Exclusive, Isolated Excellence
The Round Up
Location: Te Arai, Northland
Green Fees: $450 (Member Guest Rate)
Kiwi Caddy’s First Tee Advice: Long-Iron down the middle is the play
The Takeaways: Perfect Conditioning, Incredible Coastal Views, Eighteen unique and engaging holes, Wild Green Complexes, Rolling terrain
The 3rd hole is a par 4 dogleg left, with an approach from the left side blinded by a towering dune to a punchbowl green
The par 4 6th is the hole playing closest to the Te Arai Coastline. The rippling fairway guides you to the green overlooking the sea.
The 17th is a short par 3 playing straight towards the sea. The tabletop green has an island feel to it, surrounded by sand.
Tara Iti owns real estate in the heads of golfers in New Zealand and all over the world. To most it feels like a world away, given its exclusivity and highly limited access to outsiders. In a country of pretty much exclusively public golf courses, Tara Iti is a strange concept. A club with only 50 Kiwi members, without public access unless they stay on site (At a VERY premium price) or happen to get invited by a member (Good luck). From the outside it looks pretentious and unnecessary, but after a day out there, I get it.
The road which paves the way to Tara Iti is distinctly Kiwi. Traditional winding gravel roads in the middle of nowhere eventually lead you to a non-discrete wooden gate. Ten minutes of paved roads sliding through the skeletal remains of pre-existing forestry thins out to the holy grail of golf in New Zealand. Exiting the car on arrival is an experience in itself, met by a party of 5 – Caddies (Mandatory for all guests) to take your bags and a valet to whisk your car away to the carpark.
The clubhouse is quaint and classy, without being over the top. A fire burns and a barrister is at the ready to take your order for a pre-round brew. It’s from here that you get your first glance of the course. Slithers of tight, perfectly manicured fescue cut through the sandy wasteland, its lumps, bumps and hollows presented in all their glory – the perfect collision. Straight away, Tara Iti presents itself as something special.
Something that struck me immediately was the dress code, or lack thereof. My host made it clear that he enquired upon joining and was told he would be allowed to play without shoes if he so desired. This was a country club disguised as a beach club, and I rated it. The only rule is their strict ‘no dickheads policy’, which my caddie assured me had worked perfectly from the outset. It’s relaxed, but I was still sure I checked with my caddie that I was allowed to piss on that sand dune – just in case!
Much has been made of the golf course, with Golf Digest ranking it as high as second in the world from the outset. Despite this, my expectations playing the course were completely blown out of the water. From afar, the course really doesn’t look like it has too much going on. Although undulating, the land looks relatively flat, hazards don’t look very punishing and the course looks to play fairly in front of you. This is the magic of Tom Doak’s Tara Iti.
Across the layout, I can’t think of a hole that was weak or needed changing. There was ample variety to ensure holes didn’t melt into each other, and each presented a different test and was a standalone, individual journey.
Tara Iti forces you to think about your club selection on pretty much every tee. I found myself with two or three clubs in my hand a number of times which speaks to the layout of the holes, as well as the intensive risk-reward balance. The fairways are generous in size, and in general the course is forgiving to all but the greedy.
The tight fescue fairways are sand-based and linksy in nature. Navigating your ball through the ripples and contours is one of the game’s great pleasures and no matter how straight the shot in the air, you don’t dare pick up your tee early.
The greens and their surroundings are quite incredible. With huge variety in their size and structure, and some steep run-offs around them, crafting approach shots and trying to read putts is intensely engaging and enjoyable. The number of fun shots that can be attempted is unmatched and in traditional links-style, there are a thousand different ways to get yourself onto the putting surface and often along the ground is the best rewarded method.
Doak’s trickery is prevalent throughout the course. Greens melt into the surrounding sandy wasteland, acting as punishing catchment areas for balls ever so slightly off line – the only feature of the golf course hazard-like in nature. Targets appear smaller than they truly are, blind shots yield wide fairways, and infinity greens appear to have flags placed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When the ocean becomes not just a backdrop but a perceived hazard, the approach shot becomes slightly more daunting! This is an element of the course which you will never see from the outside, and it feels like a course that the more times you play it, the more obvious his genius becomes.
I say all of this without even mentioning the surroundings which rival any course in the world. The coastline of Te Arai is perfectly white, sandy and isolated, providing a sense of place for those lucky enough to play the course. The course is routed in a way that tees and greens present equal opportunities to take in the sumptuous sea views, reaching a crescendo on the par 3 17th. My favourite hole on the course plays straight out towards the water to a tabletop green surrounded by sand. Standing on the tee you realise how lucky you are to be here, and just how special this part of the world truly is.
To play Tara Iti is to experience the game in its most elite form, and the experience is one that should never be passed up. The course finds away to be strategically brilliant in subtle ways, whilst providing a real time exhibit for one of New Zealand’s most pristine and isolated coastlines.
Having a bad day out here is impossible, no matter how bad the golf is. With its off course offerings, relaxed environment, and world-beating views, it kind of makes sense that they don’t want to share it with too many people. But shit I wish they would!
Booking a Tee Time
Tara Iti is a member's club at its core, however they do offer a couple of avenues to getting a tee time. Firstly, if you know a member then you may play as their guest up to six times per year. Secondly, they have a 'one-time experience' where with a letter of recommendation from your club, you are able to stay in a member's cottage for as long as you like and play as much golf as you like. However, as the name suggests, you can only do this once in your lifetime. It also comes at a serious financial cost!
Where to Stay
Staying on site would be the elite option, and an absolute treat, however for the budget conscious the beach town of Mangawhai, 15 minutes North, is the obvious option. A popular Summer holiday destination, the beaches are pristine and there is enough to do in the area to keep you busy. There are a few motel options as well as plenty of beach home rentals available. If you're coming in the Summer months, be sure to book early!
Best Golf Within 45 Minutes:
Northland is a booming region for golf at the moment, with a number of great options on the table:
- Te Arai Links
- Mangawhai Golf Club
- Waipu Golf Club
What to do in the Area
- Walk the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway
- Get to the gorgeous Mangawhai Heads Beach