Cape Kidnappers
Te Awanga, New Zealand

Fifteenth hole, 655 yards, Pirate’s Plank; Sean O’Hair’s play in the 2009 Kiwi Challenge is emblematic of the enormous flexibility that Doak built into the holes so that they play equally well whether into or downwind. In Tuesday’s round, O’Hair hit a five iron that ran for seventy yards (!) and finished just over the green in two in near down gale conditions. On Wednesday, playing into a breeze, he made two double bogeys and lost the championship to Anthony Kim. The fifteenth has no bunkers from tee to green and doesn’t need any as the finger of land that it occupies progressively narrows the closer one gets to the green. Rarely does a flat hole yield a horizon green but this one does, making depth perception a challenge. At this height, the immensity and silence of the Pacific Ocean  is more unnerving than it is comforting and it is all the golfer can do to keep his wits about him. As Doak succinctly puts it, ‘We were either going to build it or not build it – there weren’t a lot of options on this, the narrowest of fingers.’ This is Mr. Robertson’s favorite hole, which explains why it was used to decide the play-off for the 2009 Kiwi Challenge. The ensuing television coverage as well as its own playing merits conspire to make this the most famous hole that Doak has designed to date. Indeed, how ironic for an architect that stresses fun and variety to have the longest hole in New Zealand become his most noted creation!

Even the most well traveled golfer struggles to maintain his concentration and not be over-awed as he plays down the ever narrowing strip of land that the fifteenth hole occupies. This golfer long approach shot was fortunate as the left greenside bunker is easier to recover from than the shore 550 feet below!

Even the most well traveled golfer struggles to maintain his concentration and not be over-awed as he plays down the fifteenth. This golfer's long approach shot was fortunate to find the left greenside bunker is it is easier to recover from than the shore 550 feet below!

This sign twelve yards to the left of the fifteenth green is no exaggeration. As seen below, the fifteenth green was ...

This sign twelve yards to the left of the fifteenth green is no exaggeration. As seen below, the green was ...

...literally to the very end of the finger of land upon which it plays.

... pushed back at Mr. Robertson's urging to the very end of the finger of land upon which it plays.

Looking back down the fifteenth fairway, one gains a sense of the ever narrowing fairway and why the hole is aptly named Pirate's Plank. The white posts of the fence are there for a very good reason: the golf expression 'it's death to go over' has no better use than here at the fifteenth!

Looking back down the fairway, one gains a sense of its ever narrowing nature and why the hole is aptly named Pirate's Plank. The white posts of the fence are there for very good reason: the golf expression 'it's death to go over' has no better use than here.

Sixteenth hole, 500 yards, Widow’s Walk; The hole’s name refers to the 120 yard walk along the top of a dune line from the fifteenth green to the sixteenth tee, featuring a steep drop off all along the left. The elevated tee is the single most exposed point on the course and as such, anything can happen. On a day when the wind is behind, the tee is one of the prettiest spots in world golf. On a day when the wind is fiercely against, it is one of the loneliest! Full credit goes to Mr. Robertson’s wife Josie for this tee. Originally, the fifteenth green stopped fifty yards short of where it presently does and the sixteenth was to play as a par four hole from a tee that would roughly have been located to the right of where the fifteenth green resides today. Mr. Robertson thought it better still if the fifteenth green was moved back fifty yards and built up against the cliff and that meant finding a new tee for the sixteenth. Once Doak located it, Mr. Robertson signed off but it was Josie who said what a pity that only players who played from the elevated championship tee would get to experience it. From that moment on, the sixteenth went from being a par four to a par five as all the tees were brought up to this magnificent location.  Crucially, the hole plays in the exact opposite direction as the fifteenth, so the two holes are guaranteed to play wildly different.

The view from the elevated tee box shows a hole of great beauty. If the fifteenth was a beast and played into the wind, the sixteenth might well be reachable with but a mid-iron.

The view from the elevated tee box shows a hole of great beauty. If the fifteenth was a beast and played into the wind, the sixteenth might well be reachable with as little as a mid-iron.

Even at this late point in the round, the golfer has yet to become accustomed to the scale of his surrounds and this view back off the sixteenth tee of Black Reef still takes his breath away.

Even at this late point in the round, the golfer has yet to become accustomed to the scale of his surrounds and this view back off the sixteenth tee of Black Reef still takes his breath away.

What a spot to play from! Anthony Kim hits one long right off the sixteenth tee in the final round of the 2009 Kiwi Challenge.

What a spot to play from! Anthony Kim hits one long right off the sixteenth tee in the final round of the 2009 Kiwi Challenge.

Cliffside courses rarely possess as interesting fairway contours as true links courses. Such is not the case at Cape Kidnappers.

Cliffside courses rarely possess as interesting fairway contours as true links courses. Such is not the case at Cape Kidnappers as its fairways are full of character, as seen above from 150 yards short of the sixteenth green.

Seventeenth hole, 465 yards, Gannets Perch; Several years ago, Sports Illustrated featured an article comparing Cape Kidnappers to Pebble Beach and compared the holes to one another in match play format, first hole to first hole, second to second, etc. Cape Kidnappers was two up with three to go and the writer awarded the last three to Pebble to give it a narrow, come from behind one up victory. The shock of the exercise was that Pebble was awarded this hole as the seventeenth at Cape Kidnappers is fantastically conceived. Doak modestly says it was an easy hole to find on a topography map as the golfer plays to one level before stepping up to the next but that doesn’t change the fact that this dogleg right is a thorough original.

This cluster of greenside bunkers must be contended with on one's uphill approach to the seventeenth green. The bunkers are ideally presented as neat and clean ones would be out of whack with their surrounds.

This cluster of greenside bunkers must be contended with on one's uphill approach to the seventeenth green. The bunkers are ideally presented as neat and clean ones would be out of whack with their surrounds.

Eighteenth hole, 475 yards, Ipu; The most controversial feature on the course has nothing to do with its dramatic setting along 550 foot cliffs or interior putting contours that are too wild to function properly. Rather, the most controversial feature is that Doak elected to set the Home green within a natural depression, thus giving it punchbowl qualities. Some critics as far away as the United Kingdom have singled it out as the course’s only weakness, arguing that as a finishing hole, it should require precise shot making skills. They sniff that too many approach shots end up in nearly the same area, regardless of the quality of the hit or thought that went into the shot.  That’s one side, now let’s hear Doak’s opinion on the intricacies of this green complex: ‘The green site for the 18th was a beautiful little dip in the ground very close to the clubhouse site.  I fell in love with this green site right away, and thought it made a perfect contrast to the raised and heavily defended greens at the 16th & 17th holes.  My thought was that having a bowl green site for #18 added variety to the course, but as Julian became more interested in hosting a professional event, he began to worry that the hole would be too easy, and that someone might win because they hit a fluke shot to the left that wound up close to the hole. We took this into account and if the hole is cut along the left half of the green, a shot which bounces in from left to right careens way past the hole; Michael Campbell confirmed as much to Julian after a visit and assured him that only a great approach shot could get close to certain hole locations.  Interestingly enough, in the two years of the Kiwi Challenge they’ve never actually used the left hole locations we discussed, because the TV producers think the hole looks better with the flag at the back of the green!  Even so, there’s been only one birdie out of the twelve cracks that the professionals have had at the hole.’ In addition, the Old Course at St. Andrews has long demonstrated the appeal of having a chance for birdie on the Home hole so that the golfer ends his round on a positive note. As there, the first tee is only forty yards away so let’s keep playing!

As seen from behind, the punchbowl nature of the green is evident as is the rolling nature of the eighteenth fairway.

As seen from behind, the punchbowl nature of the green is evident as is the rolling nature of the eighteenth fairway.

Having concluded the round, the golfer may desire a flat white or a Steinlager in the farm-style clubhouse, which is the only structure on the 280 acres that the course occupies. In fact, given that the course is cocooned in amongst the rest of the 6,000 plus acres of Cape Kidnappers, the golfer starts to appreciate that he didn’t hear a single sound from the outside world during his round. Literally, the baahing sheep may have been the only noise to distract him from the task at hand. What an enormous luxury to play golf in such an environment.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is the main lodge and is located one mile away, on a higher portion of the property with commanding views across the rolling grounds and out to the ocean. All guests need to avail themselves  of the opportunity to go on a gannet safari as nowhere are these graceful birds more accessible than here at Cape Kidnappers. The spa, tour of the farm or even going off property for a wine tour needs to wait until after these birds are seen up-close. For this is the reason that one comes here: to do and experience things that that can only be found in this part of the world. And as that relates to golf, Cape Kidnappers will remind you of no other course and the only thing for sure is that you will want to come back.

The Lodge was designed to resemble farm buildings (note the silo structure) and its interior is the height of tasteful decoration.

The Lodge was designed to resemble farm buildings (note the silo structure) and Josie Robertson's taste brings the interior to live.

The storybook views from the cottages leave no doubt that the traveler is in New Zealand.

The storybook views from the cottages leave no doubt that the traveler is in New Zealand.

In some circles, Cape Kidnappers is better known for having the largest gannet colony in the world. Guests of the Farm would be remiss not to be taken to see these lithesome birds as they dive into the ocean for fish. In addition, a tour of the gannet colony provides some...

In some circles, Cape Kidnappers is better known for having the largest gannet colony in the world. Guests of the Farm would be remiss not to see these lithesome birds as they dive into the ocean for fish. In addition, a tour of the gannet colony provides some...

...some of the best vantage points for The Pinnacle at the tip of Cape Kidnappers.

...some of the best vantage points for The Pinnacle at the tip of Cape Kidnappers.

The End