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?
After playing Tara Iti many times in February, 2019 here is a write-up I sent to several of my golfing friends:
"I was once told that some raters for a leading golf magazine are not allowed to award a 10 to any category of its ratings criteria even if the scale is from 1-10. I was told this was because if one awarded a 10, then it means that there could be no other golf course better in that category as well as there was no possibility of improvement. In other words, there has to be the potential for a better golf course for that criteria somewhere. Maybe someday a perfect 10 will be found. But maybe not?
I do not suscribe to this lunacy. There are plenty of perfect 10's out there. Maybe not in every category, but in most. Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Royal County Down, Shinnecock Hills, Trump Turnberry, Augusta National, Sand Hills, Royal Dornoch.....I could list another 15-20.
And I just played one more.
Tara Iti is about as perfect as a golf course can be from its location by the ocean, the routing that takes you in all directions, the mixture of short and long holes whether it is a par 3, 4 or 5, the rise and fall of the dunes, the incorporation of various ridges formed by the dunes, the hidden greens, the wide open greens, the well protected greens, the uphill or downhill greens, the blind tee shots, the tightening of fairways when appropriate, the width of some fairways, the placement for the few trees left on the course, the shaping of the greens. I could go on and on.
It is a course where I could list nearly every hole as a good hole. I played four rounds including my second round as a single so I could study the course and learn it. I played that round in two hours and seven minutes but had more than enough time to memorize it. In truth, I liked every single hole. I loved the long par four third, followed by the split fairway uphill fourth. The short seventh is magnificent. The tenth is a gem of a par three and the short thirteenth starts a finish where every hole is fabulous.
Is it perfect? No.
There are three things I could call out right now. The green on the 12th hole is too tilted. It is a bit much and unfortunately I have seen Tom Doak do this before. I understand why he does it, but I think the shaper went a little too far in the severity of the slope on this very large green both in depth and width. I did see people make pars here even after a very long first putt so it can be argued it isn't overly unfair. But I think the green needs to be raised about 14" at the bottom. The penalty for a miss left of the green would become even greater: a steeper run-up back onto the green if you miss left with your approach shot. It is a green that is often discussed by the members so in that sense, Tom Doak created a winner.
Two of the par five's have a bunker slightly left of mid-center at the front of the green so a similar approach shot is required on both holes. One of them has a slightly different shaped green and slope to the left of it so the greens are not exactly the same, but when one stands there contemplating their third shot with a wedge or a long hitter contemplating a longer shot with a longer club, it makes you consider the same shot. Perhaps that was Tom Doak's intent: pull it off the first time and let's see if you can do it again, or if you did not pull it off the first time, you get another crack at it. Yet for me I did not feel interested in hitting the same shot a second time in the same round on two separate holes. In addition, once I figured out the landing spot, it becomes a bit routine.
The slopes to the right and on the right side of the long par three tenth hole make a recovery nearly impossible if you tee shot ends up short right of the green. I was there my first three rounds and never came close to saving my par. But then in my fourth round, someone did pull it off. So perhaps Tom is a genius.
That is about it. I felt like I played a nearly perfect golf course with three relatively minor quibbles. From the first tee shot on the dogleg left par four followed by an approach shot into a wacky, but appropriately fun green, to the last approach shot on the somewhat hidden par five finishing hole, you are exhilarated by this golf course. Hidden greens, sloped greens, uphill shots, downhill shots, tricky greens, deep bunkers, shallower bunkers, angled shots, it is a superb routing. The short par 4's are magnificent. I do not know if I have ever seen better ones. The par 3's vary in length and type of shot required. The par 5's are true risk/reward.
You have a view of the ocean from nearly every hole. Amazing.
The plan is to build two public golf courses nearby on the ocean. I saw the land due to a private tour. It is magnificent, perhaps even better than where Tara Iti is. It could and likely should become the two best public courses in Australia/New Zealand and certainly will rival Bandon Dunes. It might be even better than Bandon Dunes which I consider to be the pinnacle of public golf followed by Streamsong, then Pebble Beach/Spyglass Hills, then Cabot. I have not been to Sand Valley yet.
Tara Iti is everything you want in golf. Everything. It is that good. I was told by the assistant pro from Aronimink wintering at Kauri Cliffs that there is nothing like it. He was right."
That was my review to my friends. Tara Iti is an amazing golf course. I won't go through every hole because you can watch the 12 minute flyover video on youtube made in August, 2018 and it offers a very good narration of the holes. What the video does not really capture is the setting which is amazing as you can see the water no matter where you are. The views of the mountains on the island is breathtaking with no better view than when you play the sixth or are teeing off on the seventeenth.
I never did hit a quality shot on the tenth hole, the long 220 yard par 3 so I never solved it in my four attempts.
This is about a perfect of a golf course as there can ever be due to the routing uphills, downhills, raised greens, flat greens, blow out bunkers, hidden bunkers, undulating fairways, undulating greens, large greens, smaller greens, a great mixture of long and short holes. My favorite holes were 3, 6-11, 13, 17 and 18 but all of them are very good golf holes. Tom Doak created a masterpiece here and for me it is clearly the best golf course in New Zealand and one of the top golf courses in the world. Moreover, it is one of the top five golfing experiences in the world.
A well executed design that flows with ease and each individual hole tries not to overshadow what is coming or what has been. A stunning setting to play golf, that delivers one of the best golf experiences in the world.
Tara Iti Golf Club opened in late 2015, and is located just over and hour north of Auckland on New Zealand's north island. The course was designed by Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf team- it is quintessential Tom Doak. American Ric Kayne teamed up with local John Darby to find the land. The pine forests at Te Arai was the second property that they asked Doak to assess. When Tom Doak did his initial inspection the land was heavily forested right to the sea. But it was all sand based , right on the beach, and with a beautiful island backdrop. Apparently it didn't take Tom Doak long to establish that the land was worthy, and work out an initial routing. But there was still much to do, and even when the pines came down the natural undulations that one comes to expect on a real links course were missing...
Looking at the finished product now it is hard to grasp the scope of the skills the Renaissance Golf Team has employed in constructing the dips, valleys, and movement through the course that make it look and play like a classic links course. Apparently it took 2 years of painstaking work to create the overall links landscape after the trees were removed.
Tara Iti may well become known as the best course in New Zealand, knocking off another Doak course in Cape Kidnappers. Kidnappers is spectacular and expertly designed, but Tara Iti will get the purists vote... After my involvement in the development of Barnbougle Dunes, I find it hard to make impartial decisions comparing the relative merit of Tom Doak courses. I always rated Barnbougle Dunes as his best course. It's pure links in a lovely setting with a design that gives all level of players challenges- yet offers all level of player a way to play each hole. No two holes resemble each other, and with the variety of pin positions and tees, and variation in the weather, the course plays differently each time. And it is just great fun! It is a course you could play every day.
Tara Iti also sits in rarified air. Unusually it took me three plays before I really became an advocate, but I am now tempted to declare that the front nine holes at Tara Iti is Tom Doak's best work. The setting is gorgeous, the fescue fairways and greens are firm and fast- the ball just does not want to stop rolling, and with a gentle zephyr blowing off the sea, this is pure links golf...
Overall I thought the bank nine was excellent- but I am not warm and fuzzy about it like I am the front nine. No doubt as the back nine matures it will improve, and I reserve the right to revise my assessment on future investigation... So is Tara Iti New Zealand's best course? I think for those that are influenced heavily by the location and vistas, Cape Kidnappers will remain their favourite. It is a spectacular setting with expert design in difficult terrain.
But the purist will pick Tara Iti for its variety, shot values, and pure fun! How does Tara Iti rank in Tom Doak's outstanding portfolio of designs? I am of the opinion that TD is the leading designer of our time- and Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Stone Eagle, Rock Creek Cattle Co, Ballyneal, Old MacDonald, St Emillion, Streamsong Blue and others are testament to that view. I think the front nine at Tara Iti is as good as anything he has produced, and that overall it sits in the top 5 Doak courses.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
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.