New Zealand Home to Golfing Wonders

by Hal Phillips

NAPIER, New Zealand — The two most decorated resort courses in the entire Asia-Pacific region are now more decorated still — and the traveling golfer remains welcome.

Cape Kidnappers

In its new ranking of all golf courses located outside the United States, Golf Digest U.S. — the definitive source of world course rankings since it pioneered the practice in 1966 — has placed both Cape Kidnappers Golf Course in Napier, New Zealand (#6), and sister Kiwi club, Kauri Cliffs GC in Bay of Islands (#19), in its prestigiousTop 100.

Each of the primary global competitors in the course-ranking arena,Golf Digest U.S. and GOLF Magazine U.S., continue to rank both Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs among the world’s Top 100 courses — even when all those courses in the United States are considered.

Yet no Asia-Pacific course open to public play ranks higher than Cape Kidnappers. Indeed, only the West Course at Australia’s famed Royal Melbourne GC (#2) outranked the feted Tom Doak design at Cape Kidnappers, opened in 2004. The last time Golf Digest issued this list, in 2009, Cape Kidnappers ranked 13th. Kauri Cliffs ranked 25th — so Kauri, too, has moved up significantly.

The 2012 ranking also represents a significant step forward in terms of international recognition for Asia-Pacific’s top courses. In all, there are 29 from the region represented among this new Top 100, whereas only 17 were cited in the 2009 ranking. Joining Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers among resort courses in the top 20 for 2012 are Barnbougle Dunes on the Australian island of Tasmania, and the Kawana Hotel’s Fuji Course in Shizuoka, Japan.

“There are so many courses in Asia-Pacific rightly considered ‘world class’, but what good is learning that a club is ranked so highly if it’s private — and traveling golfers cannot play it?” asked Ryan Brandeburg, director of golf for both New Zealand clubs. “Accessibility should be of primary importance to anyone who pays close attention to these rankings.

“We are particularly pleased to be ranked so highly among courses outside the United States because while we consider our clientele to be worldwide, we are proudly part of the Asia-Pacific golf community,” Brandeburg continued. “It’s important that golfers in Australia, in China, in Japan and Korea and across Southeast Asia recognize that Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs are special, the highest ranked, most celebrated courses in the region they can play.

New Zealand can represent a significant journey to some, but here is more proof that the golf — along with our accommodations, cuisine and natural surroundings — make that journey worthwhile.”

Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs are owned and operated by American hedge fund legend Julian Robertson, who first visited New Zealand in 1979, and has since adopted it as a second home.

In 2000, Robertson opened his first property, Kauri Cliffs GC (www.kauricliffs.com), which looks out upon the ultra-scenic, North Island archipelago known as the Bay of Islands. The David Harman design was immediately ranked among the Top 100 in the world. The 5-star Lodge at Kauri Cliffs would soon join the course on a sprawling 2630-hectare parcel.

In 2004, course architect Tom Doak unveiled Cape Kidnappers (www.capekidnappers.com), which has come to be ranked even higher. Cape Kidnappers is an actual landform unto itself, a triangular headland where white cliffs jut 8 kilometers out into the Pacific Ocean from the North Island community of Napier. The 5-star Farm at Cape Kidnappers opened in 2006.

Brandeburg noted that rankings of any kind are naturally subjective. But it’s also true that course rankings do not take into account all those elements that comprise a golf holiday: accessibility, hotel accommodations (and whether those accommodations are on-site), cuisine, non-golfing activities and the physical setting of the resort itself.

“We are frankly eager for the various golf publications to assemble a Top 100 that simply takes into account accessibility, course merit, and the quality of on-site lodgings,” Brandeburg continued. “These are the factors traveling golfers mostly strongly consider: The course cannot be private, naturally, and who wants to shape a golf holiday around a great course that doesn’t have a hotel on site, or doesn’t provide world-class food and wine?

“Some day that list will be compiled, we are confident that both Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs would rank among the Top 5 in the world.”

It’s clear the world travel press, with its focus on the hotel component, supports Brandeburg’s assertion.

• The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, a veranda-wrapped plantation house with adjoining guest cottages, was named the 6th best hotel in the world, according to the 2011 Condé Nast Traveller readers’ poll, and the #1 Lodge in Australia and all Pacific Nations on the magazine’s 2012 Gold List. The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs was also recognized in 2011 as a Fodor’s 100 Hotels selection.
• In 2010, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, located in the heart of New Zealand’s thriving wine region, was named to Travel+Leisure’s “World’s Top 50 Hotels”. It, too, earned Gold List status from CN Traveller for 2012. The Farm was also named among the “Top 20 International Hideaways” according to the Andrew Harper Readers Choice Awards, and was rated the #1 Overseas Golf Resort for 2012 by Luxury Travel magazine, published out of Australia.

In August 2010, the Robertson family oversaw grand opening of Matakauri Lodge in the ski and adventure sports Mecca of Queenstown, in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Matakauri would subsequently make Condé Nast Traveller’s “2011 Hot List”, while simultaneously making a comprehensive N.Z. golf tour feasible.

Last year the Robertson properties offered their first-ever golf package, which has recently been re-issued for 2012 and 2013. TheUltimate New Zealand Golf Package includes nine nights across three lodges, four courses, and the country’s two islands. Per-person pricing ranges from $9,790 NZD in the low season (May through August) to $12,840 NZD in the high season, which runs November through March.

[The NZ dollar equates to approximately .80 of the U.S. dollar.]

“Our company does not own or operate a golf property in Queenstown, but Matakauri is there and Queenstown is a very popular stop on almost every N.Z. itinerary,” Brandeburg explained. “Accordingly, we have partnered with two superb courses in Queenstown, The Hills GC and Jack’s Point, to complete The Ultimate Package. I should add that all our hotel properties, including the new Matakauri Lodge, are proud members of the exclusive and prestigious Relais & Chateaux collection.”

Brandeburg noted that, in one important sense, no one can take credit for the overall appeal of the resort experiences on offer at Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs and Matakauri — not Julian Robertson, not Tom Doak, not the celebrity chefs who routinely ply their trades at all three properties, not even Rianne Cole, who pilots the Robertson family’s EC-130 helicopter that provides dramatic bird’s-eye tours of the New Zealand landscape, while also conveniently linking resort guests to Auckland International Airport. [Link here to a podcast interview with Ms. Cole.]

“It’s clear that a major part of our appeal is the extraordinary natural landscape of New Zealand,” he said. “No one can take credit for that, and it’s such an integral part of the experience at all of our properties — on the golf courses, in the lodge, at cliff-top or down on the beaches.

“But it’s something we do work hard to protect and foster. At Cape Kidnappers, for example, the Robertson family has assembled one of the largest nature preserves in New Zealand enabling and protecting a thriving community of endangered species, including kiwi birds. By the end of June, we should finish a new aviary we intend to use for holding pairs of kaka and Red-crowned kakariki. These birds will breed and their off-spring will be released into the sanctuary to support establishing populations of these species.”

[Link here to a podcast interview with Steve Marsden, golf course superintendent at Cape Kidnappers and overseer of the new aviary project who was honored in February 2012 with an Environmental Leadership Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.]

“These natural environments are integral to everything we do at all three resort locations,” Brandeburg summed up. “They are as important, in our view, as the luxury accommodations and golf experiences, which are obviously admired but also adhere to the same high environmental standards.”