MANGAWHAI, NEW ZEALAND | Avid golfers will travel to the ends of the earth to check out celebrated new courses, and that’s what I did when I trekked to the island nation of New Zealand last fall to play the latest Tom Doak creation, Tara Iti.
Built among massive sand dunes about 60 miles north of Auckland, the country’s biggest city, it serves as the centerpiece of an ultra-private golf club that generously allows one-time visits to select individuals who may play multiple rounds provided they stay on the property. And it offers Old World golf at its finest, with ample fescue fairways that play firm and fast, spacious greens that are for the most part quite receptive to run-up shots and near-constant wind that blows off the Southwest Pacific Ocean.
Holes at Tara Iti are both long and short, and they compel golfers to use most every club in their bags. They also have a way of making even the most jaded and experienced players feel a bit weak in the knees from the sheer majesty of the setting and the genius of the design, and I came away convinced after only one round there that it not only deserves to be regarded among the very best golf courses in the world but also Doak’s finest creation.
The architect made me feel that love from very from the very beginning, with an opening tee shot just a few steps off the practice ground and a fairway that gives those who hit it an angled, half-blind approach to a well-bunkered green. The par-3 second plays to a putting surface that features a small pot bunker, much like the fabled sixth at Riviera in Los Angeles, and then Doak crafted one of the most unusual and exhilarating Punch Bowl greens I have ever seen on No. 3, positioning it downhill and to the left.
Things only got better, and I was awed by the par-4 sixth, where the wild undulations of the fairways are designed to mirror the swells of the ocean that runs along side it, and No. 11, a five-par that favors the golfer who can fade the ball and plays toward a giant dune that rises like a sandy mountain. The green at the par-3 15th makes a very enticing target given that it is backed by those same waters and guarded on the right by three bunkers, while 18 is a five-par finisher that requires precision and length.
I have long had a thing for links-style golf, and nothing in this game grabs me in this game quite as much as courses that wind through sand dunes and allow me to be creative and hit a wide variety of shots. Tara Iti gave me everything I could possibly ask for as a player – and then some.