Over the top down under: New Zealand takes golf to new heights

By Jason DeeganApril 3, 2013, 10:20 pm

NORTHLAND, New Zealand -- Julian Robertson points toward the 14th green at Kauri Cliffs, set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the Bay of Islands.

'These are the best holes in golf,' he said, his voice filled with passion and excitement.

Hyperbole? Yes, but not by much.

Robertson loves to have golf guests close their eyes during the cart ride up the hill before reaching this point, so he can surprise them with the incredible views. The next four holes hug the rugged northern coast of the North Island.

Kauri Cliffs, both the David Harman course and its luxury lodge, personifies a golf trip to New Zealand: Exclusive, exotic, extraordinary.

Robertson, a former hedge fund giant who splits his time between New York and New Zealand, almost single-handedly made New Zealand a must-play destination by opening Kauri Cliffs in 2000 and Tom Doak’s Cape Kidnappers in 2004, the two headliners of the more than 400 courses in the country. Even for purists, the game takes a backseat to such magical surroundings.

'It’s the different landscapes that draw people to New Zealand,” said Samuel St. George, a director with Eighth Wonder, a luxury golf tour operator based in New Zealand. “There are mountains down south. Up north, there are beautiful lakes and beaches. It has diverse microclimates...You’ve got to explore the whole country if you come.'

The length and cost of the 13-hour Air New Zealand flight from Los Angeles across the international dateline deters so many players from attempting the journey. Adventurous spirits who venture halfway around the world are rewarded with a combination of golf, food and wine like no other.

Bob Wolfe, of Little Rock, Ark., has seen the golf scene change dramatically since first visiting 20 years ago.

'What distinguishes New Zealand golf from the U.S. is the courses are not part of the housing,” he said. “You can see the hills, the water, the mountains. The physical beauty of the courses is amplified by the surroundings. It’s a unique experience.'

New Zealand’s North Island

Kauri Cliffs

Kauri Cliffs

Bucket-list chasers must work overtime and plan carefully to find the best golf on New Zealand’s North Island. Golf Digest has ranked six different North Island courses among the top 100 international courses outside of the United States since 2005. I spent 10 days hopscotching across both islands and still missed out on the Gulf Harbour Country Club near Auckland and the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club near Wellington. Also of note, Doak is currently designing Tara-iti Golf Club in Mangawhai, a project 100 kilometers north of Auckland that will create more buzz should it open in 2014 as planned.

Few tourists would dare drive the 440 miles of winding roads between Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, located in Hawke’s Bay on the eastern shore. (Google maps calls it an 8 ½-hour trek). It’s best to utilize Air New Zealand’s network of small regional airports, where there is no security and passengers can show up 10 minutes before their flights. It’s a two-flight hop – through Auckland – from the Bay of Islands Airport in Kerikeri, 35 minutes from Kauri Cliffs, to Hawke’s Bay Airport in Napier, 35 minutes from the Farm at Cape Kidnappers.

Both of Robertson’s golf lodges ooze luxury in great locales. Kauri Cliffs offers great fishing, boating and beaches. Cape Kidnappers counters with wineries, gannet colony tours (a seafaring bird) and Napier, a beach town rebuilt in the 1930s after an earthquake and touted as the Art Deco capital of the world. It makes for a great debate over dinner and drinks which golf course is better. Kauri Cliffs serves up more scenery, but the epic fingers of land and cliffs at Cape Kidnappers tend to generate higher world rankings.

Ikuo Morimoto regularly makes the journey from Scottsdale, Ariz., to play Cape Kidnappers, named by the explorer Captain James Cook in 1769. 'It’s a warmer version of Ireland,' he said. 'It’s like Ireland in the southern hemisphere.'

It’s a scenic drive of less than three hours from Cape Kidnappers to Lake Taupo and the magnificent Huka Lodge, a great home base to play the nearby Wairakei International Golf Course and The Kinloch Club 20 minutes away. Nicklaus, who has stayed at the Huka Lodge for fly-fishing expeditions, cut a demanding inland links from the wild hills of Kinloch. Wairakei International became a protected pest-free wildlife sanctuary in 2011 when the owner fenced in the 6,444-meter course (roughly 7,047 yards) and planted more than 25,000 native trees and 5,000 exotic species, both for beautification and as a food source to attract native birds. It’s a peaceful place, brimming with possibility. The Wairakei Golf Resort, just up the street, caters to more budget-conscious travelers.

The Remarkable South Island


Jack's Point

True to form, Queenstown, regarded as the adventure capital of the world, doesn’t introduce herself with a subtle handshake. It’s more like a visual slap to the face. Planes flying into the tiny airport kiss the spellbinding Remarkables Mountains. The Remarkables have been filmed in countless movies, most famously in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Bungy jumping, invented from the Kawarau River Bridge in 1988, spawned a wealth of adrenalized tourism, such as jet-boating with KJet, skydiving with NZONE, off-road jeeps tours with Nomad Safaris and helicopter rides with Over The Top. All are worthy pursuits, although I wasn’t willing to confront the fear-factor of tandem skydiving. Golfers will especially appreciate Over The Top for the chance to hit a few tee shots from a mountaintop cliff. The eco-friendly balls, made with a dog-biscuit-like inner core, decompose within weeks, leaving the environment undisturbed.

It’s only within the past five years that Queenstown has matured into a world-class golf destination, thanks to the additions of The Hills Golf Club in 2007 and Jack’s Point in 2008.

'This city (Queenstown) is the best locale for golf in New Zealand,' Wolfe said. 'The courses are so different.'

The lovely Queenstown Golf Club, dating to the 1970s, shares Lake Wakatipu’s shores with Jack’s Point, although its conditioning isn’t quite up to par. It’s still worth playing the cool holes along the water. Locals call Arrowtown Golf Club “narrow town” for its slim fairways.

Jack’s Point should be christened a “World Top 100” candidate. The routing by local real estate developer John Darby skirts the lake on holes 5-8. The par-4 at no. 15 invokes a Scottish or Irish links, playing over a sheep paddock and a stone wall before the fairway. The colorful parachutes of NZONE skydivers add even more distractions to this surreal setting.

'I’ve been on 19 of the top 25 golf courses in the world,' said Jack’s Point Superintendent Simon Forshaw. “I like to compare a little bit. We are as good as them. The views and turf conditions, we’ve got what it takes.'

In Photos: The golf courses and scenery of New Zealand

The Hills, an exclusive private club that offers some public play, started as a backyard par-3 playground for Sir Michael Hill until the famed jeweler went all in, hiring Darby to create a strong, thoughtful tournament venue that has hosted three New Zealand Opens and two New Zealand PGA Championships. Hills’ personal collection of sculpture art spread on the grounds culminates along the 18th fairway, where a pack of 110 cast-iron wolves surround a swordsman. Just don’t hit a tee shot into the fray.

Sir Bob Charles, the only Kiwi in the World Golf Hall of Fame, and Darby, who studied course architecture at Harvard University, collaborated on two solid resort courses on the island -- Millbrook near Queenstown and the Clearwater Golf Club near Christchurch. Millbrook’s original routing from 1993 improved when Greg Turner added a third nine, the Coronet, and redirected four holes in 2010. Now all three nines finish back at the resort center, where villas, fine dining at the Millhouse and a spa, pool and fitness complex entertain guests.

The 2011 opening of the Hilton Queenstown along the lake added another great hangout for golfers. The excellent eforea:Spa and Wakatipu Grill will tempt people to stay put, although it’s worth the short water taxi ride into Queenstown.

More than 150 restaurants and tons of trendy bars serve Queenstown and historic Arrowtown. Saffron’s ever-changing menu highlights Arrowtown, a tiny town founded by a gold rush of the adjacent Arrow River in the 1860s. More than 177 wineries dot the valleys and hillsides of the surrounding Central Otago region. The Gibbston Valley Winery takes wine-tasting to a new level inside a manmade “winecave.” The Amisfield Winery Bistro serves a fantastic “Trust The Chef Menu,” paired with plenty of pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, two New Zealand specialties.

It doesn’t take alcohol, though, to find Queenstown entirely intoxicating.

More travel information can be found at NewZealand.com. For flights, visit AirNewZealand.com.

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''