You may have heard of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s legendary national rugby team. Or you may know the country currently holds the America’s Cup trophy for its 2017 win in the world’s premier sailing competition. Perhaps you have indulged in one of the outstanding wines created in New Zealand. Cheers to that. But New Zealand golf is something special.
Golf is the number one participation sport in that country. Rugby, sailing, cricket and fishing are all quite popular, but more Kiwis head out to the golf course.
“What we find is that golf is a favorite second sport for the younger generation,” said Ryan Brandenburg, a transplanted American who now works as Chief Executive for Golf Tourism New Zealand. “Then when the body can’t handle rugby and cricket anymore, they transition into golf as their primary sport.”
With 400 courses throughout the country, they have lots of places to play, too. And the roster of very good ones is deep enough that it’s more than worth the long plane ride(s) to get there.
Need more motivation? The U.S. winter is New Zealand’s summer, the exchange rate is in our favor, tons of non-golf activities easily fill up hours between tee times, and a warm welcome is universal.
Just be sure to get any existing dirt and grass off your golf shoes and clubs, or you will be delayed in customs upon arrival. Such is life on an island, or two in the case of New Zealand
The North and South Islands take up a combined landmass approximately the size of Colorado and offer distinct geographic settings.
Golf varies from the white sand beaches at Kauri Cliffs toward the top of the North Island, to the rumpled fairways of Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club north of the country’s capital city of Wellington, to the alpine setting of Jack’s Point in Queenstown on the South Island.
Brandenburg, who moved to New Zealand in early 2010 to become Director of Golf at Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers (two outstanding, high-end resorts created by American Julian Robertson), says the country’s golf offerings have gone from average to exceptional in the past decade.
“Obviously Tara Iti [a superb but private Tom Doak design 90 minutes northeast of Auckland; it opened in 2015 and debuted at No. 6 on Golf Digest’s World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses] was huge for the country in getting involved in the best courses of the world conversation,” he said. “But we’ve got other projects underway, including two more at Tara Iti (public courses to be designed by Doak and Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw) and a fourth nine at Millbrook Resort near Queenstown.
“I think the country has really decided that destination golf is really something it wants an identity for and we’re putting the product on the ground to back that up.”
While the bulk of visiting golfers come from Australia (a mere three-hour flight away), more North Americans are making the trek.
That’s thanks in part to increased access, with direct flights to Auckland now available from Chicago, Houston and Vancouver, in addition to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The average length of stay is 15 days. You could do less, but this isn’t Scotland and Ireland, where playing 36 holes a day is a popular (if a bit insane) itinerary. Plus, New Zealand’s marquee courses are simply too spread out and there just far too many other things to do.
So, where to play?