Featured Destination Queenstown

Heavenly Golf in Queenstown New Zealand

Heavenly Golf in Queenstown New Zealand

Paul Myers

July 19th, 2013

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Jacks Point 3

It’s not difficult to find golf courses situated in superb natural surroundings – Pebble Beach in California, St Andrews in Scotland, Valderrama in Spain and many of the world’s top courses, especially those beside the ocean.

But few golf destinations, whether by the ocean or inland, match Queenstown in the lakes district of New Zealand’s South Island for sheer exhilarating scenery. Indeed, the region’s natural magnificence is one reason why Kiwis refer to their country as Godzone – or, literally, God’s Own.

It was gold that brought the first Europeans to Central Otago in the 1860s. More than a century later, skiers and snowboarders discovered the nirvana-like attractions of Coronet Peak and The Remarkables ski fields and, soon after, Cardrona at nearby Wanaka.

Now, Queenstown attracts more visitors in summer than winter, many of whom head there to play golf.

Queenstown’s focal point is Lake Wakatipu, the iridescent glacial lake – at 291 square kilometres it is New Zealand’s third largest – that makes an enticing out of bounds on two of seven golf courses within easy reach of town.

But you won’t want to put your golf ball deliberately into its sparkling blue waters. It will cost a couple of shots on your scorecard and it’s cold, just nine degrees Celsius in summer! But there is no more enticing foreground for golf than the lake on which Queenstown nestles, nor a more stunning backdrop than The Remarkables, a mountain range that points true north-south and soars majestically to 2300 metres in height on the outskirts of town.

The lake or the mountains – or both – are always in view when you play golf in or near Queenstown. The choice of a camera or five-iron isn’t a golfer’s usual dilemma, but it is here.

Queenstown’s golf courses stay open year-round, although thermal under-garments may be needed between June and August when maximum temperatures are in the low to mid single digits. Five courses within 30 minutes of Queenstown provide enough variety and challenge for a week of highly enjoyable and challenging golf.

Just which is Queenstown’s best course is a matter of personal opinion. Many say it is The Hills, developed by kiwi jewellery magnate and golf aficionado, Michael Hill, who lives on the course.

Opened in 2007 and, subsequently, the host of three New Zealand Opens as well as the 2012 New Zealand Pro-Am tournament, The Hills is a private club with just 100 members near the historic goldmining village of Arrowtown that accepts out-of-town visitors – at a price – and features immaculate grooming, challenging shotmaking and unusual sculptural diversions.

At $NZ500 (approx. Euro 300) a round, it’s expensive, but in a short time has become a bucket-list course to which many keen golfers head – as they do to St Andrews in Scotland, Pebble Beach in California and Royal Melbourne just across the Tasman Sea in Australia.

From the moment you enter The Hills’ unmarked farm-style front gate, it’s a surreal experience, not just because of the golf. The clubhouse, placed second in an international architectural competition in Spain in 2008, was designed to complement the setting.

A collection of steel sculptures made by Michael Hill’s son, Mark – whose studio is near the fourth tee – adds to the surrealism. A giant weta, a kiwi insect, greets players on the first hole; red tussock-like spikes stand beside the driveway to the clubhouse.

Pronounced by 1963 British Open winner and sometime local resident Sir Bob Charles as the best course in New Zealand, The Hills just happened. “It started with a green in front of the house, then one hole, but I thought we should build another hole back to the house,” Michael Hill explains. “It just grew from there.”

Just across The Hills’ boundary fence, separated by a quiet country road, lies Millbrook, for almost than 20 years Queenstown’s premier all-season lifestyle resort. An historic wheat farm that supplied grain and other food staples for hungry gold miners after its founding by two French brothers in the early 1860s, it attracted worldwide attention in the late-1990s as host of the APEC summit attended by US President Bill Clinton.

Many original stone farm buildings have been put to good use as the office and pro shop, function centre, café and restaurant. They serve as an enticing backdrop to the final holes of two of the three nine-hole layouts.

The original 18 holes, for which Sir Bob Charles acted as an advisor, were supplemented with a new nine, opened in 2010, that has brought a modern edge, increased difficulty and wonderful on-course views towards Coronet Peak.

To add to its impressive credentials, Millbrook has three times been named in the World Travel Awards as the best golf resort in Australasia.

Its original major Japanese shareholder, Eichii Ishii, remains the owner long after other Japanese owners fled 1980s and 90s tourism investments in Australia and New Zealand. Now boasting modern privately-owned houses and villas, a controlled number of which are built and sold each year for upwards of $NZ1 million.

Right on Queenstown’s doorstep, the guardian angels of the region’s golf are Jack’s Point and Queenstown Golf Club, known as Kelvin Heights.

Local and visiting golfers can be thankful a golf course was laid out here. Anywhere else it would be prime real estate. Old-fashioned it may be, but as new land isn’t being made anymore, the pine-fringed fairways and native bush areas occupying all of a knob of peninsula jutting into the lake’s north-east arm couldn’t be more perfect for golf.

Some 10km further around the lake, Jack’s Point also couldn’t be more ideally located. Occupying a thin strip of land between Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables, it was designed and developed by local landscape architect and property guru, John Darby – who also designed The Hills and had a hand in developing Millbrook.

While this is a course for which superlatives readily come to mind, three holes hugging the lake may be as close to golfing heaven as you can get. Here, perfectly manicured fairways and greens contrast against deep blue hues of the lake, while towering peaks with wisps of snow nestling on peaks of the alps suggest divine intervention had a hand in this stunning landscape.

When, on the very first hole, you observe hang gliders floating earthwards like angels against jagged spires high above, it’s easy to ponder whether those mythical gods to whom all golfers appeal may, in fact, exist.

Inevitably, on this course you discover they don’t. Thick rough, spiky matakauri bushes, reedy watercourses and treacherous slopes soon make it apparent that earthly prowess may not be enough.

On the par-4 15th hole, the tee shot is over a dry stone wall, across a paddock with sheep and another stone wall to the fairway. Reminiscent of some courses in God’s own golf country – Scotland – you’re blessed if you make it safely, as you are just to experience this gem of a golf course.

For more information about attractions in Queenstown, visit www.queenstownnz.co.nz or the websites of golf courses highlighted here:

The Hills: www.thehills.co.nz

Millbrook: www.millbrook.co.nz

Jack’s Point: www.jackspoint.com

Queenstown Golf Club (Kelvin Heights): www.queenstowngolf.co.nz

 

 

 

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