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Fergal visits New Zealand

08 January, 2015

Fergal visits New Zealand

Fergal closes in on completing the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World – his latest stop was New Zealand

As I came within arm’s reach of completing the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World, my travels took me to New Zealand where I experienced the most down to earth hospitality and one of the friendliest nations on earth. With images of Lord of the Rings all around me, I was keen to become Lord of the Greens and not get fooled by too many hobbits…

Kauri Cliffs
My first ever game in New Zealand was a significantly American experience. The red, white and blue flag proudly blows in the wind outside the clubhouse, and the very polite professional staff working in the pro-shop all herald from the United States. Given that the club’s founder and owner is originally from North Carolina, it all seems to make sense, yet the feeling of being in New Zealand is somewhat lost while listening to somebody with a thick Mid-West accent giving you directions to the practice ground. With an average of just 4,300 rounds per year, this golf club in Kerikeri is among the most isolated of any I've played. Walking this course is not really an option given the distances between certain greens and tees. The club’s strengths are the views, the warm hospitality and the guarantee of a memorable round along the coastline.

The back nine takes you away from the water with the 10th through 13th holes located down in the valley all playing in the same direction away from the clubhouse. The anticipation to see the water again is handsomely rewarded when you climb up onto the par three 14th tee box which is the start of a very strong finishing stretch. The 16th hole is a very exciting cape style hole called ‘Temptation’ whereby you can bite off as much as your ego thinks you can chew. The remarkable green-site is on the ocean edge and requires a very precise approach shot. The 17th is the best hole on the property by far and plays as the index 1. The narrow fairway is at a diagonal angle to the tee box and is an impressive sight from the back tee. The hole runs along the ocean and will challenge the best players in the world to hit the green in regulation. The scenery of the Bay of Islands is unquestionably spectacular and will take your breath away at an astounding rate.

The only Jack Nicklaus signature course in New Zealand, and possibly the most challenging golf course you’ll find in the Southern hemisphere. Right from the first hole, the course offers challenges that average golfers will struggle with. Hundreds of bunkers populate this rippling topography and certain greens are contoured beyond any enjoyable level. I certainly admired the topography and scenery of the course and the challenge that it presents, but can’t help but think about certain elements that could make the course fairer and more walkable.

Cape Kidnappers
This golf course is as exciting as the name suggests. You’re quickly made aware that the Farm at Cape Kidnappers is fully functional and of utmost importance to the wonderful people who farm the expansive land. Given that the same gentleman with very deep pockets from North Carolina owns Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, once you step inside the clubhouse, you immediately feel like you’re in America and surrounded by limitless luxury. Many of the golf staff are American and close to 80% of the 5,100 average annual rounds are played by American tourists. I stood on the first tee and realised that, despite years of reading golf books, I had little to no knowledge of what this course actually looked like – especially from the ground. In almost every golf book and website that previews this course, they all use the same aerial photograph of holes 13-16 which have the dramatic ‘finger fairways’ out on the cape. I told the head professional, “the world doesn’t know what your golf course looks like” and he knew what I meant by that. My mission was to experience and capture the course from the player’s perspective on the ground and really examine what the course had to offer. After all, it is on the shortlist of Doak’s best courses in an already impressive portfolio.

After having the fortune of playing the course a few times, it is my humble opinion that the inland holes are significantly more impressive than those finger fairways that grab all the spotlights. In fact, when you play 13-16, you’re probably feeling a bit let down (if that's even possible) because the holes don’t look like anything you expected them to look like. I do recommend allowing a moment for photographs on the back nine, especially from the 15th green and 16th tee box.

Doak’s routing across the farm is glorious whereby he created dramatic par threes over deep ravines, stunning par fours with spines running through fairways and blind drives to get your heart racing. The 7th hole was by far my favourite hole, as it presents a plateau fairway followed by a huge dip before swooping back up to the protected raised green. You really don’t want to hit your drive over the plateau, as it will leave you with a tough approach shot up to an unforgiving putting surface. Hitting this green in regulation is a wonderful achievement and the topology will have you taking photographs from almost every angle. Further highlights include the infinity green on number 12 where you naturally feel like you’re hitting into the end of the earth, which further echoes the sentiment of the excellent routing. Doak offers plenty of width throughout the fairways which is very fair given the demands of the approach shots. An exciting element to this course is the shaping around the greens. I encourage visitors to take note of the humps and bumps around the greens which kick the ball mostly in your favour (par three 6th hole is a great example of this as well as the punchbowl 18th green). This course really has the wow factor and I only wish that more people would come to play it as it’s sincerely memorable and appealing to golfers of all levels.

Paraparaumu Beach
A true links course created in the Golden Age of golf architecture by the legendary Alex Russell (who also designed Royal Melbourne (East), Lake Karrinyup and Yarra Yarra). It’s located about 40 minutes north of the windy city of Wellington. This golf club is a world-renowned layout on the undulating dune land of the Kapiti Coast. Affectionately known as ‘Param’ by the locals (or maybe by the too many visitors that can’t pronounce the name without really concentrating), this golf course will bring you back to reality with a bang. Everything about the club is humble and unpretentious and fits every element of a golfing gem. If you’re looking for a course which will examine how accurate you are from the tee, then you’ve met your match. With just 34 carefully crafted bunkers on the entire course, the challenge from this raw looking links property is magnified by tight tee shots, brutally wiry rough, rock hard bouncy fairways and spectacular mounding around the greens. The gentle undulations around the aprons are second to none. One of Russell’s trademark features is raised putting surfaces which further emphasizes the need for accuracy or fall off the green and be faced with a daunting up and down. This club is welcoming of all players of every demographic, has hosted the New Zealand Open no less than 12 times and has a completely different look and feel to the other courses on my tour to date. At Param, you’ll encounter the highest levels of hospitality from genuinely lovely personnel, down to earth golfers from all walks of life, affordable green fees and even a local punter selling you sausages next to the 10th tee (I suggest you buy one from him). With an annual budget of just $300k for golf course maintenance and four very hard working green-keepers, this experience is as close to Ireland or Scotland that your heart desires. If Cruden Bay had a Kiwi cousin, then this is it.

The course is not tremendously long, but it will ask a lot from you, and is golf at its purest. “How did I bogey that hole!?” is a frequently asked question at Param. I enjoyed hitting irons off the tee for strategic placement; I enjoyed the challenge of the design variety in the green complexes and the absolute thrill of playing the legendary 13th hole which ripples its way up to the jaw-dropping raised green. A testament to the design variety is that everybody I chatted with had a different favourite hole. The club has recently co-developed ‘The Russell Society’ made up of representatives from the four Russell courses in the Oceania region, which is a superb way to continue the traditions and share the knowledge of his particular style of architecture. I can honestly say that an afternoon at Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club will be a highlight of your trip. The highest compliment to any golf course is that you’ll walk off the 18th green wanting to go straight back to the 1st tee.

Article and photos (except one image, courtesy of Larry Lambrecht) by our US Consultant, Fergal O'Leary, who continues his mission to become the youngest person to play the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World.


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