45 minutes drive out of Auckland Gulf Harbour Country Club is one of the most accessible golf courses in New Zealand. Sculpted into the cliff edge of the Whangaparaoa peninsula, Gulf Harbour is the only course in the country designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Host of the 1998 World Cup of Golf and the 2005 and 2006 NZ Open, the 6,400 metre course features spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf back to the Auckland city skyline and the Rangitoto volcanic island.
The course was setup as a resort course, and the front 9 winds its way around houses but still manages to have sea views on almost every hole. The first 3 holes are a relaxed start, and the elevated 4th tee gives the player the first taste of the views to expect on the finishing holes. The 7th is the first risk and reward hole – at only 300 metres, it’s a short par 4, but arcing around a lake, the player risks losing balls to the carps should the drive not be accurate. Guarded by 2 greenside bunkers to the opposite side, a long bunker shot also carries a high risk. The par 3 8th, at only 150 metres appears to be easy but is well guarded by bunkers and is a narrow target, and coming back the opposite side of the lake the 9th hole is a long par 4 with a green that appears to hover over the lake.
The 10th is a dogleg par 4 with big hitters able to go straight over the large fairway bunkers, and then a steep uphill climb on the par 5 11th brings the golfer back up to the elevated 12th tee. This is where the first views of the Auckland skyline and Rangitoto can be seen. The 12th is a short par 4, with an elevated green and the 13th is a difficult par 3, with a huge undulating green and a par is always welcome here. After the long 14th, the 15th, 16th and 17th holes are the most dramatic on the golf course and are the reasons why comparisons to Pebble Beach have been made – admittedly Gulf Harbour tends to have less wind! If you can drag your eyes away from the views, the par 3 15th is a short hole but is well guarded by bunkers and a green with numerous and steep undulations. If the pin is at the front, stay well clear of the bunkers as you will be punished with no shot at all.
The signature 16th hole, Ta Moko (the Maori word for Autograph, or Signature), is a fantastic hole. Sweeping around the cliff edges, the big hitter can go over the trees leaving themselves with only a short iron in. The alternate route is to the fairway left which leaves a shot over 200 yards off a hanging lie into a narrow green surrounded by bunkers. Most people are relatively happy with a bogey and you can see why. The par 5 17th hugs the cliff edge for all it’s 543 metres and is considered by some to be the signature hole at Gulf Harbour. The 18th back to the clubhouse plays mostly downhill, but is often into the prevailing wind meaning a Driver and lob wedge to the green one day can be Driver and Fairway wood the next.
The course is a great challenge with great views, particularly on the back 9. The greens are fast and true, and reading them can awkward. The fairways and tees are well maintained, however the bunkers are so bare that all the sand on the Copacabana might not be enough. For $100 though, it’s great value and you’d struggle to find a better challenge in the country for the price.