility.
It’s here, on what was formerly a heavily forested coastal site, that architect Tom Doak was invited to lay out his thirty-fifth golf course design and the routing devised for this layout allows golfers to enjoy uninterrupted views of the nearby Little Barrier, Great Barrier, Mokohinau and Tauranga islands.
Before shaping began, acres of pine trees and wattle had to be removed (though much of the extraneous material was buried then covered up to form some of the bigger dunes on the property) and this clearance left a naturally sandy site for re-vegetation with fescue grass and native plants like spinifex.
Fescue grass covers the fairways and greens and there are no trees, water hazards or any penal rough to speak of. There’s also a lack of formal bunkering – everything is regarded as ‘through the green’ – but in place of conventional bunkers there’s an abundance of attractive, sandy waste areas to contend with.
Holes of note include the 445-yard 3rd (played blind all the way to a punchbowl green), the 460-yard 6th (the seriously rumpled fairway lies closest to Te Aria beach), the uphill, short par four 13th (with its green set on the highest point of the course) and the par five 18th, where the fairway splits to offer multiple routes to the home green.
Tari Iti operates as a private member club but for those who really want to visit there’s a one-off access option that might be worth exploring, as Jim Rohrstaff, who looks after real estate sales and club memberships, explains:
"It's a one-time visit, but that's not defined by one round and one night. If you wanted to come up and stay for a week and play 36 holes a day that's fantastic - but as a non-member-sponsored guest, it's a one-time shot.
"We are here for our members first and foremost but if we have availability and people go through the right process we would love to have them – and we will roll out the red carpet and treat them no differently to our members. We are very welcoming – but in a specific and limited manner."
So there you have it – an open invitation to play at Tara Ita, providing you send a letter of introduction from your club well in advance and are prepared to stay onsite in one of the member cottages before or after you play. With such an offer on the table, what are you waiting for?
A course that rockets to New Zealand n°1 and World n°36 on its inauguration certainly raises your curiosity and I was eager, as part of a golf trip down under, to discover the club and see for myself. My short answer is : it fully deserves it.
I did not find it so difficult to get on the course, provided you are willing to pay the price. Tara Iti is a members club, as opposed to Cape Kidnappers or Kauri Cliffs, but they have a “once in a life time” offer. All you need is a letter of introduction from your home club. They also request that you stay in one of the member’s cottages, which is in itself part of the experience (no sea view regretfully, but the highest standard in terms of luxury). This has 2 side consequences : it raises price of the experience (significantly), and it also reduces the available slots for you to play. The number of cabins is limited for now (some more are under construction), and they will not let you play if one is not available for you to stay in.
While I have my reservations on Tom Doak’s work at Cape Kidnappers, I was deeply impressed by what he and his Renaissance team achieved at Tara Iti. On what was originally a forest on sandy soil, they designed a truly magnificent course with sea views from virtually every hole (worth mentioning that the course was designed before the trees where actually removed, in itself quite a feat). No bunkers, sand is just considered sand and hence not raked. One commentator below found the views repetitive, I did not. The lay out is quite varied, challenging, fun to play and thouroughly interesting.
A tremendous experience !
I hear two more courses (public, this time) are contemplated on the site, one of which to be designed by Coore & Crenshaw.
Tara Iti is the newest sensational course from Tom Doak and his company Renaissance Design. The clear advantage of being very successful in the golf architecture business is being offered to work on some of the world’s best new properties. Tara Iti is situated on some of the most perfect sandy soil an architect could ever ask for. They just had to find it, it was covered with trees and completely hidden. To me it’s astonishing that a great architect can walk through a heavily wooded costal forest and pick out a routing of a golf course based on this walk and some topo maps then remove the trees and presto, the start of something amazing. The team goes to work refining and you end up with one of the best courses on the planet.
Tara Iti is really that good. Then you add the storybook location with a view to die for on nearly every hole. It feels like you’re on the set of some tropical island movie scene. White beaches, white sandy blowout waste areas, perfectly natural shaping following the lay of the land and greens that are also seamlessly integrated into the surrounds as if all they did was mow the grass and place the flags.
Not only is the land perfect for golf, traditional links golf, Doak and Renaissance design put together one of the strongest and most unique routings you will ever find on a course. It’s incredibly distinctive with all holes being unique and running in different direction to keep you thinking about how the wind will affect each shot.
Tara Iti is the kind of course you could play forever and never tire of. I had so many favorite holes it’s really hard to choose. If pushed I’d say the par 4, 6th and 7th were my two favorites on the front 9. The 6th runs out away from the clubhouse diagonally towards the see. Far off along the coast is a jagged mountain backdrop. The fairway is one of the courses most naturally undulated and presents an amazing dynamic view from the slightly raised tee perched on the side of a dune. The green plays slightly up hill and is placed between two dunes with some surrounding waste areas. With several tricky pin positions the green has some wonderful undulations making putting a big challenge.
The 7th hole is a wonderful drivable par 4 headed back towards the clubhouse. There are multiple ways to play this beautiful hole and given the windy conditions I’m not sure if any are really easy but our group managed everything from 3(almost 2) to 6. Going for the green can result in disaster but losing a ball at Tara Iti would take some doing given the lack of ball losing rough.
On the back 9 it’s two of the wonderful par 3’s that won me over. The 13th and 15th. The 13th hole plays about 190 yds from the back tee and could see you hitting anything from 9 iron to driver depending on the wind. The tee box is at an angle to the green which is long and fairly thin with serious undulations while running away from the tee front to back and a huge false front to take on. I’m fairly certain the best play here on our day was landing it short enough to allow for a running approach up over the steep false front. Balls that were landing on the green which was playing downwind were unable to hold. We did have blissful fun trying over the course of the days we were there.
The 15th is a wonderful short par 3 with serious bunkering front and left. The green runs away from the tee box at a diagonal from left to right. It plays direction towards the beach and had a severe cross wind on our days making for a testing approach I tried to play with a 9 iron letting it drift with the wind from left to right with the angle of the green. Another fun shot to attempt.
Tara Iti is one of those bucket list experiences. It’s an extremely private club which is uncommon for New Zealand. It’s very difficult to receive the green light to pay them a visit without knowing a member or the owner. If you are allowed or find your way on you will be required to stay in their absolutely wonderful accommodations. The “members” cabins will be among the nicest you will ever see at a golf course. They may well be among the most costly as well to be fair. In the end, everything is literally perfect here. Every details is thought of, it’s the lap of luxury in a relaxed and storybook setting, the staff is wonderful and the food and drinks as good as you would expect and the golf course, well, it’s among the world’s best. It’s worth a trip (worth several trips I might add) to the other side of the world to experience the new #1 course in New Zealand.
With the backing of financial powerhouse, Ric Kayne, Tara Iti Golf Club has burst onto the golfing map with emphatic fanfare and exclusivity.
The land on which the golf course is routed was once a dense forest along the Te Arai coastline and the trees were growing over magnificent sand dunes. The most difficult aspect during construction was the removal of tens of thousands of tree stumps. The result was a wide expansive area of sand perfect for golf.
Ric Kayne commissioned Tom Doak to create the layout, which is fun for all levels of golfer. The visuals throughout the course in all directions are those of large sprawling sand areas, often negatively affected by the strength of the gusty winds. There are rippling contours with humps and bumps to ensure you have a wonderful walk.
My main gripe with the layout is that the visuals throughout the course get repetitive, leading to a lack of approach shot variety. Despite the visual intimidation and deception, it’s almost impossible to lose a ball which helps with pace of play. The ‘ground-game’ is paramount at Tara Iti as you continually use the rolling tumbling topography to navigate your ball towards the flagstick – it reminds you of The Old Course. The coastal scenery is without doubt spectacular, but the real prize is the genius of Tom Doak and his use of the land.