The Takeaway: Perhaps the course that is known from its aerial photos more than any other course in the world, the cliffside holes jetting into the ocean at Cape Kidnappers don’t disappoint. But Cape is not a one pony show, the design quality of its interior holes is exceptional and firmly cements the course among the best in the world. Grade A+
Designer: Tom Doak in 2004
Cost: $200 NZD - $565 NZD Click for current rates
Phone Number: +64 6 873 1018
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Cape Kidnappers Golf Course's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 446 Clifton Road, Te Awanga, Hawke's Bay 4180 – NEW ZEALAND
Accolades: Ranked 1st in New Zealand by Golf Course Gurus
What to Expect: Before going to Cape Kidnappers it is almost certain that you'll see aerial photos of the back nine with fairways running along the top of jaw dropping finger cliffs. These cliffs, towering 400 feet above Hawkes Bay, become the centerpoint that draws players to New Zealand's dramatic north island layout. But the real shocker is that the inland front nine is better than the coastal back nine due to its more engaging terrain and compelling hole designs. In fact, while the cliff holes are visually stunning, particularly from an aerial view, the terrain on those finger cliffs is much flatter than the rest of the property while the inland front nine boasts changes in elevation and ravines that creates engaging hole designs that result in superior shot values. So while the inland holes may not look as impressive from a camera perspective, they are an absolute joy to play. That isn't to say the back nine isn't great, because it is, but you'll get more joy out of the front nine than you were likely expecting. With a driving range facing the ocean, holes on the cliffs above the water, and immaculate conditioning, Cape Kidnappers felt a lot like Manele on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Those immaculate conditions are aided by the fact that very few rounds are played annually at the Cape; about 6,000 most years. Another unique aspect of the course is the drive getting there. Once you get through the gate you'll embark on a 15 minute drive to the clubhouse on a windy road littered with cattle. Once it is time to tee it up, you can walk or take a cart where observers are allowed to join for the cost of a cart fee. Ultimately, Cape Kidnappers is one of the best golf courses in the world on one of the most dramatic settings you'll ever see. But this isn't a one pony show, the golf leading up to the cliffs is nothing short of fantastic.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 13th Hole – 130 Yard Par 3 – Perched on the northerly cliff edges and the only hole that plays straight east, the quaint 13th enjoys a picturesque setting rivaled by few one-shotters in the world. In the same vein as the 7th at Pebble Beach, the 11th at Pacific Dunes, and the 8th at Royal Troon, this crafty hole is all about precision in the wind rather than brute length. The domed putting surface creates a scenario where hitting an approach shot tight will take the best of shots as those shots left wanting are quickly repelled away from the hole. The hole is not intimidating from the tee, but with wind often coming off the ocean and a high spin club in your hand, the ball can react a number of unexpected ways. Ultimately, like any short par 3, finding the middle of the green is a welcome result and will yield a tidy birdie putt.
Best Par 3: 6th Hole – 225 Yards – The dramatic terrain at Cape Kidnappers yields scenarios where a forced carry over a ravine is virtually inevitable, and that is the case with both par threes on the front. While the 3rd plays straight north with bunkers in front and behind the green, the 6th goes a northeasterly direction with bunkers flanking the sides. The impressive cliff edge location and deep chasm cutting in front of the green and continuing out to the left before greeting the Pacific Ocean is beyond impressive. There were a few times I just sat and enjoyed the view, setting, and experience Cape Kidnappers offers and this is perhaps where I spent the most time. There is some room to miss short which will yield an uphill chip at the day's pin location, and there is additional room right of the green behind the bunker that dominates the view on that side. So while the hole is plenty intimidating from 225 yards, there is more forgiveness than you realize so swing away with some confidence and enjoy this spectacular hole that doesn't get near enough hype across the globe.
Best Par 4: 7th Hole – 453 Yards – As I've mentioned before, the front nine is the most engaging of the two sides at Cape and the 7th is an excellent example of why. The tee shot plays to a domed fairway with an impressive countryside backdrop offering a tranquil setting to enjoy. Upon reaching your tee ball, players are presented with an impressive approach shot that plays slightly downhill to a green sloping away in every direction ala something you'd find at Pinehurst No.2. Big drives can utilize the sloping in the fairway to generate extra distance and leave players with a scoring club in their hand while playing into the wind can result in one of the longest and most difficult approach shots on the course. The greensite was originally a taller formation that was stripped down to create a suitable green complex while the excess dirt was moved into the canyon fronting the putting surface. The result is a gorgeous looking approach with fairway shaping that mimics the surrounding terrain.
Best Par 5: 15th Hole – 650 Yards – Considered by many as the signature hole of Cape Kidnappers if not all of New Zealand, the 15th is the longest offering on the island and the most photographed. From the aerial photos the hole looks insanely dramatic as it runs along a cliff finger with steep drop offs on each side of the fairway as it travels straight towards the sea. However, when playing it in person you may be surprised how docile the terrain is with it being virtually dead flat until getting right in front of the green where the fairway dips down on the left side and creates a funnel that escapes off the cliff edge. No bunkers are needed to make this hole difficult as it is the narrowest of the cliff fingers and tightens up the closer to the green you get which increases the demand on accuracy with each swing. In the end, this hole is all about the wind. When the wind is up it can be a bear to keep the ball in play and get the length you want out of it, but on a calm day you can certainly be more aggressive as virtually every lie is perfectly flat and ready to be attacked.
Birdie Time: 8th Hole – 182 Yard Par 3 – The number of birdies that happen on the 8th hole goes up exponentially when the pin is found in the front third of the green, as shown in the pictures. This location features a bowl effect which gathers balls from every edge of the bowl and works it toward the hole to set up an easy birdie putt. Even more dramatic, this desirable pin location is a hot spot for holes in one to occur as the feeding motion provides an opportunity for the ball to roll enough that the cup may get in the way of its projected path. When the pin isn't in the bowl, players may have their best luck on the driveable 14th to card a birdie; however this short version of a Road Hole can yield bogies just as fast.
Bogey Beware: 12th Hole – 460 Yard Par 4 – The bunkerless 12th plays straight north towards the ocean where a head wind is often opponent number one to contend with. Add in 460 yards to cover in two shots and you have a flat out duel on your hands. The hole plays over mostly flat terrain that slowly slopes down toward the greensite that boasts a large swell 100 yards short of the putting surface. Long ballers are rewarding with letting loose the cannon as the fairway widens the further down the fairway you get with it reaching a maximum width of 65 yards just shy of the swell. The approach shot is as delightful to experience as it is testing to execute. The green tilts from high right to low left in a Redan fashion and is quick to reward the shot that finds the right third of the green before filtering left towards the flag. Hang it out to the right though and a testing chip awaits either from tightly mown grass or shaggy rough depending on how far you missed your target. The length and precision required here will throw bogies on many players' scorecards but if you can execute just right, a tidy birdie putt could await.