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Nick Knowles and Rhodri Williams went to New Zealand recently and all they bought us was this lousy article. And a really nice t-shirt. Or should that be the other way around?
Posted Sep 12, 2008 by Rhodri Williams
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NICK ‘OK guys, put your lifejackets on, strap yourselves in and I’ll fire up the jets’ said the bloke called Steve with a manic grin on his face. Only he didn’t say jets, he said ‘jits’ cos this is New Zealand and we were off to play golf on the ninth most beautiful course in the world.
RHOD We did have a choice, mind. Either a forty minute drive around Lake Wakatangi out of Queenstown via the airport and out along the headland that is the golf course, or - and this is where it all gets interesting - a ten minute blast across the flat waters in a turbo nutter bastard jet boat powered by two enormous Maserati marine engines.
NICK Steve enjoys his work and flat spun the boat twice a full 360 degrees on the way over. He was almost as mad as Choppy – we’ll get to her in a moment – and he made me, Rhod and our chef mate Charlie and his mate Kaleb slightly green. Now Charlie and Kaleb deserve it – they’re Kiwis but I’m not sure Steve understood that we were from the Mother country and should be treated accordingly. I explain this to him and he 360’d it again – oops there goes my savoury muffin – not off the seat – but out of the pits of my stomach.
NICK We disembarked the jet boat and made our way on foot up a meandering road without a green or fairway in sight. Just as we were wondering whether we’d been sold a kipper, suddenly one of the most picturesque courses I had ever seen appeared. Kelvin Heights Golf Club is 6,103 metres off the back tees and every single hole gives you a jaw-dropping view of the lake and the Remarkables (a mountain range, not an ill-conceived Pixar animation sequel). With this sort of scenery we all had a very good excuse for our head up, topped shots. How the hell are you meant to keep your head down with that sort of scenery. There were a few ‘Sally Gunnell’ shots that day and if I ever play that course again I’ll be sure to wear blinkers so I’m not distracted by the incredible views.
The match was simply Charlie and Kaleb, the Kiwis, versus Nick and Rhod the Brits. We wiped the floor with them on the front nine…
NICK It all turned liquid brown. Now the scenery is magnificent and distracting, and we had all suffered the extreme hospitality of Queenstown the night before (we highly recommend the wine by the Saint Clair Vinyard in Malborough region of New Zealand) but only Rhod lost the plot. If golf was intelligence he went from Albert Einstein to Jade Goody somewhere between the eighth and the ninth. I should point out at this stage that one of the strange things about the course is that you play the first eight before hitting the clubhouse for refreshments and then comes the back ten. A large bacon and egg sarnie and a pint turned the whole contest around with the result that Great Britain lost to New Zealand by one point on the last hole having been nine up at the eighth. Rhod was inconsolable – well almost.
RHOD Nick has this mate – Choppy. Now you haqve to worry about any woman who’s happy to go through life with the name Choppy, but when you find out she’s a helicopter pilot and runs a company called ‘Over the Top’ it all makes sense. For the small matter of NZ$1200 dollars you can take advantage of their special outing called ‘Drive a Mile Flight’ and take advantage we did. Hop in her brand new B4 eight seater chopper and she’ll whisk you a mile up above the lake and Queenstown to a ledge. A ledge big enough to land a helicopter, set out a picnic and when you are replete allow you to fire off Bio-degradable golf balls off a small piece of grass and a tee. The great thing is you a practically guaranteed that your drive will be in the air a mile before hitting the bottom of the slope one mile below or if you’re Tiger Woods, the lake. I say practically guaranteed because Nick won the shortest drive of the day when he failed to make it the three feet to the edge of the ledge.
NICK Now hang on a moment. That was my second drive. My first I had attempted and succeeded while standing two feet from the edge. However, I very nearly filled my trousers when I lost balance on the follow through and almost had the full one mile drop experience by following the ball over. I tell you I nearly followed through right there and then. So I retreated back from the edge and was still a little clenched when, yes, I barely made contact and the ball trickled a few inches before hitting a loose rock and rolling back towards me. There was no Ladies Tee in sight therefore I walked back to the helicopter with the appropriate appendage dangling.
By the way the balls are amazing. Built to an old recipe from a woman a hundred years ago who made rock cakes that were in fact preferred to rocks in local scuffles due to their durability – the recipe has now been altered and reshaped golf ball wise with amazing effect – they will according to scientists, biodegrade in only forty years, only twice the time they remain in the gut if eaten as rock cakes. (The original rock shaped ones are still used in Maori ceremonies as weapons).
RHOD God he talks some shit. Can you imagine two weeks with him – but the drive a mile trip in Queenstown is every crazy golfer’s dream. Do it.
NICK Tell them about your screw on feet
RHOD Ah yes! Well our golfing trip started rather strangely. When we arrived in Auckland, despite being the middle of the summer, it was pelting with rain. No sun for two days, all very strange. Undettered we booked into Gulf Harbour where they play the New Zealand Open on the third day of our visit and filled our time looking at the real life mermaids. Oh yes they really do have Mermaids in Auckland.
NICK And Wellington – I met one along Oriental Bay.
RHOD Actually he’s telling the truth. Anyway, day three arrived and we headed 45 minutes north of Auckland to the course, which is beautiful although the weather was a little overcast. By the way this was a Sunday and we were allowed to play the New Zealand Open course. Can you imagine that happening back in the UK – Not bloody likely.
NICK Then the Sun came out. One Big Orange fiery Ball – had no bloody ideas what it was at first it had been so long since I’d seen it in the UK.
RHOD I’m doing this bit. So we play the course which is truly lovely, scenic for the best part and the greens were as true as … as…
NICK As me meeting a mermaid
RHOD Well two actually but yup, that’s true – but we get fried. I mean truly zapped. It’s all to do with an ozone hole apparently but let me tell you – factor up when you go there – we were peeling sheets of skin off for the next ten days. The burn time is 11 minutes. It’s not the place to oil up with Hawaiian Tropic and lie in the sun for a couple of hours.
NICK Screw on Feet!
RHOD Oh yes. We were wearing shorts and short socks so we had perfect ankle lines, so one of the mermaids that Nick met (still not making this up by the way, ask anyone in Auckland or Wellington) suddenly says ‘Why the lines, do you have detachable snap on feet?
NICK And Rhod said yes, these are my paddling feet, I’ll be putting my jogging feet on later and my dancing feet after that.
RHOD Is there any golf in your account?
NICK I’ll shut up – you tell them about the course
RHOD Gulf Harbour Country Club is where they held the last New Zealand Open. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, arguably the worlds finest designer of classic golf courses. It is set against the spectacular backdrop of the Hauraki Gulf. At 6,419 yards off the back tees it really provides a stiff challenge.
The real estate built around the course is a little bizarre or maybe I should say eclectic. There’s no real uniformity to it and it doesn’t give off an exclusive vibe
NICK Which is no bad thing; remember that we played here on a Sunday afternoon – prime time for a golf course but we were made to feel very welcome. It’s not until the 11th hole do you start getting any view of the beautiful gulf this course overlooks. But then you can enjoy breathtaking views all the way up to the 17th.
RHODRI The hole we enjoyed most of all and is indeed often shown in literature on the course is the 12th. At 309 metres off the back tees and massively elevated you have to give it the full sausage and try and drive the green. I gave it a right blast with my Taylor made R570 and landed just on the edge of the green – Tidy!
NICK To complete our golf extravaganza we headed 4 hours North of Auckland by car to Kauri Cliffs at Matauri Bay, Northland in The Bay Of Islands area. If you fancy and you have £400 to spare you can fly by helicopter from Auckland and that takes only an hour. And when you get to Kauri Cliffs you will have wished you’d arrived by helicopter. A winner of numerous awards including the Best New International Golf Course 2001 by Golf Digest.
RHOD This resort is the brainchild of American Businessman Julian Robertson who once managed a $30 billion hedge fund. With a lot of money in the account what better way to spend it than build a dream golf course. Robertson commissioned David Harman of Golf Course Consultants Florida to design and build the course. Harman, who has worked on more than 200 courses world wide with the Arnold Palmer's design company, has done a superb job.
RHOD I can honestly say that it’s the greatest and most beautiful course I’ve ever played and I’ve been bloody lucky to play wonderful courses all over the world. Kauri Cliffs has 15 holes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, six of which are played alongside cliffs, which plunge to the sea.
NICK Is that the cliffs or your ball that plunges into the sea?
RHOD Ok there were a couple wayward Pro VI’s that are now part of the marvellous diving scene in the area.
NICK Away from the sea the beautiful inland holes wind through marsh, forest and farmland.
RHOD Anyway I played quite well scoring 30 points playing off twelve handicap. I’m pleased to say I beat Nick
NICK Yeah, but surely I get the award for the most accurate driving.
RHOD Yes that really surprised me. I thought being so close to the sea you would have been putting your ball in the water on purpose to go looking for more mermaids.
NICK Nice try but you know they only live in Wellington and Auckland.