Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ballyneal

I haven't played Ballyneal yet, but wanted to draw your attention to the generosity of Jim Colton and his brilliant act of kindness raising funds for someone in need.

Click here to read the story of the Ben Cox 108 Marathon which will be held on June 20th.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Kauri Cliffs


Tēnā koutou (hello) from New Zealand. Kauri Cliffs (ranked #49 in the world) is located on the northern portion of the North Island of New Zealand.

Getting to remote courses is usually an adventure and half the fun, and Kauri Cliffs is no exception. The fourteen-hour flight from LAX to Auckland was quite ideal given the exceptional service provided by Air New Zealand. The four and a half hour drive up from Auckland on State Highways 1 and 10 were the perfect anecdote to a gray, brutal winter like the one we had in the Northeast U.S. this year. The beautiful winding roads go through a lush part of this peaceful country. The roads were busy with logging trucks coming down the mountains full of recently cut timber, a big part of the economy up here. It took me a while to get used to the hairpin turns, sweeping hills and winding roads while driving on the other side of the road, but soon I navigated it with pleasure.

The best decompressions are always after the longest and most difficult trips. I was a bit grimy by the time we reached the 88 Lodge near Kerikeri after traveling continually for two days. The shower I had at this quaint little B & B was reminiscent of the fantastic shower and night's sleep I had at the Dower House Hotel when I finally got to Woodhall Spa after endless travel. As an alternative to staying at the über-expensive Kauri Lodge, I highly recommend this delightful B & B run by two Brits who decamped here for the better weather and lifestyle. After a brilliant night's sleep we set off on the short drive to Kauri.

The long and winding dirt entry road reminded me of the ones at Yeamans Hall and Sand Hills and helped to build a the sense of anticipation, not that you need much once you see the dramatic land forms and the South Pacific.

The dirt road entry drive to Kauri Cliffs

The golf course was designed by the late American architect David Harman, who doesn't have any other notable courses to his name. The course runs through 800 acres of fern forest, marshland and cliff tops on one of the most dramatic pieces of land I've ever seen. I begin with my simple conclusion of Kauri Cliffs: this place doesn't suck! It is one of the prettiest places on the planet. As an example, check out the view from the driving range:

driving range 2


Surely the most scenic driving range view in the world

The first hole is a relatively easy 418 yard par four that plays downhill. A problem with playing at Kauri is that it is hard to pay attention to the golf, because of the panoramic views in every direction, and the first hole is a good example. The second hole also plays downhill and is a good warmup hole.

Kauri 1st green


A view of the first green from the fairway

The par five fourth hole, named "Cambo" after Kiwi native Michael Campbell, is HARD. It is 558 yards with a big dogleg left. The hole slopes pretty severely from left to right the whole way with the wind also blowing left to right, as if you needed more challenge. The walk up from the fairway to the crest of the hill shows the glorious view below from the green.

5th par 3


The view from behind the par three fifth hole looking backward to the South Pacific

The sixth hole is the first hole that plays back uphill and plays at least two, probably three, clubs longer than the yardage on your second shot. The course views begin to open up around this stretch, with a string of breathtaking holes ahead. The bridge from tee to fairway is seen below.

Bridge near 3rd tee


The bridge from the tee to the fairway on the sixth hole

Kauri Cliffs is a difficult walking course because of the distances between green and tee and the elevation changes. We had carts with fore caddies from America during our round. About half the staff is from America (our caddy was from Boston and spends the winters down here). Kauri features wide fairways and many forced carries off the tee boxes. It was a busy day when we played in mid March; there were about 60 golfers playing all day.

The book Golf's 100 Toughest Holes lists Kauri's par three seventh among its choices, for good reason. The 220 yard uphill hole is played from one headland to another with a 350 foot drop in between and a 6,200 square foot green. For added pleasure, there is usually a crosswind coming off the water. Once you are on the green (and the eighth tee) you are looking at simply one of the Best Views In The World. We played on a day with a two to three club wind and brilliant sunshine with temperatures of about 75 to 80 degrees. As my Kiwi friends would say, it was a bluebird day. Standing here it is hard not to be in a state of ebullient satisfaction. I would have been content pulling up a chair and just sitting there all day looking out at the water.

8th water view


The view from the eighth tee at Kauri Cliffs

The vistas at Kauri Cliffs, and particularly along this stretch of the course, are breathtaking. The whole course is set at the top of an escarpment very high above the ocean with far ranging views in every direction. Similar to Cypress Point, the course takes its name from a local tree found around Katauri Bay, known as the Kauri tree.

The front nine is the better of the two, partially because the views are so awe inspiring on the front that you are inevitably let down on the back. The tenth through thirteenth holes feature no water views. The par four eleventh hole is one of the most architecturally interesting, with a green fronted by a marsh that you have to carry on your approach. Thirteen is a long, nasty par three, with trees blocking the tee shot and the approach to the green.

View off 15th


The amazing view from the fifteenth hole

My personal favorite hole was the fifteenth, a good risk/reward par five that sports a world-class view. It is 513 yards, plays downhill and is named "Cook's Hook." The tee shot is played in a crosswind off the bay. It has a view of the Cavalli Islands and South Pacific that is worth flying for almost 24 hours to see. This is what a commanding promontory looks like. Look closely at the picture above and note the small crescent-shaped beach set in a protected cove. This private beach is allegedly used by Julian Robertson and his guests. There are vistas like this all over New Zealand; it is a wonderland.

I take pictures of memorable holes and scenery as I gallivant around golf courses (duh). I was not too surprised when I downloaded my pictures at Kauri to see that almost all my pictures were of the scenery, and I have very few pictures of golf holes. There are not more than a handful of memorable or standout holes from an architectural standpoint, but it quite literally doesn't matter, because the scenery is so breathtaking. After the round we were asking each other what each person's favorite holes were and why. No "great" holes came to mind, but great vistas were easily recalled because of the views. This sums up Kauri Cliffs from my point-of-view: it is not about the brilliance of the golf course design, it is about the unique location, being outdoors and enjoying nature and sunshine in one of the prettiest places on the planet.

Although Cape Kidnappers gets better P.R. because of the dramatic cliffs, for my money Kauri Cliffs has views that are more magnificent. I strive to fill my blog with a lot of useless information from time to time and this seems like as good a time as any. New Zealand has about 4.5 million people on a land mass the size of England. They have 10 times as many sheep as people. The view from off the 10th fairway, below, is a typical New Zealand scene.

As we were having our apres-round lunch, Julian Robertson, the billionaire owner of Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnapppers flew in on his helicopter and was quickly led off to the tenth tee. He gave us a friendly wave on his drive by. Apparently, he spends over one hundred days a year at Kauri, and if I were a billionaire, I would probably do the same thing.

It was at the 88 Lodge that I also took an affinity to the local beer, Monteith's Summer Ale. Ideal. As I mentioned, we did not drop the US$1,300 per night at the lodge, which has a minimum two night stay. I cannot afford to stay there and still send my kids to college and the resort is Americanized. We did our research and felt it a better option to stay in town and experience the local atmosphere, which turned out to be a good decision. I highly recommend a visit to Kauri Cliffs if you can ever manage the long flight to Nu Zillin.

We flew out of the Bay of Islands airport in Kerikeri on our way down to Cape Kidnappers. It is one of the smallest I've ever flown out of with no security whatsoever. I guess they are not worried about planes being hijacked to Cuba down here. These lucky Kiwis are living la dolce vita down here. What a great and unique country!

As I was driving out of Kauri Cliffs I saw a fat lady who looked familiar, like an opera singer I think I have seen somewhere before. I have a strange feeling that she is following me as my journey nears its end.