New Zealand is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of golf and one of the best places to play. There is peace and quiet, welcoming courses, easy access virtually 365 days a year, and some of the most stunning surroundings in the world.
There are more than 400 golf courses across the country which range from private clubs and premium resorts, to country clubs and small local courses where sheep graze the fairways. Whatever type of golfer you are, whatever level you play, there is something for you.
Every course gives you a new experience and back-drop; whether it is the towering snow-capped mountains in the South looming behind you, azure lakes sparkling in the sunshine, deep river gorges bubbling below to test your nerve, seaside cliffs with the Pacific Ocean crashing into the rocks below and attracting your ball like a magnet, or the Canterbury plain with its streams and waterways.
If you are looking for five-star accommodation, great layouts and a place to rejuvenate the soul then look no further than three golf courses in the South Island.
Clearwater Resort matches all the criteria and is easy to get to being close to Christchurch International Airport. Home of the NZ PGA Championship, a joint-sanctioned event on the PGA Tour of Australasia and US PGA Nationwide Tour, the course has elements of links and parkland golf with an abundance of water. The resort's 30 acres of lakes are fed by natural springs and crystal clear streams, and teem with trout.
The championship tees are rated by NZ Golf Association as the toughest in the country, while water comes into play at 14 of the holes and tussock and marram grass makes for difficult rough. The eighth is the course's signature hole with water - uncompromising but beautiful to look at.
Off the course you have a choice of five-star accommodation including lakeside suites that feature a bathroom with a stunning view that looks out towards the Southern Alps - a fabulous introduction to the majesty of South Island scenery.
Terrace Downs High Country Resort
Just an hour's drive and what seems like a world away from the flat plain on which Christchurch lies, is Terrace Downs High Country Resort. Set in the foothills of the Southern Alps, Terrace Downs (pictured above) gives you the feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere.
Nestled between the Rakaia Gorge and steep mountain sides, Terrace Downs is surrounded by magnificent scenery. The course has four-position tees, generously wide fairways but 70 bunkers, numerous grass hazards and eight lakes wait for the wayward shot.
A welcoming clubhouse with a great restaurant is the hub of the resort, and luxury accommodation can be booked in one of the course-side villas or chalets so you are never far from the 1st tee or the 19th hole.
The resort lies in the Wakatipu Basin in the Southern Lakes region of the South Island, with the spectacular Remarkables mountain range in the distance.
Millbrook was largely laid out on the natural landscape only one hole required any earth moving. It has four-tee positions, open fairways, demanding hazards, including more than 60 bunkers, and meandering waterways.
The resort, which is part of an old estate with a renovated mill-house and mature grounds, offers quiet luxury with plenty of 'off course' activities, including a luxurious spa, tennis courts and four restaurants.
Millbrook is not far from Queenstown, the adrenalin capital of New Zealand, where you can sign-up for an adventure or just enjoy relaxing in one of the many cafes, restaurants and bars.
If you want to go one step further and really get away from it all and treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime experience then head for the North Island and Kauri Cliffs.
Kauri Cliffs is a relaxing and exclusive haven set in 6,000 acres near Matauri Bay in the very north of the country (17th hole pictured over).
The course offers five sets of tees to challenge every skill level. Fifteen holes view the Pacific Ocean, six of which are played alongside cliffs that plunge to the sea. The beautiful inland holes wind through marsh, forest and farmland.
The Kauri Cliffs lodge is a piece of paradise in the far north of the North Island and although small and exclusive has a wide range of facilities including a spa and world-class restaurant. The best way to get there is to fly unless you have plenty of time in which case you can drive the three-and-a-half hours from Auckland.
If you prefer to mingle with the locals and swap golfing tales over a pie and a pint then there is a plethora of friendly, country courses.
Three favourite courses that fit into this mould and within 75 miles of each other should not be missed.
Kelvin Heights Golf Course, situated just 20 minutes drive from the centre of Queenstown, is positioned on a peninsular jutting out into the blue waters of Lake Wakatipu and overlooked by the towering Remarkables mountain range.
This stunning country golf course was formed out a private park owned by one of the Queenstowns pioneers. It takes the golfer up and down the peninsular right down to the water lapping at the lake edge. It's not a difficult course to play, except for the sloping terrain and lake water that comes into play on a few holes; Kelvin Heights' great draw is its fantastic position and the spectacular view.
Arrowtown Golf Course
Arrowtown is just minutes from the historic village of Arrowtown, centre of the gold rush in the 1860s, and 20 minutes from Queenstown.
The course is set in rocky and undulating terrain with backdrop of surrounding mountains. It's a tight course with hazards including water and rocky outcrops which provide a great round at this relaxed, easy-going and unpretentious club.
After your round you should not miss Arrowtown, whose old post office, pub and shops along the main street have been preserved along with many pretty old miners cottages on the "Avenue of Trees."
There are a number of cafes and restaurants to enjoy as well as the chance to see the remains of one of New Zealand's oldest Chinese communities.
Wanaka Golf Course
Wanaka is above the town of the same name, overlooking a large lake under the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps. This picturesque course has a striking contrast between the back and front nines. The front is steep with holes playing down to the edge of the town. The back nine is more open and undulating.
Stop off in Wanaka after your round to enjoy some Kiwi hospitality in one of the pubs, restaurants or cafes. If you have time then staying in Wanaka is well worth it. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and the town is less frenetic than Queenstown.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of some of the top golf professionals in Australasia then head for the outskirts of Auckland to Gulf Harbour Country Club, host to the 2005 New Zealand Open.
Gulf Harbour Golf Course
The Gulf Harbour Golf Course, established in 1997, is a world-class course with matching facilities. The course has one of the most dramatic coastal positions, set on the cliffs of the Hauraki Gulf and bordered by rolling hills. The front nine is slightly hillier and has an open feeling, while the back nine wanders towards the ocean and culminates with some of the most scenic golf holes anywhere. The course has four tee positions enabling golfers of all abilities to enjoy the challenging layout.
Back at the clubhouse you will find everything you'd expect from a championship course, including a swimming pool. As well as a fantastic choice of golf courses in New Zealand there is also a wide range of accommodation to choose from depending on your budget and preference.
If you fancy getting to know some of the locals then bed and breakfast and homestay accommodation could be for you. Accommodation varies from a small city home to a farm where you can get involved with feeding the animals and seeing how the farm runs. Perhaps you would prefer a bit more privacy but remain self-sufficient, in which case have a look at self-catering accommodation or the many well-appointed motels. And, of course, there are plenty of or national and international hotel chains across the country.
For one or two nights you may want to treat yourself to the height of luxury, so try the country lodges and boutique hotels, many of which are set in some of the most stunning locations in the country.
As well as golf, New Zealand offers a seemingly limitless array of activities that are well managed and easy to try. If you are looking for an adrenalin rush have a go at bungey jumping, jet boating, hang gliding or white water rafting. If calmer activities are more your thing then stop off at one or two of the many vineyards to sample their latest wines, spend a day fishing for trout or salmon or take a leisurely walk along one of the thousands of hiking tracks across the country. Or just take in the wide open spaces and beautiful vistas as you drive around the countryside.
For sea lovers you can take a boat trip to swim with the dolphins, go whale-watching, visit seal and penguin colonies, or try your arm with the big fish.
So remember this secret when you are dreaming of your next golf holiday and take a closer look at New Zealand.
For more information on golf in New Zealand, visit:
|| 6 - DECEMBER 2004