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GOLF ATRAVEL Player’s Guide

Southern Stunner

Any avid collector of golfing experiences should reach into their pocket and make the trip to the luxurious Farm at Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, home to a brilliant Tom Doak-designed track that is full of drama, originality and beauty, writes James Spence and Alex Jenkins.

Courtesy of the Farm at Cape Kidnappers

T

h e lon ge st d r ive at C ap e Kidnappers is that between the public road and the clubhouse. It takes a full 15 minutes to get from the gate to the cluster of luxury lodge buildings that accommodate and dine those fortunate enough to find themselves staying at this most wonderful of retreats – a journey that takes you through a sheep and cattle station and bush land. This degree of seclusion means that the golf course flows over pristine land, wedged between a working farm and the towering cliffs of the cape. The back nine extends along several spectacular

Bird’s eye view: an aerial shot of the stupendous back nine at Cape Kidnappers, without question one of the most greatest courses in the southern hemisphere 74

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fingers of land, separated by deep gullies that dip down to the sea. From these points you can look beyond the cliffs and along the shore line across the wine country of Hawke’s Bay and, at the other end, the art deco township of Napier. Incidentally, Cape Kidnappers was so named after Captain Cook’s Tahitian translator was nabbed, but later released, by local Maori after HMS Endevour made landfall there in October 1769. Naturally enough I suppose, the translator in question was delighted to be rid of the place. Nearly 250 years later I stayed for two nights and didn’t want to leave.

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Doak has been at the vanguard of the mission to return some degree of penalty to landing in sand, and the bunkers at Cape Kidnappers are certainly best avoided.

Courtesy of the Farm at Cape Kidnappers

Clockwise from top: the splendid fifth hole, which asks plenty of questions from the tee; the early holes – here at the par-5 second – are every bit as enjoyable as the spectacular closing stretch; the simply clubhouse as viewed from the 10th fairway; accommodations at Cape Kidnappers are first rate 76

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The owner – American hedge fund billionaire Julian Robertson who also owns the equally well regarded Kauri Cliffs course north of Auckland – and renowned architect Tom Doak, in recognition of the nature of the land have deliberately retained a rugged feel to the course and its surrounds. There is no superfluity. The tees are marked with simple wooden pegs; the clubhouse, though decidedly upscale within, is compact and roofed in the local style with corrugated metal. The scale of the landscape and generosity of lands available for the layout makes the fairways seem small my comparison. This is a visual distortion that must be dispelled in the golfer’s mind as you need plenty of confidence to hit out at the targets here. The fairways are wider than they look – indeed, they can be considered generous – which makes a great deal of sense. Most will travel a long way and spend a lot of dollars for the opportunity to play here: Cape Kidnappers, while comfortably one of the finest courses in the southern hemisphere is mostly about fun. If the rhythm clicks, it becomes one of the most exhilarating driving courses in the world. All of the drives have merit but the following might be a list of favourites: the fifth offers a

choice to drive either side of a set of fairway bunkers. The seventh encourages you to hit hard enough to mount a crest and steal some yards. The 10th runs down to the sea and calls for a long ball that scours the right side of the fairway. The 12th, named ‘Infinity’ presents a version of just that, a slightly crowned fairway extends a long way left and right and the hole’s flag is just visible in the middle of this most appealing of panoramas. There are other quirks, too, for this is not a regulation par 72 layout. The par 71 is configured as 35,36 and interestingly two of the par-5s on the back nine (the 15th and 16th) are in sequence to take advantage of the long and elongated sweep up to a headland point and back. On most days it’s on the 16th that there’s more to relish. Even though the second shot is played uphill, this is a shorter and less dangerous hole for most players. The 15th, the aptly-named ‘Pirate’s Plank’, is long (550 yards from even the white tee) and one of the narrowest holes on the course, with a 200foot cliff protecting the entire left side. Doak, in his player notes, writes “four short and straight shots will win the hole more often than not.” I know I won’t be the only one when I confess that, on reflection – and three balls later – four 6-irons perhaps was the better strategy. The main talking points of the 7,119-yard course, however, are the bunkers and the greens. Doak has been at the vanguard of the mission to return some degree of penalty to landing in sand, and the bunkers at Cape Kidnappers are distinguished by their rugged, irregular shaping and tufty fringes. Needless to say, they are HKGOLFER.COM

best avoided. The pot bunker that protects the green at the 14th, one of the greatest short par4s that I have ever played, would be sporting a sash and tiara if there were a world pageant for such hazards. The bunker itself is tiny but the catchment area that feeds into this devilish pit is large and incorporates part of the green itself and reminiscent of the “Road Hole” bunker on the Old Course at St Andrews. There are few straight putts out on the irregular shaped greens. Each one is quite distinctive and many are memorable. There’s one from the right side of the green at the par3 sixth that has to be aimed a whole farmhouse right of the flag. The bowl shape is a common green feature at many old world courses but rare in new designs, so it is a joy to see it used on the 18th, itself an idiosyncratic finishing hole where the partly occluded green peeps at you sheltered by a mound on the left. Doak, whose reputation since designing Cape Kidnappers in 2004 and his Pacific Dunes course at Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast has skyrocketed, has created a course of great drama, interest, originality and beauty. From the critical standpoint it exposes much of the work of former tour pros turned “celebrity” designers as dull and derivative. In an industry noted for its gigantic egos and questionable sense of taste, Doak is a distinctly different and intelligent architect. Any avid collector of golfing experiences should reach into their pocket and make the admittedly lengthy trip to the North Island to play this course. It is both beautiful and compelling. HKGOLFER.COM

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TRIP PLANNER GREEN FEES (HIGH SEASON)

DINING

NZ$385 (approximately HK$2,400), excluding 15% GST. High season runs from October through April. Low season rates drop by NZ$100. Caddies, which are recommended for the first round at least, cost NZ$60 plus tip. Carts are available – and many guests do decide to drive their way around the course – but given that Cape Kidnappers is on e of th e world ’s great walk ing courses, our recommendation is to eschew motorized assistance.

Cape Kidnappers prides itself on its dining experience, and for good reason. Head Chef Tim Pickering aims to source his produce as locally as possible and the results are regularly spectacular. The dinner menu changes nightly and features the finest New Zealand lamb and beef, as well as seafood. This being one of the country’s most famous winegrowing regions, the Lodge’s wine cellar overflows with any number of superb offerings. Both breakfast and dinner (although not wine) is included in the room tariff, as is cocktail hour, which begins at 6.30pm. During cocktails and dinner, gentlemen are required to wear a jacket.

Courtesy of the Farm at Cape Kidnappers

WHERE TO STAY

It’s hard to pick the most beautiful spot at Cape Kidnappers, but the 12th green is one of several contenders 78

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There are 22 lodge suites – ranging from the 500 sq ft Hilltop Suite to the 708 sq ft Lodge Suite – and all are sublime, offering 180-degree sweeping views of the farm, golf course and Pacific Ocean. Decorated in what I would describe as a ‘Hamptons’ style (visitors from the United States make up the majority of the guests here), each suite features roomcontrolled air conditioning, high-speed wireless internet, a flatscreen TV and DVD combo (mine was hidden behind a wall painting), a spacious bathroom, a walk-in closet and a fully stocked complimentary mini-bar. While you don’t have to be a lodge guest to play the course, an overnight stay on site is well worth the splurge. The 5-star spa features three treatment rooms and treatments galore, while horse riding, quad biking and mountain biking rounds out the onsite activities.

GETTING THERE Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.com.hk), the nation’s award-winning flag carrier, operates regular direct flights to Napier/Hastings airport from Auckland (flying time: one hour); Cape Kidnappers is a 40-minute drive from there. Air New Zealand flies nonstop between Hong Kong and Auckland seven times a week (flying time: 10 hours, 55 mins) . The carrier is also a codeshare partner with Cathay Pacific, which also operates daily nonstop flights between the two cities.

CONTACTS The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, 446 Clifton Road, Te Awanga, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Web: capekidnappers.com; Tel: (64) 6 875 1900

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