By Hal Phillips

The highly-anticipated South Course at Te Arai (New Zealand) Links has opened. The Coore & Crenshaw Course is only one hour hour north of Auckland, lays a foundation for what developers envision as “a 17-mile Drive for the Southern Hemisphere.”

The South Course at Te Arai Links occupies some of the finest linksland ever identified. The routing plays largely out and back, in the traditional links style, amid the dunes just south of its sister course, the private Tara Iti Golf Club.

The North Course at Te Arai Links — laid out by architect Tom Doak, who also designed Tara Iti GC — is scheduled to open in October of this year. Te Arai Links are taking reservations for both courses and their bespoke accommodations.

“We invite the Monterey Peninsula comparison because we believe it’s apt,” said Jim Rohrstaff, a partner in Te Arai Links and its managing director.

With partner Ric Kayne, Rohrstaff was also part of the development team at Tara Iti.

“Our good friend (Bandon Dunes developer) Mike Keiser believes the South Course has as much ocean frontage as any golf course in the world. It’s that connectivity with the sea that distinguishes the South Course from most links experiences, from the golf experience in Monterey, even from Tara Iti just up the shoreline.

“On the South Course, the beach is just so close. There’s the visual sensation of actually seeing the waves crashing. But golfers can also hear them crashing on more than half the holes.”

Coore & Crenshaw had been charged with delivering a layout that is strategic but wide and playable, where angles and position matter as much as having fun.

“Bill [Coore] and Ben [Crenshaw] did an incredible job of maximizing this long stretch of shoreline. The connection with the sea is so intimate,” Rohrstaff said. “Yet they did equally well creating a world-class golf course where people never feel kicked in the teeth, even in a 2-club wind. Ultimately, the speed and firmness will prove the real test out there. Right now, it’s as playable and ‘gettable’ as it will ever be. Three years from now? Different story.”

The South Course was created alongside a collection of facilities custom-curated for Te Arai Links’ distinctive mix of resort guests and members. Off course, the focal point is a 2.5-acre putting green – one of the largest in the world – named The Playground, which wraps around Ric’s (the pizza barn) and sits adjacent to The South Clubhouse and The Range, a practice facility featuring six template greens modeled on classic course architecture from around the world.

A short walk from this casual golfing agora, nestled amongst the dunes and pines, are 48 Suites (twin queen and king configuration). An additional 19 Cottages (2-bedroom set-up) and 6 Villas (4-bedroom) are scheduled for completion in the coming months.

 Studio John Irving Architects designed most of the buildings at Te Arai, with interiors from Jenni Kayne. The North Clubhouse, Ocean Restaurant, North Halfway House, Spa and Fitness Center and Members-Only Bunker Bar will all be completed in the next 18 months. 

In addition to golf on the North and South courses, resort offerings will include surfing, horseback riding, local hikes and fishing.

“The Playground sets the tone at Te Arai Links,” Rohrstaff said. “It sits right in the middle of everything: the arrival area, the clubhouse and restaurants, the suites. It’s the kind of relaxed, welcoming, communal place you frankly don’t see at many golf resorts.’’

When the North Course opens, member and resort golfers will toggle between the two 18-hole layouts depending on the day of the week. Only a resort club with two tracks of equal quality could manage this sort of arrangement.

“Our course really does give the player that rare and lovely feeling that you are right there next to the sea – a little higher than the beach itself,” said Bill Coore, whose firm is responsible for a dozen world top 100 designs. 

Coore is prepared to set the South Course at Te Arai Links favorably beside any of that work, though none of those layouts feature so many holes in such intimate proximity to the Pacific Ocean. And don’t ask him to pick favorites.

“We’ve always struggled when people ask, What’s the signature hole? To us, that means one is so much better than the others,” Coore said. “That question also requires that I be 100 percent objective, and I can’t do that either. Not at Te Arai Links. This is going to sound like diplomatic jargon, but in my own mind — being as critical and objective as I can be — there aren’t 2-3 ‘wow’ holes at Te Arai Links that are so much better than the others. There just aren’t.’’

Like most Coore & Crenshaw designs, the South Course at Te Arai Links is a product of its unique environment. Yet that assessment goes beyond matters of terrain: Coore admits that it’s impossible to ignore the presence of so highly regarded a course as Tara Iti just up the beach – to say nothing of the adjoining North Course coming on line later this year.

Equally difficult to ignore: the fact that Doak designed each of them.

“I think there’s a huge appeal in having Doak next door, for me personally and I think Ben would agree,” Coore said. “We had that opportunity at Streamsong, Barnbougle and Bandon, of course. So this has happened before. In each instance, it’s been a huge honor. Of course, there is a little good-natured competitiveness, too. You don’t want to build a course that’s not up to par with others in the complex.”

Isolated by nearly two years of quarantine, New Zealand now enjoys pent-up tourism demand, especially from North America. The airlines have responded with direct flights to Auckland — not only from Los Angeles and San Francisco but also from Chicago, New York, Dallas and Houston. 

“It is so much easier to visit New Zealand from North America today,” says the American-born Rohrstaff, a New Zealand resident since 2014. “One direct flight and you’re here, with very little jet lag  –  unlike Europe. I recently dropped some pins and was pleased, but not surprised, to see that Te Arai Links is basically the same distance between Equator and pole as Big Sur. That’s instructive: The climate here at Te Arai, north of Auckland, is very much like Coastal California, without the heavy damp fog.

“What’s more, the North American snowbird model doesn’t quite fit here: Summer in Winter is more accurate and helpful. From December through February, we enjoy summer temps in the high ’70s — and play golf until 9 p.m.”

Hal Phillips is a frequent contributor to www.spikeongolfandtravel

Photo Courtesy of Mandarin Media

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