Matauri Bay, New Zealand
Golf Course Manager: Andy Wood
The great chroniclers and architects of the game have long lauded the health benefits of golf. Bernard Darwin once noted, ‘There are consolations in being out in the open air, in the scenery and surroundings, in the absolute escape from mundane worries, in the jolly sporting spirit that blows over the links, and in the consciousness that by tomorrow one’s good shots will be remembered, one’s bad ones forgotten, and hope again in the ascendant. ‘ Dr. Alister Mackenzie famously wrote in Golf Architecture in 1920,
A good golf course is a great asset to the nation. Those who harangue against the land being diverted from agriculture and used for golf have little sense of proportion. Comparing the small amount of land utilised for golf with the large amount devoted to agriculture, we get infinitely more value out of the former than the latter. We all eat too much. During the Great War the majority were all the fitter for being rationed and getting a smaller amount of food, but none of us get enough fresh air, pleasurable excitement and exercise. Health and happiness are everything in this world. Money-grubbing (so called business), except so far as it helps attain these, is of minor importance. One of the reasons why I , “a medicine man,” decided to give up medicine and take to golf architecture was my firm conviction of the extraordinary influence on health of pleasurable excitement, especially when combined with fresh air and exercise. How frequently have I, with great difficulty, persuaded patients who were never off my door-step to take up golf and how rarely, if ever, have I seen them in my consulting rooms again!’
What the game does to the human spirit by refreshing and reinvigorating the soul surely is at the heart of the gameâ€™s enduring core. To that end, where the game is played matters greatly. The better the setting and the better the architecture, the higher the spirit soars (or at least so this web site contends). To that end, in all the world, there are few if any places that possess the kind of beauty that Kauri Cliffs does and the human spirit rejoices like nowhere else. Fifteen of the holes afford sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean while the remaining three drop into a valley and play alongside a marsh. Sheep dot the valley walls and are no doubt impressed by how well you are playing, though they hide it well. Of the fifteen holes played on the higher land, six are directly along the cliff line and indeed the best holes play over the cliff line.
Obviously, there is no substitute for great property but there is great property (including soil) for golf (Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Kingston Heath, Carnoustie, and Newcastle in Australia) and then there is great property for golf with long views (Sand Hills, Cypress Point, Pacific Dunes and Jasper Park). Kauri falls in the latter category. Still, even great property with long views isn’t enough if the owner or the architect somehow inserts themselves too much into the picture. For instance, owners frequently mandate that a portion of prime property be held back for real estate. Most emphatically, that was not the case here where owner Julian Robertson’s sole objective was for the best possible course to be yielded from the 4,500 acres that he initially purchased in 1997. Not only was the entire 2,600 yards of shoreline at architect David Harman‘s disposal but the closest man-made structures were set back over 500 yards from the cliffs and they were the clubhouse and eleven outlying cottages snuggled at the edge of a totora forest. Generations of golfers win by the fact that Mr. Robertson had the wherewithal not to worry about real estate and Kauri Cliffs is a rare instance in the modern game where the best land was truly and wholly devoted to golf.
Given this dream combination of property and owner, it came down to the architect. After numerous visits to the site from his Orlando, Florida office, David Harman finally determined a routing that maximized the jagged cliff line and carefully found a way to place each type hole (i.e. a par three, par four, and par five) along the property’s most spectacular sections. On the front nine, the par three seventh provides one of the game’s indelible memories while the reachable par five fifteenth and drivable par four sixteenth tempt the golfer into all kinds of poor decisions on the back. Even its sister resort course at Cape Kidnappers in Hawkeâ€™s Bay doesn’t afford such moments of hitting out and over the cliff line and these kinds of shots compel golfers to travel to Auckland and then make their way 160 kilometers to the north to Kauri Cliffs.
A native of the Buckeye state, David Harman‘s first introduction to golf course construction was through a summer job with Nicklaus Design in the late 1970s. When the six foot six inch tall, three hundred pound David Harman injured his knee, he realized his dream of playing for Woody Hayes at The Ohio State University was over. Instead, he continued working during the summers and after graduation for Nicklaus. In 1980, he started his own golf course construction company, and much of his earlier work was for Arnold Palmer. A warm engaging bear of a man, David Harman devoted two years of his life to the design and construction of Kauri Cliffs, which opened in February, 2000. For his part, Mr. Robertson very much enjoyed his interaction with David Harman throughout the process.
Kauri Cliffs would have done for David Harman what Pacific Dunes did for Tom Doak’s career, which is to say that it would have propelled him to many other exciting projects. Sadly, David Harman developed throat cancer after Kauri Cliffs opened and passed away December 28th, 2007 at the age of fifty-one. The golf world will never know what else he had to offer.
Yardage is only a relative measurement in an environment such as this one whereby the wind changes the nature of the holes on a daily – or even hourly – basis. From the back markers, don’t let the views on this 7,100 yard plus course fool you: Kauri Cliffs is a rigorous test. Camilo Villegas remarked as such. After the 2009 Kiwi Challenge that was contested at Cape Kidnappers, he flew up with Mr. Robertson to experience Kauri Cliffs for himself. Playing in windy conditions, he made a point to say how stout the shot requirements are – and this from a man who can flight the ball at will. Fortunately, the middle tees are some 600 yards forward and both the blue and white marker distance are given below.
Holes to Note
First hole, 440/420 yards, Takou; When most people think of playing golf by the sea, they first think of the United Kingdom. Ironically, the biggest landforms there are typically the dunes right along the coastline. Thus, though the golfer is near water, he rarely sees it during his round. This is not true here and though the first hole at Kauri Cliffs is the farthest point from the water, it is also the high point on the course, providing broad views across the course and out to the Pacific. In so doing, it admirably sets the tone for the round.
Fourth hole, 560/520 yards, Cambo; Kiwi Michael Campbell is so enamored with this risk/reward three shotter that the resort kindly re-named it in honor of the 2005 U.S. Open Champion. Of the design elements at Kauri Cliffs, David Harman‘s love of half par holes is perhaps what shines through the most. Be it here, some of the death or glory one shotters, the drivable tenth and sixteenth, or the reachable fifteenth, David Harman provides plenty of opportunities whereby the golfer needs to decide whether to thrust or parry.
Fifth hole, 200/160 yards, Boomerang; The five sets of tees at Kauri Cliffs allow the course to play anywhere from just under 4,900 to over 7,100 yards. Starting here, the golfer will firmly appreciate if he has selected the correct set of tees given his game and the dayâ€™s playing conditions. Over the next ten holes, he will play four par threes and they all will tax his ability to flight the ball through the wind a prescribed distance. Short is rarely an option.
Seventh hole, 220/175 yards, Cavalli; Though all the one shotters are demanding, that is not to say that David Harman doesnâ€™t help the golfer. In order to get the optics right from the tee, David Harman bowled out the setting for the seventh putting surface and Green Keeper Andy Wood carefully maintains the turf in a tight manner so that golfers can use the left and back banks to find the putting surface. A relentless series of raised greens that shed golf balls would wear down most golfers in such a windy environment and the fact that David Harman provides a green with gathering qualities at the course’s most dramatic point is a fine touch. Nonetheless, Darwin’s words of ‘the problem of dispatching that insolent ball in the desired direction suddenly becomes quite terrifying’ never have rung more true than as one stands on the precipice and looks at the task ahead. David Cannonâ€™s newly revised Golf Course book features this green for its striking dust jacket.
Tenth hole, 365/345 yards, Valley; The golfer has mostly played along the tops of ridges and up and down valleys that afford views of the Pacific Ocean. The tenor of the course now changes for the next four holes with this tee ball as the golfer is dropped some fifty feet down into a valley. The golfer has two things in his favor at this point. One is that he is sheltered â€“ at least relatively speaking â€“ from the wind and the other is that the stances that he will draw in the fairways are among the most level on the course. The downside is that marshland is now introduced as a hazard, so the requirement for good ball striking remains high.
Eleventh hole, 420/385 yards, Totara; Just a few holes ago the golfer was hitting a do or die tee ball over an abyss at the seventh and now he finds himself in a serene valley with sheep baa-ing on the hillside. Both settings are beautiful in their own right but to find them on the same course in such a short time span is a unique attribute.