When thinking of New Zealand, images of magnificent mountain ranges, wild rivers, and spectacular beaches often come to mind. The country has rightfully earned its reputation as a hub for adventure sports. However, it’s not just the adrenaline junkies who find their paradise here; New Zealand also boasts some of the finest golf courses in the world. Wondering what they are, let’s check out the most thrilling New Zealand golf courses in the following article.
An Overview of Golf in New Zealand
In the “Land of the Long White Cloud,” golf enjoys the highest participation rate of any sport, and this popularity is well-founded. With approximately 400 golf courses in New Zealand scattered across the nation – the second-highest per capita in the world – these courses are readily accessible to the 4.8 million residents.
The past few decades have witnessed a significant enhancement in New Zealand’s reputation as a golfer’s paradise. Internationally renowned golf course designers and architects, including luminaries such as Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones Jr, David Harman, and Tom Doak, have created world-class courses spanning the length and breadth of the country.
New Zealand golf courses showcase a diverse range of characters and styles, each skillfully utilizing the local topography. They carve out exceptional tracks in New Zealand’s somewhat narrow coastal strips, undulating interior, and rugged mountain ranges. Consequently, Kiwi golf courses encompass classic links-style courses near the sea, parkland courses nestled further inland, and dramatic alpine courses. All of them share a common thread of awe-inspiring scenery, challenging layouts, and the warm hospitality for which New Zealand is renowned. After a day on the greens, golfers can step off the course into a world of enchanting experiences, making a golf holiday in New Zealand a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
New Zealand boasts 14 marquee golf courses, often complemented by resorts and other attractions. Additionally, there are approximately 24 experienced or tier-two golf courses that introduce golfers to local Maori culture, historical landmarks, country charm, and reasonable green fees. Many of these are strategically located near marquee courses, allowing traveling golfers to savor a variety of playing styles and local flavors during their golfing sojourn. Regardless of one’s preferences, you can hardly go wrong when teeing off in this beautiful country.
Most Thrilling New Zealand Golf Courses
1. Tara Iti Golf Course
Location: Mangawhai 0975, New Zealand
The magnificent Tara Iti golf course, located approximately an hour north of Auckland, made its grand debut in 2015 and swiftly garnered global recognition as one of the best golf courses in New Zealand.
Designed by the renowned Tom Doak, the same architect behind the illustrious Cape Kidnappers Golf Club (as detailed below), Tara Iti showcases a remarkably natural landscape that seems as though it has been shaped by the whims of wind and the passage of time. Its undulating terrain, composed of sandy soil, hummocks, and natural bowls, features fescue fairways, waste areas, and an intriguing twist – the absence of formal bunkers. The course unquestionably presents a challenge suitable for golfers of all skill levels, making the presence of a caddie indispensable for shouldering bags and dispensing valuable advice.
Tara Iti has taken the golfing world by storm with its breathtaking layout. While it maintains a private club status, it does offer limited access to the general public. Visitors are granted a single opportunity to experience the course, during which they can extend their stay and play golf to their heart’s content. However, please note that this will be your first and final visit, unless, of course, you manage to secure a coveted membership. Having the right connections certainly doesn’t hurt in this regard.
2. Kauri Cliffs
Location: Matauri Bay, North Island, New Zealand
Located approximately 30 minutes north of Kerikeri in the picturesque Bay of Islands, Kauri Cliffs has received widespread acclaim worldwide. It was honored as the Best New International Course by Golf Digest in 2001 and secured the 39th spot in Golf magazine’s world rankings for 2013 – 2014. This exceptional course presents a supreme golfing challenge, offering breathtaking views from nearly every hole. In fact, US PGA professional Brandt Snedeker once likened it to “Pebble Beach on steroids.”
Designed by David Harman, the championship course spans 6,528 meters and boasts a par of 72. It features six holes that meander along cliffs, perched dramatically above the crashing sea below. The initial trio of holes might lull golfers into a false sense of security before a series of challenging holes ratchet up the intensity.
The course’s signature hole is the par 3 7th, named Cavalli. It follows a ridge line and affords a panoramic vista of the Cavalli Islands in the background. The back nine takes golfers through marshes, farmland, and sections of forest. Many golf aficionados consider the par 4 17th hole to be one of New Zealand’s finest, and the view from the clubhouse balcony is nothing short of spectacular, making it one of the most scenic spots in the world of golf.
Kauri Cliffs is complemented by The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, a part of the esteemed Relais & Chateaux chain. The resort offers 22 suites and a two-bedroom Owner’s Cottage, with the bonus of access to three private beaches.
Location: 93 Kinloch Road, Kinloch 3377, New Zealand
Designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, Kinloch made its debut in 2007. Nestled near Taupo, this course seamlessly combines the characteristics of a links course adorned with fescue and heather grasses with the allure of a parkland setting.
Spanning an impressive 6,734 meters, Kinloch presents a formidable challenge to every aspect of your game, from tee to green. The swift, undulating greens necessitate a putting stroke that can be relied upon. The 10th hole, a par 4, offers a mesmerizing panorama of the course and the glistening Lake Taupo. With fairways that feature elevation changes and demanding carries, requiring precision with irons and woods, the 8th and 16th holes even provide alternate routes or, in a pinch, escape strategies.
As you move to the back nine, the course opens up, revealing spacious fairways. Here, you’ll encounter both challenging short holes and dramatic, longer ones with steep slopes and greens set at intriguing angles. Kinloch is a golf course not for the faint of heart.
The lodge resort complements the golfing experience, offering luxurious accommodations, exceptional culinary offerings, fine wines, and a range of activities, all against the backdrop of scenic Lake Taupo.
4. Wairakei Golf and Sanctuary
Location: Thermal Explorer Highway, Wairakei Drive, Wairakei, Taupō 3377, New Zealand
Not far from Kinloch lies Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary, a golf destination established in 1970 and recognized as one of the earliest golf courses in New Zealand. The course was meticulously crafted by Peter Thomson, Michael Wolveridge, and John Harris, who harnessed the undulating terrain and adjacent pine forest to its full potential. Featuring strategically placed bunkers, tranquil ponds, and winding waterways, the course poses a formidable challenge to errant shots.
Measuring 6,460 meters, the course underwent refinements by Thomson and Wolveridge in the 1990s. More recently, it received a significant reforestation effort, introducing both native and exotic trees to the landscape, along with the introduction of pheasants, kiwis, and deer to the area.
What sets Wairakei Golf and Sanctuary apart is its dual role as a golf club and a wildlife sanctuary. This unique combination adds an enriching layer of interest. In 2012, an agreement was reached between Wairakei Golf and Sanctuary and the Department of Conservation, aimed at conserving and restoring the natural features of the region. The installation of a robust fence, designed to keep predatory animals at bay, was a part of this visionary project, spearheaded by resort owner Gary Lane.
5. Cape Kidnappers Golf
Location: 446 Clifton Road, Te Awanga 4180, New Zealand
Perched precariously along the cliffs at the southern tip of Hawke’s Bay, Cape Kidnappers sprawls over more than 2,500 hectares of farmland and native bush. This extraordinary course, designed by Tom Doak and unveiled in 2004, has earned its place among the world’s top 100 golf courses.
Spanning 6,569 meters and presenting a par of 71, the course delivers a formidable challenge to golfers of every skill level. Yet, it also promises a truly magical day amidst awe-inspiring scenery. The back nine unfurls along a vast ridge, leading you towards Cape Kidnappers Golf Club. Among its many highlights, the signature hole is the par 5 15th – a hole so revered that even golfing legend Adam Scott considers it his favorite golf hole in the world. And he’s an authority on the subject.
6. Jack’s Point
Location: Central Otago, New Zealand
Nestled between Lake Wakatipu, near Queenstown, and the imposing Remarkables mountain range, Jack’s Point offers an uninterrupted panorama as you navigate the course. The brainchild of local property developer John Darby, the course pays homage to Maori Jack, a notable local figure who unearthed gold in the area during the 1860s and heroically rescued two friends from a frigid demise in a nearby lake. The course welcomed its first players in 2008.
Stretching across 6,388 meters and boasting a par of 72, Jack’s Point is meticulously sculpted from the local landscape, with minimal disruption to its natural features. This approach grants the course a unique character and ambiance. It artfully incorporates rocky outcrops, wetlands, tufts of tussock grass, and the old stone walls constructed in the last century for the original farm. The holes from five to eight, hugging the lakeside, offer an unforgettable golfing experience, replete with breathtaking vistas.
In contrast to the conventional weaving around hills and rock formations, Darby’s design occasionally takes golfers up and down the slopes, making it a rigorous trek for those without carts. This architectural choice also results in challenging approach shots along sloping fairways, where golfers must deftly avoid deep bunkers that add to the complexity of the shots.
7. Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club
Location: 376 Kapiti Road, Paraparaumu Beach, Paraparaumu 5252, New Zealand
Just an hour’s drive north of New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, you’ll discover a superb links course with a storied history of hosting 12 New Zealand Opens. Many golfers hold some of Paraparaumu Beach’s holes in the highest regard, deeming them the finest in the country, making it a splendid destination for a day of golf.
Measuring 6,014 meters and presenting a par of 71, this course, designed in 1949 by Alex Russell, an Australian Open champion and a former associate of Dr. Alister MacKenzie, offers a rolling and meandering landscape typical of classic links-style play. Thus, the key to mastering this course lies in employing the traditional bounce and roll shots inherent to links golf.
While Paraparaumu Beach poses a genuine challenge for seasoned players, it provides an unforgettable round of golf for novices as well. The generous greens roll true, and the broad fairways present opportunities for birdies with well-struck irons.
Not only one of the best golf courses in New Zealand, but Paraparaumu Beach also held the prestigious 71st spot in the global rankings and has been graced by some of the most renowned figures in international professional golf.
8. Millbrook Golf Club
Location: 1124 Malaghans Road, Arrowtown 9371, New Zealand
Nestled not far from Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island lies Millbrook, a globally renowned golf course and resort boasting 27 holes. This alpine wonderland enjoys a stunning backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range.
The course is divided into three nines: the Remarkables and Coronet nines, which come together to form a challenging 18-hole championship layout, and the Arrow nine, which adds a touch of golfing enjoyment. Millbrook effortlessly combines dramatic landscapes, demanding conditions, and an exceptional golfing experience.
Designed by the esteemed Sir Bob Charles, Millbrook seamlessly blends elements of parkland and links course styles. It incorporates hazards commonly found in both, including meandering creeks, trees, rocky outcrops, and tufted tussock roughs, all while treating golfers to breathtaking views in various sections of the course. With a choice of five tee options, Millbrook caters to golfers of varying playing ambitions.
The 18-hole championship course stretches across 6,560 meters and earned the prestigious 2011 Gold List Award from Luxury Travel magazine, naming it the world’s best overall golf resort. The resort offers five distinct accommodation styles, ranging from hotel rooms to fairway homes, and boasts several dining options, a spa, and an array of additional activities for a complete and memorable experience.
9. Royal Wellington Golf Club
Location: 28 Golf Road, Heretaunga, Upper Hutt 5018, New Zealand
Royal Wellington boasts a rich history dating back to 1908 when it first graced Heretaunga. The original course underwent significant expansion and renovation in 1974 under the guidance of Sloan Morpeth and JS Watson. In 1992, the addition of new greens was overseen by the illustrious duo of Sir Bob Charles and John Darby.
However, a more recent transformation, or rather, a complete redesign, took place in 2013, orchestrated by Greg Turner and Scott Macpherson. This redesign reimagined the course into a splendid parkland haven exclusively for private members. Built on an ancient riverbed, the landscape has been utterly transformed, thanks to the presence of thousands of mature trees, a variety of birdlife, numerous meandering creeks, and a sizable lake. Measuring 6,601 meters, the course is distinguished for its remarkable par 5 4th hole, which features a split fairway on either side of a serene stream.
Royal Wellington also boasts a magnificent and venerable clubhouse, offering the perfect setting for post-game dining and wining, adding a touch of tradition and elegance to the golfing experience.
10. The Hills Golf Club
Location: 164 McDonnell Road, Arrowtown 9351, New Zealand
Nestled in Arrowtown, near Queenstown within New Zealand’s Otago region, lies a remarkable links course measuring 6,596 meters and featuring a par of 72. This course is not only a golfing gem but also an illustrious venue for the NZ PGA Championship. Spanning over 100 hectares, this course was once a deer farm and is cradled within a glacial valley, offering sensational vistas of the surrounding mountains and the charming town.
The Hills has earned a formidable reputation for its intricate waterways, boasting 10 serene lakes and numerous reflective ponds. These aquatic features can prove to be quite the challenge for golfers whose shots stray off the straight and narrow. If you miss the fairways, the presence of native grasses and tufts of tussocks only adds to the golfing test.
Adding an extra layer of drama and spectacle to The Hills is a series of captivating sculptures crafted by talented Kiwi artists, thoughtfully placed throughout the course. A meticulously designed clubhouse, courtesy of the talented architect Andrew Patterson, and luxurious resort accommodations complete the package at The Hills, marking it in the list of best New Zealand golf courses.
This is just a glimpse of fantastic New Zealand golf courses. Whether you prefer a specific type of golf or are seeking unique apres-golf activities, this country has something for you to experience. You can easily plan an island-hopping golf adventure or choose one area and select from a wide array of courses and nearby attractions. Know any other golf courses in New Zealand that are worth playing, don’t hesitate to share us by commenting on the box below.