With some of the world’s top 50 courses (and more being built) amongst a landscape we’ve all seen in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy without even the hint of a crowd, New Zealand is fast becoming one of the world’s top international golfing destinations.
It’s probably only because it wasn’t yet discovered by Europeans that stopped New Zealand becoming the birthplace of golf. That honor goes to Scotland, but with more than 400 courses throughout the country, New Zealand is now second only to Scotland for its number of golf courses per head among the population. What’s more, in a population of four-million, almost half a million adults play at least one round of golf every year, making it the highest participation sport in New Zealand – more than seven-million rounds were played in 2017 alone.
With all that golf love going round, you can be sure New Zealanders knows how to build themselves a golf course or two. And with what’s possibly the most dramatic landscape on the planet (where else could they represent Middle Earth?), it’s easy to see why New Zealand has become a must-visit destination for golfers the world over.
In 2002, New Zealand was voted ‘Best Undiscovered Golf Destination’ by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. While it’s no longer undiscovered, golf in 2018 is the second most popular sport behind skiing/ snowboarding for international visitors. Yet, it’s still possible to play the country’s best courses with only a few sheep for company.
If it’s summer, early autumn, or late spring, head to the Queenstown region. This is NZ’s premier golf region – it’s also its best ski region, but unlike most other ski regions, you can play here during winter if you have a warm jacket. There are six world-class courses within a 25-minute drive of each other, built right below the Southern Alps. Even the more affordable courses (like Queenstown Golf Club – $95 NZD per round) play out under mountains and beside Queenstown’s Lake Wakitipu (rumored to be bottomless – forget finding your ball). You’ll also find some of New Zealand’s fanciest courses here, like The Hills (from $550 NZD per round) and Jacks Point ($225 NZD). But these two – along with Millbrook Resort’s 27 holes – are rated in the world’s top 100 courses.
What’s more, there’s plenty to do off the course – Queenstown is home to more than 100 restaurants and bars, and it’s the Adventure Capital Of The World so if hitting golf balls isn’t working, try bungy jumping 134 meters off a bridge.
There are golf courses all over the country, but outside the Queenstown region, it’s hard to top the golfing options of Northland – which stretches out 300 kilometers above Auckland, and the average daily temperature in winter never drops below 16-degrees Celsius.
Three hours north of Auckland you’ll find Kauri Cliffs, which is consistently rated in the world’s top 50 courses by US Golf Digest. With 15 of its holes offering sea views looking down along a deserted, rugged coastline, and with six holes playing right out over the water, this is arguably the world’s most scenic course. While fees here are above average, there are courses here with stunning sea views for less, such as Waitangi Golf Club, located among the Bay Of Islands – one of the world’s premier boating destinations.
Just a little further south – play golf along the coast at Mangawhai or at Waipu Golf Club – a Scottish-style links course with views out to outlying Hen and Chick Island. You can also play at the world’s sixth best course, Tara Iti Golf Club.
Another fine golf region not to overlook. You’ll find it beside New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupo, half-way up the North Island. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, The Kinloch Club is built on the fringes of the lake, and it often feels like you’re the only one here. Golfing in this place is an exclusive experience had under rolling hills and across rugged pastures, as wild geese stride the fairways.
NZ’s best golfer, Bob Charles, says Kinloch compares with the best courses in Scotland, and he should know – he won a British Open. A short drive away, Wairakei Resort is the largest international resort in the North Island – it’s course is set amongst 180 hectares of a nature sanctuary with 25,000 native trees, so don’t hit a wayward shot.
Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is a golfer’s dream. There’s a course practically on every corner – courses no golf traveler can miss. Gulf Harbour Country Club is the prettiest option. Located just 45 minutes from the CBD, its views look over Auckland’s enormous harbor, and the back nine holes are as good as the outlooks from any city course in the world.
You might also play on the only Alister Mackenzie-designed course (he designed Augusta National, home of the Masters), built among the native bush of Auckland’s west at Titirangi Golf Club. NZ’s capital Wellington offers over 30 courses in its municipality, but the best is Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, 45 minutes drive north of Wellington along the Kapiti Coast. It’s New Zealand’s third-ranked course and is regarded as one of the greatest links courses in the Southern Hemisphere. It has hosted 12 New Zealand Opens… and Tiger Woods.