Te Arai Links – South Course
Recent review from Australia Golf Digest – some excerpts (March 2023)
If it’s world-class golf you’re after, two of the best new courses in the world lie in the north of New Zealand’s North Island. They lead the pack when it comes to our ranking of the best layouts ‘across the ditch’.
In modern golf design, great courses rarely emerge alone. Environmental and economic realities mean that new ventures are frequently mapped out with more than one great creation in mind. The environmental aspect often means that the characteristics of the land for one golf course are shared by the adjoining space, giving rise to the possibility of more than 18 holes, while the economic part can require more than one set of player traffic to be commercially viable. It’s a tremendous happenstance for the game and for golfers – a two- (or more) for-one deal that increases the enjoyment and wonder.
And so it is for New Zealand’s two leading layouts, which share the same stretch of coastline on the Hauraki Gulf where the Greater Auckland region meets Northland. In our third ranking of New Zealand’s Top 50 Courses, Tara Iti retains the top spot it held in both the two previous rankings (2016 and 2019), with its sister layout – the South course at Te Arai Links – seeing just enough play in the few months since it has been open to rank second. With the North course at Te Arai set to open this October, it’s not difficult to envisage all three new layouts occupying lofty rankings next time around.
Te Arai Links sits a mere three kilometres away from Tara iti, yet is markedly different. Bill Coore, another celebrated course architect, was chosen to pen the layout of the South course, an ideal fit for a man with a magnificent résumé of drawing great golf from such sites.
Coore recalls a lot of dune clean-up along the ocean, surmising that the government planted a lot of pine trees many years ago to stabilise the dunes. At some point a fire ripped through, so there was burnt wood and stumps that needed cleaning up. In the course-construction process, a lot of the dune vegetation disappeared and is now revegetated with flora other than marram – all approved dunes vegetation, he says.
“They don’t have cliffs there – the dunes rumble down,” Coore enthused to Australian Golf Digest last May before drawing a comparison to his other creation in this part of the world. “It’s amazing… [at Barnbougle Lost Farm] you’re much closer to the ocean but you feel much further away because of the primary dune. [Te Arai South] is more like Ireland or Scotland as there you kind of feel like you’re right on the ocean even though you’re set back from it.”
Much interest, from an architectural perspective, lies in the differences between the two – and soon to be three – courses (Doak is the designer of the North course at Te Arai). Those differences are both subtle and overt, a fact noted by those closest to the broader project.
“What separates the three courses?” muses Jim Rohrstaff, managing director of Te Arai Links and Tara Iti. “The land. Even though it’s the same stretch of coast, the land is dramatically different on each property. People are stunned when they see it the first time. This summer, we’ve got a bunch of our Tara Iti members who haven’t been down here for three years – they were finally able to come back – and they’re just blown away at how different the land is. When the topography is different and the land is different, that allows them to change up the look and the aesthetics in an easier way than if it were the same crumpled dunes all over the place.”
An example is evident early in the round at Te Arai South where Coore encountered a dramatic ridgeline that he sought to incorporate into the routing. In deciding whether to go around it or over it, he called upon his considerable architectural nous. The result is that the third hole plays up the rise to a blind punchbowl target, then the fourth is a monster par 4 that cascades down the hill and around the corner.
“He really navigated this huge ridgeline brilliantly,” Rohrstaff says. “He managed it in back-to-back holes, and that was his biggest piece of the puzzle with the routing – ‘How do I get over this ridgeline sensibly?’”
The elevation change is dramatic. The fourth tee is the highest part of the course, perhaps 40 metres above sea level, while the tee at the par-3 fifth is no more than 10 metres above sea level. For context, the famously downhill 10th hole at Augusta National descends approximately the same distance, 30-odd metres.
“He solved it in a way that was absolutely genius,” Rohrstaff says. “One of the biggest changes on the course was the fourth and fifth holes, from pre-reconstruction. Before, four was going to be a par 3 and then five was a par 4, and he made a last-minute change and made four a big sweeping par 4 of almost 500 yards from the back tee and made five a par 3. It was a far, far better solution. Once he said, ‘This is what we’re gonna do,’ it was like, Oh, this makes all the sense in the world, but it was not obvious at all prior to him coming out with them.”
The land is different, but the briefs given to Doak at Tara Iti and Coore at Te Arai differed only slightly. The former is a very small, very private club, so architecturally you can ‘get away with’ more. Design quirks are revered rather than maligned and elements that some might perceive to be complicated or more difficult instead have their place. “The two architects have somewhat similar philosophies and they’re called – not by themselves, but by others – minimalist in their work and the way they go about designing and their architectural style,” Rohrstaff says.
He recalls providing Doak and Coore with similar, simple briefs – written on sticky notes, of all things – comprising three bullet points. First was to create the best course in the world possible on each piece of property. Second, make it fun and fair. Lastly, it had to be a golf course where the four-hour round could be revived. Pace of play is important at Tara Iti and Te Arai, but the design aids the quest. Even an 18-handicapper or higher stands an excellent chance of not having to dip into the ball pouch of their golf bag for another sphere mid-round.
“We view Te Arai Links as our opportunity to recreate 17-Mile Drive in the Southern Hemisphere,” Rohrstaff says. “I love Pebble and Spyglass and all the courses [along that part of the California coastline]. And of course I love Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula Country Club, but those are highly, highly private. Pebble – Pebble’s a five-and-a-half-hour round. Who wants that? So we refused to accept that that’s OK.”