What It's Like To Play An Amazing Golf Course At The Bottom Of The World

Kiwi Golf

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – With one golf course for every 10 thousand or so people, New Zealand has the second-most golf courses per capita of any country in the world.

Only Scotland has more – and its people invented the game.

This past Saturday, I played one of the country’s most beautiful courses – Gulf Harbour Country Club, which is stitched to a rocky peninsula 30 minutes outside of Auckland.

I didn’t keep my scorecord, but I’m confident I turned in something below 200.

You might think this traumatized me, but as a second year golfer trying to break 100 on flat, wide-open tracks in New York, it felt like a tremendous feat.

Saturday’s wind is why.

Blowing 40 knots, it would take my drives – even the infrequent, straight ones – and run them high into the sky, halt their forward progress, and then fire them in a sudden shooting arc to the right, the left, or anywhere but the fairway.

And then, my ball was never still on the greens. Even as I watched others putt, it would just sit there and quiver in the wind.

In the end, however, the horrific wind was a blessing.

Usually, I start my rounds with a charge – a run of pars and bogeys – only to inevtiably melt down toward the end of the front nine.  It always crushes me with disappointed expectations. Then it takes me a couple holes to get my spirits back up enough to appreciate the outdoors and the simple good fortune of being able to whack a ball around for fun.

On Saturday, the wind beat all hope out of me by tee shot number two.

So, basically, I had all day to appreciate the course.

And what a course it was.

Welcome to the New Zealand, 13 hours from San Francisco

Gulf Harbour Country Club is outside of Auckland, NZ's most populated city with 1.5 million people

Gulf Harbour Country Club hosted the 1998 World Cup of Golf

It's a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design.

Hole 1 was a standard straight ahead opener.

Here's the view looking back on it from the second tee

Hole 2 is where my spirits were crushed early. I launched a straight, high drive. It ran up the wind like an elevator and then disappeared.

Andy Hamilton is the CEO of a startup incubator in Auckland called Icehouse. Like many Kiwis, he's been playing golf since he was a kid.

Hole three was an easy-enough par three. I think I managed double.

Hole 4 acquainted me with Gulf Harbour's fescue grasses. See the two trees on the right side of the fairway? I did. Up close.

A view from the tee of the fourth hole. Out beyond the path on the right lies the ocean.

Hole 5 featured a raised green with bunkers along the front sides

Here's a view of the fifth hole's fairway

Hole 6 was long and straight – and very muddy. Carts stayed on the path after night before rain.

It's winter down here right now, so you can see the moon in the middle of the afternoon. This is from the 6th hole's fairway.

Strange fowl in these parts.

Hole 7 was a very short, ~260 yard par 4. Andy drove the green. I drove well past the ladies tees.

I chipped on from directly under that tree near the green on hole 8.

Here's the view from that green, where Andy is standing with Robbie Paul, an American project manager who works for him

On hole 9, I hit my second shot from just off the fairway to 20 yards in front of the green. Let's not get into what happened next.

The view from the teebox

Before hole 10, mapped here, we stopped for some meat pies at the club house

The back nine is where the view started to get really stunning

Hole 11 was a long par 5. The mouse is pointed where Andy is standing in the next picture…

Those amazing trees made me feel like there were dinosaurs around

Here's the view from the teebox.

Hole 12 was the first where the ocean totally dominated the view


My drive landed in this stuff

This sign, just off the back of the green, was posted for me

Hole 13 was a 140 yard par 3. It was easy to reach the green, impossible to stay on it

Big angry seabirds guarded the grasses along the right side of hole 14's fairway

Here's the view from the teebox.

Here's the green. Look at how bent the flag stick is.

We made a quick escape

Hole 15 was a short par 3. Andy tagged the green, but the wind blew his ball off it. That's why I aimed for the sand.

Can you see the rainbow?

Here's me after a quick up-and-up-and-GET-UP-ALREADY!-and-around-and-down out of the sand

Hole 16: the signature hole.

Despite the stunning and intimidating view, I actually reached this fairway. And it only took one provisional.

The view from after the dogleg and on the green.

Hole 17 kept along the water. Finally, I hit a solid and straight drive. Just had to get warmed up.

The view from the fairway toward the ocean

Hole 18 brought us back to the club house.

The view looking off to the right from the teebox.

That's my ball by the flag on the 18th green. I managed a bogey!

R to L: Robbie, Andy, and our fourth: Kiwi angel investor Ray Thomson

So that's the kind of thing you do in New Zealand. But what's it like getting here?

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