Americans have been awe struck with New Zealand since they first laid eyes on the sheer beauty of this country. It is an aspirational holiday destination. If not for the misconceptions (and a few truths) about travel time, the number of Americans pouring into Auckland would certainly increase by a factor of 10.
I spend a significant amount of time “selling” New Zealand golf as a tourism destination to key markets around the world, part of the New Zealand government’s ‘International Golf Tourism Strategy’ put into play in 2013. The challenge isn’t inspiring people to visit – that part is simple. Instead, the challenge is finding the time required to visit a “bucket list” destination and spend the necessary amount of days to truly experience the magnificence of this country.
Prior to 2013, our golf courses had limited recognition on the world stage. The recognition we did have was generated primarily from Tiger Woods’ appearance in the 2002 New Zealand Open at Paraparaumu Beach as well as the breathtaking photography of Kauri Cliffs, Cape Kidnappers and Jack’s Point.
Since then New Zealand golf’s profile has grown in a big way. From 2013-2016, rounds of golf by international visitors across a selection of our most significant courses have risen by an incredible 83 percent. The growth has resulted in increased media and travel trade presence as well as an increased discussion of new projects, restorations and renovations around the country.
Following this significant momentum came the latest release of the World 100 Greatest Golf Courses by American Golf Digest. With four North Island courses and one from the South Island making the list, it represents New Zealand’s best-ever showing from an international publication.
Officially, the list ranks New Zealand courses as follows:
No.6 – Tara Iti
No.17 – Cape Kidnappers
No.37 – Kauri Cliffs
No.76 – Jack’s Point
No.77 – Paraparaumu Beach
This further strengthens our position as a world-class golf destination. It also reaffirms why Americans, and tourists from other golf-mad nations, are flocking to New Zealand in larger numbers.
For a small country in the South Pacific to make the list at all is impressive. To have three courses inside the world’s top 40 is quite remarkable. Thankfully, four of the five courses are open for visitor play. And while Tara Iti isn’t an official “visitor product”, there are ways to access the magnificent layout just outside Mangawhai.
The increased recognition of New Zealand’s great courses is long overdue and we’re making up for that rapidly. One reason is a double-digit growth in golfers from America, up 13.75 percent for the 2013-2016 period.
As an American who has been a New Zealand resident for the best part of nine years, it is easy to see why New Zealand is such an attractive golf destination. The vast majority of our best courses are easily accessible, which is something that can’t be said about other destinations offering superb golf. Australia’s Sandbelt, the courses of the British Isles and Japan’s historic layouts all have an incredible selection of world-class golf, but accessibility is an issue.
However, on relatively short notice, you can tee it up at a handful of New Zealand courses considered to be among the best in the world. Add jaw-dropping scenery, uncrowded spaces and courses designed in harmony with nature rather than in discord, and you have the recipe for one of the fastest-growing golf destinations in the world.
One of the most appealing features about New Zealand to an American visitor is the contrast to most American courses. While the majority of America’s best courses would fall under the parkland category, New Zealand offers incredible diversity in its style of golf courses. From the subtropical top of the North Island at Kauri Cliffs to the alpine setting of Queenstown at Jack’s Point – and the incredible transition in between – New Zealand offers a broad range of golf experiences.
While other destinations have excellent golf, most don’t have New Zealand’s variety. For instance when you visit Thailand, you’ll experience tropical golf. In Dubai, it’s golf that has arisen out of the desert.
Here, you can enjoy the stark contrast of Kinloch and Wairakei, drastically different in design and presentation and yet within 30 minutes of each other in Taupo. The same can be said for the tree-lined Royal Wellington and a firm, fast Paraparaumu. Throw in Hawkes Bay with Cape Kidnappers along with a selection of some fine country courses and you start to see what I’m getting at. The Taupo-to-Wellington corridor is just one example of the depth in our golf product.
Originally, Americans were drawn to our two notable courses at Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, both built by American billionaire Julian Robertson. More recently they’ve turned their attention to Tara Iti, opened to significant acclaim in 2016. The result of incredible vision by American Ric Kayne and New Zealander John Darby, Tara Iti was born out of a pine forest on a coastal section of the upper North Island. But it wasn’t just Kayne and Darby’s idea that brought Tara Iti to life.
Much credit should be given to the genius of Tom Doak, perhaps the best living architect of our time. What Doak did at Tara Iti is tease out a masterpiece that sits so beautifully on the land that it feels like it has been there for decades. At the same time, he has produced a layout that tests the best golfers, keeps the game enjoyable for higher handicappers and ensures that your camera is as important as your putter . . . both a necessity to get around the golf course.
As if this wasn’t enough, Tara Iti’s attentive staff provide some of the best service found anywhere on the globe. And the accommodation, architecture, décor and amenities make Tara Iti a contender for one of the finest golf experiences anywhere in the world.
One may think that Tara Iti will define New Zealand golf for the rest of the century – and it will, but not in the way you may think. Yes, the golf course is incredible and will absolutely stand the test of time. But more importantly, in its short existence Tara Iti has started a golf renaissance in New Zealand that is inspiring clubs to have a bigger vision, increased ambition and a renewed sense of purpose.
Ryan Brandeburg is a PGA member and formerly the director of golf at Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers. He has held a number of senior managerial and consultant roles in New Zealand and abroad. Ryan is also the author of two books aimed at educating young golf professionals.