What Defines a Top Golf Course
When I think about what it means to be a top golf course there’s a magnitude of factors that go into it. Sure, you can look at the obvious things such as; location, course design, facilities and service, but to me, that only scratches the surface of what makes a course genuinely memorable. The dictionary describes ‘essence’ as; the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character. That last word captures what springs to mind when I think about what it means for me to truly enjoy what a golf course has to offer, character.
Above all else, it’s the stories created and the memories associated with not just the round of golf but the day or trip overall. No one can take away the memory of an expired bottle of tomato ketchup exploding over an Air BNB ceiling. Or the initiation of a new member to an established golfing trip. It’s these memories that form strong bonds to the courses we play. Rightly or wrongly often we associate a course we like with playing well, alternatively, if we play poorly we often struggle to see the course in any other light than great disdain. I try my hardest to remove this element as I feel it can cloud your judgement.
In saying all of this, this is what goes into a top golf course for me personally. It may be something completely different for you and that is absolutely fine. I’m not here to yuck anyone's yum, simply give you a small insight into what I deem to be a good track. There’s also a massive caveat here, I have not played every single course in New Zealand. I’ve played a good many over the years but there are many I haven’t. However, out of the ones I have, here are five that I absolutely love:
It’s hard not to fall in love with this place, its stunning vistas of Coronet Peak and The Remarkables etched in the background. The change of colour in the foliage between seasons and the tranquil sounds make Millbrook Resort one of the best experiences on a golf course you can get.
Home to the New Zealand Open, the course boasts a 36-hole layout with plenty of variety on offer. From long challenging par 5’s to drivable par 4’s it really has something to offer for every level of golfer. The club facilities are second to none for pre and post-round festivities with restaurants and accommodation on-site it is geared up to host.
For me, Queenstown and in particular Millbrook Resort goes beyond that, I have family ties in Queenstown and actually got married on-site at Millbrook. When I speak about strong memories, it’s hard for me to go past, I absolutely love the place.
If I think about what golf means to me, this is the pinnacle. Late in the evening, playing until the sun sets, in a cart with music playing, a couple of beverages and good people, pure joy.
Kinloch Golf Club
Unassumingly tucked away just outside of Taupo you would be hard-pressed to get a better course layout anywhere in the world. Jack Nicklaus certainly left his mark on the property, this place is absolutely mint! I often ask myself, if you remove the scenery and location would the course still be as memorable? There is only one answer with Kinloch, unequivocally, yes!
A true test of mental and technical ability you most certainly have to think your way around this golf course. With changes in elevation and green complexes that will leave you perplexed, you won’t find too many courses that come close to Kinloch. As a pure golfing challenge and phenomenal course design Kinloch Golf Club easily makes it into my top five.
Some of the best golfing trips I've been on have included Kinloch Golf Club as part of them. Kinloch Township is a little quaint lakeside town with plenty of character. There’s also another golf course in Kinloch, the Kinloch Village Golf Club. This is a super fun little course that can easily be played with a half-set.
Wairakei Resort + Sanctuary
From the minute you set foot on the property, you know you are somewhere special. You walk or drive through the automated gates after you’ve checked in and you immediately feel immersed in all that Wairakei has to offer. Surrounded by native New Zealand bush you truly feel completely secluded and shut off from the outside world, even though you are but minutes from central Taupo.
The course itself is stunning and has some of the most picturesque holes you’ll find. Simply put, it is a beautiful golf course. The fairways are like carpets and the azure water cascades gently over pebbles and stones. If you are lucky, you might get to see what the sanctuary has to offer, with deer roaming free around the property along with plenty of other wildlife.
The diverse layout can be challenging without beating you up and is playable at all levels. This place feels like a sanctuary on multiple levels, not only for the animals but for the soul also. It is the perfect pairing after the test that Kinloch provides.
The Dunes - Matarangi Golf Club
To this day, I have never got off to any form of a good start around this golf course. The first two holes can be brutal if you stray. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much. The variety The Dunes has in its layout is quite special. From tight tree-lined holes to ocean-side par 3’s, this course has an awesome vibe.
It also boasts one of the best finishing holes you’ll play. A par 3 finishes right by the clubhouse’s outside area. There’s not too much better than consuming a wood-fired pizza from their on-site oven with a few drinks and betting on the scores or proximity to the hole of the golfers coming in. On the flip side, you need to hold your nerve if you’ve got a packed patio itching to see a shank.
Lots of fun and plenty of laughs had around this track. The drive to the course from Thames is pretty stunning on the right day, so take your time and enjoy it!
Ōhope Beach Golf Links
Everything about Ohope screams salt of the earth. The club itself is always hospitable and an absolute pleasure to deal with. The layout is a golfing delight, with two of the best par 5’s back to back that stretch along a small peninsula. It really is a beautiful part of the country.
A true links-style test of golf with undulating fairways that seem to be carved out of the landscape, however simultaneously looking as though the architect has followed the natural contours of the land as a nod to the rugged beauty that is Ōhope Beach.
It’s the kind of golf course and setting, you feel like it’s an absolute necessity to have ‘Fish n Chips’ for dinner after you’ve finished your post-round debrief in the clubhouse. It’s funny because it's not what I would classify as a quintessential Kiwi golf course, yes there are a few shrubs kicking about, but It’s about as far from a stock standard parkland layout as you’ll find and I think that’s what makes it magical. The character and vibe of this place are everything you’d expect from a small beachside town, it just so happens they have one hell of a golf course to match.
There are simply too many honourable mentions to list and to be honest, this current list is continuously up for debate within my own psyche. Thank you if you made it this far, let me know your top picks and why! I’d love a recommendation for my next trip.
By Hamish Grant