A few years back, hedge fund magnate Julian Robertson was visiting Bandon, Oregon, where he hoped to play a few rounds on the renowned Bandon Dunes course. On the second day of his visit, he was bumped from Bandon to play Pacific Dunes. The story goes that Mr. Robertson was not very happy about the change in venues, as he hadn’t traveled across country to play this upstart course. By the end of his round, however, he’d set his heart on having Pacific’s creator – Tom Doak – fashion his second course in New Zealand, Cape Kidnappers.
Cape Kidnappers is perched high above the crashing waves of Hawke’s Bay, on the central eastern coast of New Zealand’s north island, near the towns of Napier and Hastings. The region was first seen by western eyes in 1770, when Captain James Cook reached these shores in his ship the Endeavor. Cook named the spit of land after an incident when some resident Maoris, who had canoed out to the ship to trade some goods, attempted to kidnap his Tahitian guide and translator. Eamon Lynch was one of the first writers to witness the grandeur of Cape Kidnappers, when he joined Tom Doak on site in November of 2003. “The setting might be the most spectacular I’ve seen for a golf course. The road from the two-lane highway to the course twists and turns skyward for five miles and only when you reach the pinnacle do you have a real sense of how high you’ve climbed.
“What I recall most-other than the course itself-was a drive Tom Doak and I took for a couple of miles across the property. Toward the sea is New Zealand’s largest gannet colony. Looking away from the sea there’s a rugged, heaving landscape with pockets of sheep scattered around for as far as the eye could see. Only then did I appreciate what a 5,000-acre sheep ranch in New Zealand is really like. On a site like this it’s easy for the window dressing to spoil the view, but everything here is so understated that the course and the terrain remain the prime attraction. This place is about golf the way Bali is about beaches.”
Cape Kidnappers is anchored around seven fingers of land that extend down from the clifftop and hang over Hawke’s Bay. “The course is very Doak in that you really have no sense that a convoy of bulldozers came in here to build it,” Eamon added. “If you look closely to either side of the ninth fairway you’ll see that quite a bit of dirt was moved to fill in a mini gorge, atop which the fairway now sits. Otherwise, every hole seems very much at peace with the property.” With every hole providing an ocean view, Cape Kidnappers indeed rests upon a prime property. And the country around Napier, the heart of one of New Zealand’s emerging wine-growing regions, is a spectacular place to visit. The climate is more Mediterranean than Middle Earth, and in addition to viewing the gannet colony, visitors can wander peaceful beaches, swim with dolphins and bask in the warmth of the New Zealand people.
There are a number of wonderful holes at Cape Kidnappers, holes that are destined to grace golf calendars remain with those lucky enough to make this trek for many years after. Two especially stand out for Eamon Lynch, beginning with the 594-yard par 5 15th, which is aptly named ‘Pirate’s Plank.’ “From the fairway, the hole seems to drop off the end of the earth. If Galileo was standing here, he might reconsider whether in fact it is possible to fall off the side of the world. If your approach shot leaks left you’d better hope you find the bunker there. Otherwise it’s a hell of a lob shot from the beach a four hundred feet down.” In his notes for the course, Doak points out that it if you do pull your approach shot, your ball will have nearly ten seconds of hang time before it reaches the ocean below.
Another stand-out hole is the 206-yard par 3 6th. “I recall walking across a wooden bridge from the tee toward the green,” Eamon said. “I looked down and it was a sheer, white-knuckle drop into a ravine that would be the ultimate unplayable lie. Again, this a classic Doak design characteristic. You always get the sense that you’re playing a course that doesn’t have a manufactured minimalism, that the character of the property was not compromised in building the course.”
During his visit Cape Kidnappers, Eamon was given a special window to the craftsmanship of a modern master. “We were on the seventh hole. Doak played a nice shot from a greenside bunker, using the slope of the green to run the ball around to the pin. When I complimented him on it, he grinned, dropped another ball in the same bunker, then played out on a more aggressive line directly at the pin. The ball followed the slope all the way back into the same bunker. Standing on the green, it looked sloped, but nothing as crazy as that. I thought it was pretty neat to see the architect demonstrate the near hidden tricks to the course. It’s a bit like having Michaelangelo show you an intentional but near-invisible pimple on the Mona Lisa.”
Eamon Lynch is an Editor at GOLF Magazine. Previously a staff writer at the New York Daily News, he has contributed to a wide range of publications, including Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, T&L Golf, Maximum Golf (RIP),. Eamon was born in Northern Ireland, graduated from The Queens University of Belfast, and now lives in Manhattan.
If You Go…
Getting There: Most visitors will reach Hawke’s Bay by air. Air New Zealand (+64 9 357 3000; www.airnewzealand.com)operates a number of regularly scheduled flights daily from Auckland and Wellington to Napier, as well as service from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Aukland. Representatives from Cape Kidnappers will meet your flight upon request.
Course Information: Cape Kidnappers plays 7,137 yards from the back tees, and has a par of 71. Green fees in the high season (October 1 – April 30) $400 NZ, which at press time equates with $285 in U.S. currency; in the low season (May 1 – September 30), they are $300 NZ (or $215).
(from Fifty Places To Play Golf Before You Die)