The First Spin Around Te Arai -
NZ's Latest Addition
For a for few years, Te Arai Links felt like a myth. Its ultra-exclusive and highly-acclaimed sister property, Tara Iti, had captured the imagination of the golfing world with its beauty, tranquillity and its natural wonder. This extraordinary stretch of coastline on New Zealand’s north island was no longer a secret among golfers in search of the next adventure.
Soon, murmurings and rumours began that not one but two more courses along the same meeting of land and sea might be on the way. It all felt too good to be true. But in 2019, came the announcement that golf development mogul Ric Kayne and right-hand man, Jim Rohrstaff were laying out plans and breaking ground on the new courses. Dreams, it seems, do come true.
With the same owners and occupying similar land as its sibling, Te Arai Links comes with different intentions. Te Arai Links is Kayne’s offering to the golfing public, with two courses spread along this stunning stretch of the east coast of the North Island. The South Course, a Coore & Crenshaw design, is already open with the Tom Doak-designed North Course set to open in October 2023. Receiving an invitation to test out the South Course only a week after its grand opening was one that was too good to pass up, and one that will be met with the same response for years to come, “Yes, please – just name the date.”
I arrived in the carpark at Te Arai Links and could hear a distant beat of music and the sound of laughter. It was time to enter The Playground; 18 flags dotted across the largest, the most undulating putting green you could ever draw up. It spread further than a football field, putts break 30 feet, and players scatter the course – cocktails in the left hand, putter in right. Children run rampant and partners look on from the terrace. Without even a glimpse of the golf course I immediately understood Te Arai Links, and it was abundantly clear that it understood New Zealand. A shorts, sandals and drinks vibe to a world-class golfing facility that had every right to be a black tie affair – but this was the Kiwi way.
At its core, Te Arai Links is a beach club disguised as a golf club, and landing at the doorstep of The Playground immediately upon arrival is no accident. An entrance like this immediately makes you feel at home, removing any of the stuffiness and preconceived notions of golf clubs. It stands as a refreshing reminder that places like this can be both fun and welcoming and the atmosphere takes absolutely nothing away from the golf course. In fact, it enhances it.
With Coore & Crenshaw at the wheel and Kayne and Rohrstaff at the helm, the undeniable beauty and greatness of the South Course will come as no surprise to anybody in the golfing world. Visually, the course is off the charts. Your eyes will meet the sea on no less than 16 holes, while dunes roll through the property, rippled fescue fairways are crisply framed by the white sand of the Te Arai coastline, and the remnants of pines meander across the links, their shadows draped over immaculate tees and greens.
Te Arai Links is a haven, a retreat, a soothing of the senses, and with the salty sea air kissing your skin so that dirty big slice followed by a missed three-footer feels abundantly less significant. The routing of the golf course is a masterclass. On the opening three holes, I didn’t see the water, but I felt the coast and heard the waves crashing down as I wound through the pine-lined fairways, up and over the most undulating land on site. Seaside serenity is delayed by soul-stirring greenery, and scenes of Pinehurst and Bandon Dunes spring to mind. This is the art of the tease, the building of anticipation adding an element of drama to the inevitable reveal. As I walked over the crest to the 4th tee, Te Arai shows itself – white sand, tight fescue and the endless Pacific stretching the horizon. Golfer’s nirvana, surfer’s paradise, nature’s playground.
From then on, Te Arai Links was a slow dance with the ocean. Some holes play so tight to the coast that crafting shots from the beach became my reality, whilst others had me admiring the sandy expanse from a distance – opportunities presented by elevated tees and tabletop greens. These 18 unique frames encapsulated New Zealand’s ruggedly pristine beauty.
The South course offers absolute playability whilst maintaining its strategic examination. Wide fairways offer large landing zones for tee shots and there are limited opportunities for lost balls, however, like any links course worth its salt, scoring opportunities are presented only to approaches from the correct side of the fairway.
The course’s main defences are the green complexes and their surroundings, making it firmly a second-shot course. Subtle land movements and jaw-dropping features combined to launch my ball off line and on countless occasions I found myself stymied by greenside mounding and drastic run-offs cut sharply to the edges of the greens. Green sites are wild, bold and exciting in both size and character, changes to the pin position on even the smallest greens would completely change the hole – a testament to Te Arai’s ‘play everyday’ value. This is a proper test of links golf – embracing and massaging the land yielded the best results, whilst brute force landed me nowhere but in trouble. Te Arai Links is kind, forgiving and playable to all but the greedy – a lesson it took me too long to figure out!
Te Arai Links’ collection of par-3s will rival any in the world, and perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the course. None play longer than 155 meters or less than 110, yet they on this day they all demanded a different club, shot shape and tactic to get the ball close. The greens were all completely different and the wind hit the ball at different angles. They did however all have two things in common; visually they were sensational, and they were all incredibly fun shots to hit. All I wanted to do was grab another ball and tee it up again.
The course isn’t laid out to beat you up with length or unplayable hazards, but soothe you with its surroundings and challenge you to be creative, and thinking outside the box in your approach. Every single hole offered something I loved – something visual, something physical or something thought-provoking which stirred my soul and will play on my mind for weeks to come.
There are shots that I would give anything to hit again – just for the rush – and walks that I want to take again – just for the thrill. The walk off the 18th green was a strange sensation, I didn’t feel beaten up, but re-energised. This is the magic of Te Arai Links: exceptionally enjoyable, world-class golf with and sumptuous views: it’s a bona fide showstopper of a course.
Capturing the essence of Kiwi culture in an elite golf property is a daunting task to say the least, but Te Arai and The Playground, with its relaxed beachy vibe has hit it out of the park. As I prepared to leave Te Arai Links, I was asked which had been my favourite place on the course. There was only one response that crossed my mind. With 18 holes of magic in front of you, it had to be 1st tee, and it always would be.