A huge thank you to those who asked for, and intimated, if we ever put on a tour to New Zealand they would definitely come – but didn’t! Without that interest we would never have put the tour on and I may never have visited this amazing country. And, an even bigger thank you to the four who joined me on a most wonderful tour for the way they embraced the whole twenty one days in such a hospitable way.
Maybe we were a little lucky with the weather; a brief shower on one day, a rather cool back nine on another and shirt sleeves most other days. I never thought I would be saying I’ve found a rival to South Africa, but we were all blown away with the beauty, diversity, friendliness and laid back culture of New Zealand, not to mention the wonderful golf, right out of the top draw, despite being attacked by a Falcon playing at Arrowsmith GC near Queenstown!
We arrived on our different international flights, met at Auckland airport, flew north to the Bay of Islands, checked into the Copthorne Hotel on the waters edge in Kerikeri, enjoyed a delicious dinner and slept off some jet lag to ready ourselves for a half day tour of the Islands by catamaran before the first of twelve rounds of golf the following day.
Four rounds each week were interspersed by various visits to places of interest including of course the inevitable Wineries. Imagine my astonishment to discover at Sun Ridge, Napier, a small, new, award winning estate, that the wine tasting was conducted by the brother of the proprietor, both from my home town of Grantham!
To add a little spice to the tours golf we played a daily team event and ran individual league table over the twelve rounds for a few NZ dollars in our own “Race to Queenstown”.
WEEK 1 Bay of Islands & Auckland
As mentioned above, our first day cruise through the islands and around the bay was a perfect relaxing day to commence the tour and gave us a glimpse of the stunning scenery we would enjoy in the coming weeks.
I think it’s fair to say that having played our first round at Kuari Cliffs the following day, we imagined the standard of golf courses for the rest of the tour could only go one way – down hill – it was simply stunning as a location and a top modern design consistently voted in the world top 50. How wrong we were! While Kuari Cliffs would figure as one of our favorites, day on day we came off the courses astonished at the quality and variety on offer. Andrew produced the day’s best score with 32pts.
It was time to move on to the city of Auckland and a morning drive to Wainui GC. on our way introduced us to a typical new modern design set amongst rolling hills. A complete contrast to Kauri Cliffs but a super test in fine condition and very much enjoyed. Only the stunning location of Kauri Cliffs separated the two. Our two Liz’s took the honors today, Liz G 33, Liz W 30. Both good scores on an unknown test of this quality. Later we checked into our city centre hotel by the Sky Tower landmark from where we were able to explore the city and iconic harbor front for a few evenings
Our third game at Windross Farm GC, a brand new course designed as an inland links
confirmed our first thoughts that we had played the best courses first, however, that is a reflection on the quality of the first two, not a criticism of Windross. Liz G 36, Liz W 34 repeated the result of the previous day.
A day away from the links and a simply lovely tour taking a 40 minute cruise to Waiheke Island on a Gourmet Food & Wine Tour, was followed by our final game of the first week. Having played three very modern layouts, by contrast Titirangi Golf Club is a Mackenzie design dating back to 1926. Like many of his courses the green areas have been modernized but it has stood the test of time and stands right up there alongside New Zealand’s best. Whether it was the older Scottish design that brought out Ali’s game or she was just beginning to warm up, time would tell, but she came to the fore today with a fine round and 34pts! And at the end of week 1 we had Ali and Liz W at the top of the league table.
WEEK 2 Taupo and Napier
A flight to Taupo and our next hotel on the shores of Lake Taupo, the largest in New Zealand, commenced the second week. Two rounds of golf and a day visiting the Geothermal Wonderland, Wai-o-tapu. Geysers, bubbling mud, volcanic craters, within the park, but wherever we drove steam rising from the ground even in people’s gardens!
Wairakei International GC & Sanctuary was our next challenge and this wonderful course and setting within the sanctuary had us in awe once again. Ann, who had been unusually quiet so far, burst forward with an excellent 34pts to win the day.
Following the Rotorua sightseeing day, round six took us to a Nicklaus signature course, The Kinloch GC. close to lake Taupo. In the center of the North Island this course went to the top of my list. In undulating terrain one wouldn’t have been surprised to see the ocean over the next brow. Lending itself to a links design with its beautiful sandy turf, Jack, in my opinion, has built a masterpiece with this inland links.
Ali and Andrew mustered 30 apiece, excellent first time round scores on this testing course. Ali though with the better back nine.
The final three days of our second week were spent in the Art Deco city of Napier at Hawks Bay, with two rounds of golf at Cape Kidnappers, currently No.22 in Golf Digest’s World list. Another cliff top location, some magnificent views and very good modern design, but, 22 in the world, not for me. Our first round here was comfortably won by Ali with 32, while on the second visit Liz W went one better to win with 33. So, after 8 rounds we had Ali leading Andrew by three points and all to play for as we set off for our final destination, Queenstown.
Hawks Bay is well known for its wine making and it wouldn’t have been right to forgo the opportunity of a little wine tasting between those rounds would it! Whether three in one afternoon is over doing it I’m not sure, but as I mentioned earlier, discovering fellow gingerbread men owning and running a very successful wine estate on the other side of the world I thought quite extraordinary!
WEEK 3 Queenstown
We knew we were in for a great scenic treat as we flew to Queenstown on the South Island and flying in in-between the snow capped mountains and over Lake Wakatipu confirmed that, but surely we had left the best golf behind?
Millbrook GC is 27 holes Golf Resort very much in keeping with the newer design
philosophy and most enjoyable. Yet again, if not for the standard already set, we would have been singing its praises. Andrew beat Ali into second place to edge a little closer in the “Race to Queenstown”
We were up early for a full day tour to the Fiord at Milford Sound, fabulous scenery along the way, a cruise down the fiord to the open sea between snow peak mountains, teaming waterfalls and all well worth the three and half hour drive through yet more diverse scenery.
We had been looking over at Queenstown GC, set on a peninsular in the lake, since arriving and it proved to be a gem. As good as the course is, the scenery is wonderfully beautiful. Wherever one looked it was lake, snow capped mountains, fir tree lined fairways and a super old fashioned test too. Andrew and Ali partnered each other today in a 4bbb, but Ali pipped Andrew by one point to take a lead into the final round!
The Skyline Gondola Restaurant beckoned for dinner and it was quite surreal looking down some 1600 ft onto the QueenstownGC played earlier that day and to the lake shore in the far distance where we dined the previous evening.
Following a day away from the course and a final boutique wine tour, the much heralded Jacks Point GC beckoned for our finale. 15 minutes from Queenstown, located between the mountains and on the shore of the lake, a truly beautiful location and exceptional course to conclude an exceptional tour. Having been swooped on by falcons in Arrowtown, it was a bit disconcerting having the Sky Divers airplanes taking off and landing over our heads on the first few holes – thanks Maggie!!
Throughout the tour we had played a daily team event along side the individual stableford. The sweep money was divided daily between team and individual winners which left Liz G topping the money list. Ali and Andrew tied on 29pts the final day leaving Ali a 3 point winner over 12 rounds on an array of incredible top quality courses. A large chunk of the sweep and the “Race to Queenstown” Grey & Pink Jacket her reward!
A wonderful tour, never to be forgotten!