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In the Land of the Kiwis

Two golf courses in New Zealand join the ranks of the world's greatest layouts
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

(continued from page 1)

Robertson describes the amount he paid for the Kauri Cliffs property as "the price of a modest New York apartment," a description he also attaches to the 6,000-acre Cape Kidnappers property he acquired in 2001. "Golf seemed the logical step," says Robertson. "The land is just so good, so dramatic, that you pretty much are guaranteed a special place if you don't screw it up. What we've been able to do, if I can modestly say, is something that is really great."

Instead of going after a big-name architect, a Jack Nicklaus or a Tom Fazio or a Pete Dye, Robertson gave the job of designing Kauri Cliffs to the late Dave Harman, a Floridian with a long line of experience in building golf courses and shaping them. With land so bold, with the sea so inviting, Harman routed a course that takes advantage of its extraordinary natural setting. There are 15 holes that have a view of the ocean and six that play along the cliff lines. The first three holes overlook the vast grazing grounds for sheep. Holes 10 through 12 play along a marshy glen out of view of the sea, creating a certain sense of anticipation that you will return to the water's edge, which is fulfilled upon arrival at the 14th tee. The 14th through 17th holes pitch and yaw along the cliff lines and the 18th climbs precipitously back to the clubhouse. "This is such a huge property, and Dave's first design for it would require you a 747 to play, it was so spread out," says Robertson. "To his credit, he turned it into a golf course that you can walk if you choose to do so."

The clubhouse at Kauri Cliffs is an approximation of a Bahamian colonial plantation house that Robertson saw in a magazine, given an appropriate makeover into the New Zealand vernacular with local crafts and materials. The clubhouse and the cottage-style rooms at Kauri Cliffs came under Josie Robertson's tasteful eye. The clubhouse has a hominess to it, with comfortable furniture, abundant fireplaces and view upon view of the course and the sea. The large and extremely comfy rooms are set in buildings that appear to be bungalows. There are fireplaces, an enormous bathroom done in a quite contemporary style, and a huge walk-in closet. Flip on the switch for the fireplace, wrap yourself in a robe and listen to nothing but the birds and the wind. Kauri Cliffs is nothing if not splendid isolation, with room service.

"My wife worked with interior designer Virginia Fisher," says Robertson. "Josie would rather give Virginia all the credit. But in the real world she had tremendous input."

In January 2004, Champions Tour player Dave Stockton visited Kauri Cliffs along with former British Open winner and New Zealander Bob Charles. Stockton, twice the winner of the PGA Championship, is a dedicated outdoorsman, a fisherman and a hunter. "It's a really remarkable place," says Stockton. "You have golf, fishing and hunting in one spectacular place. It's a long way to go to do it, but I would say it's definitely worth it."

That the Robertsons would have even one such beckoning property in New Zealand is an achievement. But with Cape Kidnappers opening last year, they have doubled the dramatic quotient for golf in a country that, surprisingly, has more golf courses per capita—about one for every 9,330 golfers—than any other place in the world.

The Cape Kidnappers property, another working farm with sheep and cattle, is also of great historic importance to New Zealand and its native Maori population. A seamount that sits just offshore appears as a giant tooth. In Maori legend, it is known as the Tooth of Maui. Maui, son of Rangi, the sky father, and Papa, the earth mother, used the tooth to catch a giant fish that, when it reached the surface, became the North Island of New Zealand. On a beach, a ledge and the cliff top nearest the Tooth of Maui are the world's most accessible gannet colonies.

For the Cape Kidnappers property, Robertson brought in the twenty-first century's hottest and often most controversial architect, Tom Doak. Robertson hired Doak after visiting the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in coastal Oregon. "On our first trip there with my sons and friends, we wanted to play 36 holes one day at the Bandon Dunes course and they told us we couldn't," says Robertson. "They said we had to play this second 18 at Pacific Dunes [designed by Doak]. We were furious that we had to play it. When we finished, we thought it was the best course we had ever played. That's why we got Tom Doak."

Doak found himself overwhelmed by the property with its cliffs 500 feet above the grand sweep of Hawke's Bay, named by the intrepid English explorer Captain James Cook. It was Cook who named the land Cape Kidnappers after Maori natives attempted to kidnap a servant. Cook's journeys throughout the Pacific were extraordinary and Doak sees the creation of the Cape Kidnappers Golf Club as no less so. "If Cape Kidnappers were a book, it would be an epic," he says.

The golf course is approached by a 15-minute drive through the property along a trout stream, through an alpine area and atop a ridge with mountain views. The clubhouse doesn't appear to be one at all, and could be mistaken for the maintenance building. It's done in a wool shed style with dark gray corrugated metal siding. Inside there are small locker rooms, a pro shop and a great room. It's both comfortable and appropriate. The bar stools are made to suggest old farm tractor seats. The clubhouse is part of the Robertsons' commitment not to do anything that would taint the land or fly in the face of the culture. "This is such a magnificent country that if we were going to do something here, we wanted to do the very best we could," says Robertson.

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