Friday, March 26, 2010

Mahia Beach Golf Club, Mahia, NZ

I have a day off from work, where should I go play golf? This question usually dictates most of my free days. The next step is then to open up google maps and survey a region of New Zealand which I have not yet explored, Mahia. Laying directly across the Hawkes Bay, the mountainous penninsula of Mahia can be seen on clear days while standing on the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers. Since I usually look for golf courses as close to a body of water as possible the nine hole Mahia Beach Golf Club was easy to find. Only a small road accessing the penninsula separates the golf course from the bay.

Laying in low sand dunes the golf course crawls through narrow sandy passages on the first 3 holes and then navigates its way through a few marshy patches. The 8th hole is sandwiched between a large stand of pines and dunes, while the 9th, the most dramatic hole on the course opens up to a large field with its green sitting atop an interesting complex of natural mounds, lovingly named The Cleavage.

For a links course the turf conditions were a bit dissapointing as the ground was covered in a spongy and gnarly thatch of kikuyu grass. The result of maintaining sucha a turf was that the ball did not bounce and run as I expected in the wonderful setting of these dunes. For a country course owned, operated, and maintained by its 70 members the Mahia Beach Golf Club is a delightful place to find golfing comraderie.

I had the pleasure to have a few drinks with some of the members of this small club on a sunday evening after their regular game. We sat in the upstairs room of their club facing the panorama of Mahia Beach, sharing stories and singing songs. A wonderful group of golfers they were and most welcoming to their guest from NYC.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

57 Holes at Cape Kidnappers and Shultze's Quest for the Top 100

I just caddied for Bill Schultz, a fellow GCA'er, at Cape Kidnappers this week. It was course #93 on Bill's quest to 100. Although dedicated and passionate about golf, anyone who would embark on such a mission must be a truely sick individual (he is a good man nonetheless, Bill brought his family to NZ to share in his journey). While caddying I thoroughly enjoyed the non-stop banter about the merits of one hole to the next and many other thoughts about the game.

Our first 36 holes flew by, and we were subject to two different wind directions in the same day, a real treat for someone who really enjoyed the golf course. The next day included a 3 hole warm-up followed by some circumnavigating through the fescue back to the first tee for the real 18. I dutifully waited on the first green as I watched Bill hustle back to the tee. In my time as a caddy I have met a lot of people and seen a lot of things but Bill is clearly an all-timer. I have a lot of love and sympathy in my heart for golfers like Bill mainly because I see a little piece of myself in his love for the game and its playing grounds.

Kudos to Bill and any others on their way to the Top 100!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mr. Robertson's Caddy Dinner

Dining with Mr. Roberston in the wine cellar of the Cape Kidnappers lodge will be one meal I will never forget. Julian, as he prefers to be called, sat at the head of the long oak table surrounded by six of his finest caddies and three golf professionals. The five course meal lived up to the incredible setting of our dining room as we were served by five different attendants who never let our wine glasses even approach half empty. I should also mention that we were all dressed in our best clothes and were donning our finest dinner jackets (provided by the lodge). The setting was quite formal but the conversation was not. Julian likes to crack jokes and ask about our social lives while living in Napier. He is highly opinionated and open to a good argument, although no one really took on the challenge, myself included (this took all of my restraint).

My big question of the evening asked how each of the architects for Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers were chosen. I asked how he came to each decision and what he learned from his first project at Kauri Cliffs. Apparently Julian was very impressed with David Harmon's work at Orange County National, outside of Orlando, FL. Harmon served as architect and contractor, this was highly appealing as a business proposition. I have played both of Harmon's courses in Orlando and enjoyed my golf there.

As for Cape Kidnappers, Tom Doak was selected almost by chance. Scheduled to play his first 36 holes at the Bandon Dunes golf course in 2000, Julians plans were altered as he was denied his wish to play 36 at Bandon. The newly successul resort offered to let him first play the brand new Pacific Dunes golf course, designed by Tom Doak. It was love at first sight, Julian recalled. Perhaps if he had played Bandon Dunes first, Cape Kidnappers might be a David Kidd design....

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kinloch, A Jack Nicklaus Experience

There was much anticipation leading up to my first round of golf on a Jack Nicklaus golf course. Although Jack's courses can draw lots of critiscm from the "art in architecture" crowd, many of the Nicklaus designs are deserving of their credit. I was hoping Kinloch would live up to the Nicklaus brand name.

Kinloch impressed me in many ways. The fairways are seemlessly crumpled, there are vast and beautiful meadows between holes, and the fescue fairways added to the visual impression of a links layout. The par fives offered mulitple lines of attack and the par fours were creative and unique. The majority of the one shot holes however do not provide an open run to the green. In fact most of the approaches force the average golfer at Kinloch to flounder along the shores of the greens among the many sentinal bunkers.
The general reasoning behind my criticsm is that Kinloch asks the average golfer far too much on and around the greens. The waving contours seemed to transition too steeply from one pin location to the next. I was warned of the target style greens characteristic of many Nicklaus courses, Kinloch is no different. There is certainly some controversy that can be stirred on the greens at Kinloch but this is old news in the architecture community.
I do not enjoy being critical of any golf course, especially one as fun and adventurous as this. While the aura of the links is clearly evident on the practice tee Kinloch quickly shows its true colors as a target first golf course. Kinloch is a must play in New Zealand and will test your mettle should you be looking for a challenge.