Does New Zealand have a new No 1?
The Cut Golf visited Te Arai Links last December to play the recently opened Coore-Crenshaw South Course. Our small group of three that had visited Te Arai went on to play Tara Iti the next day. Tara Iti is New Zealand’s current No.1 rated course.
These two experiences naturally provoked debate on comparison of the two courses. A member our party is on Golf Digest’s Course rating panel, and after playing Tara Iti he steadfastly maintained the course had retained its number one ranking, another member of our party rated the two courses first equal, and I promoted Te Arai to my personal No.1 ranking.
It was clearly too close for our group to agree on a clear winner. With the Tom Doak North Course ready for play by October this year, the final rankings of each course in this cluster of three magical golf layouts will be intriguing. One thing is clear - New Zealand will shortly be able to boast two additional world-class golf courses.
The other great news is that Te Arai is more accessible to New Zealand golfers than many may imagine. It is expensive, but most Kiwi golfers will regard a visit to Te Arai as a “special occasion” golf course or possibly the experience of a golfing lifetime.
Bill Coore - ‘’Ben Crenshaw and I have sought sand-based sites where the land more than the designers determine the design and character of the course.
Te Arai’s heaving sand ridges and meandering valleys to rumpled contours are reminiscent of the classic seaside links on which the game began.”
I paid a 2020 visit to Bandon Dunes in Oregon, and then in late 2021 visited Barnbougle in Tasmania. These two iconic golf resorts share designers and other similarities with Te Arai. The underlying strategy of all three resorts is to encourage golfers to stay for 3 or 4 days and play on each of the resort’s courses. Bandon and Barnbougle also provide shorter par-3 courses - often to be played late in the day with a beer in hand, once the serious business of tackling an 18-hole championship course in the morning has been completed.
On arrival at Te Arai we parked our four-wheel-drive rental outside the clubhouse at and were surprised not to be surrounded by luxury German autos. There were plenty of standard Kiwi sedans in the car park. Our fellow players looked like average club members drawn from a range of golf clubs. Some unloaded their own pull carts for the round while others clearly planned to engage the services of one of the local caddies. (More on the caddies later)
Jim Rohrstaff, the managing partner of Te Arai Links, explains where he sees Te Arai’s positioning in the New Zealand and international markets –
‘’most of our play would be local at present - New Zealanders. But we are now getting a lot of inbound enquiries from Australia and the US. We have also been thrilled with the members who have joined the club, bearing in mind that this may be a second or third club for some of them’’.
We chatted about the role of caddies at Te Arai. Caddies are not compulsory with Jim commenting -
‘’We see some groups of Kiwis that are clearly not used to using a caddie. However, a group of four may decide to share a forecaddie between them. The forecaddie gives them a general guide on each of the holes and shows them where to play. When you break one caddie fee of $225 down between four it is not that much - just a burger and a couple of beers’’.
Our group did take three caddies who were young, low handicap Waikato golfers and were exceptionally friendly and helpful. They were unobtrusive and would only provide us with specific clubbing advice when requested. Their accurate and helpful tactical advice was delivered to us in the nicest possible way.
At Bandon Dunes and Barnbougle we had observed groups of mainly male golfers playing and staying – with all that goes with “boys’ trips’’ - lots of beers and noisy laughter in a pub like atmosphere at the resorts’ hospitality outlets. The two resorts provide comfortable accommodation in a 3-to-4-star range, each catering to their own markets.
Te Arai operates at a different level. Jim believes Te Arai “matches the experience anywhere in the world. We see ourselves being compared with Pebble Beach and Spyglass. The way we build the buildings and finish the interiors I would say Te Arai is quite different from both Barnbougle and Bandon - these courses cater for a 90% male target market. We probably sit at around at 60% of male golfers. Our style is understated and elegant but also approachable. We are not uptight and not pretentious.’’
‘’We are on one of the most spectacular locations in New Zealand. It is a beautiful destination - whether you play golf or not. More men than women play golf, we get that - but women are also the fastest-growing market in the game. We are also building something that says you do not have to play golf to enjoy this place - we will have a beautiful spa, and a wonderful wellness and fitness centre ’’.
Jenny Kane of Los Angeles has designed the interiors of the suites (43m2) and the two-bedroom cottages (140m2). –
“She has hit every single detail brilliantly. It all speaks to a great luxury experience not just a golf experience. The main attraction here is golf - we are building two world-class golf courses - but if you are a non-golfer, you can have a wonderful time here at the beach where you can also take private surf lessons. We have great mountain biking trails - it’s an all-inclusive place’’.
The room rates fluctuate throughout the calendar year for both New Zealand and international guests. Jim highlights that the suites are an entry level product, and the aim was to maintain a price point well under $1000 per night.
“The room rate sits at $800 per night in peak season but drops to as low as $500 in the low season, a product that we believe will appeal to New Zealanders and Aussies. We are perfect for that special occasion - for Kiwis, the absolute peak season rate is $800 so a couple could come for two nights and play two rounds of golf each for a total of around $3200.”
The golf rates for New Zealanders vary from a low of $250 per round to a high of $400 per round, depending on the month. International golf rates vary from a low of $350 to a high of $600 in peak season, so Kiwis do enjoy a substantial discount at Te Arai. Golfers planning that dream trip to Scotland for instance, will realise just what excellent value Te Arai represents in comparison to rates of over $800 per round that they may encounter at Scotland’s top courses.
Dining at Te Arai at present is confined to Ric’s Pizza Barn, but a casual water view restaurant will shortly be added. Ric’s is situated next to what is promoted as the World’s Largest Putting Green – another great after match diversion.
Now to the course itself, we were fortunate to have Te Arai’s Marketing Director Grace Rokela make up our four on our first outing around this exceptional, very playable golf course. We played the Back Tees at 5881 m. (6432 yards) It is very much a links golf experience and a relatively easy walk.
The sound of the waves crashing in was ever-present during our round and we were constantly presented with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, the Hen and Chicken and Little Barrier Islands. The first three holes rise inland with the fourth returning downhill to the sea. After the intriguing par 3 fifth comes an absolute beachfront run of four great holes to the ninth green.
The course finishes strongly with the evil, but tempting short par four 14th, another tight drive on the par 4 16th, followed by the short par 3 17th hole. My personal favourite was the par 5 18th where the golfer is presented with the temptation of playing left on the second shot to try to get close to the final green in two. Fortunately, my caddie guided me well away from the largely concealed, cavernous bunker and wasteland on the left of the fairway by the green to a far safer pitch from the right side of the final green.
At Te Arai it is first class all the way from your arrival in the carpark through to the 18th green - and then on to Ric’s for a beer and pizza.
Grace Rokela – Living the Dream
Grace was born in New Zealand and raised in Naples Florida. She played College golf in the United States for Savannah College of Art and Design. She held the position of marketing and brand manager at Golf New Zealand before being offered the opportunity to be part of the legacy project that Jim Rohrstaff and Ric Kayne have created at Te Arai. She shares her thoughts (and a favourite hole) with the Cut Golf.
‘’Jim has a vision of greatness for Te Arai - from the quality of the facilities to the level of the service. Not only is Te Arai Links the best in New Zealand, but it will also soon be at the top of the best Golf Resorts in the World.
Picking my favourite hole is near impossible for me. However, walking off the 11th green to the tee box of the 12th you get the first glimpse of the 17th green on your right - throwing your mind all over the place and wondering what that hole is……
When reaching the tee box of the 17th is too easy to get distracted by the waves crashing on the coastline - which stretches all the way to Pakari. My advice on the 17th par 3, playing anywhere from 94 to 119 yards, is to focus on the wind direction and commit to the swing. Do not try to get too fancy with your shot! Last week I played the 17th at 7:30 p.m. with cotton candy skies and the waves crashing in, pitching wedge in hand.
This hole will become one of the most photographed in golf in the next few years. “