The Takeaway: Tara Iti has quickly emerged as the premier private club in the Southern Hemisphere. Tom Doak’s signature design features little weakness to identify and plenty of fun to unfold. The driveable par fours highlight the course and the ocean views throughout the round never grow tired. Between Tara Iti and Cape Kidnappers, Doak has introduced the best golf architecture New Zealand has ever seen. Grade A+
Designer: Tom Doak in 2015
Cost: Private $690 NZD + $200 NZD for a caddie Click for membership information
Phone Number: +64 9 431 4600
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Tara Iti Golf Club's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 71 Tara Iti Drive, Mangawhai 0975 – NEW ZEALAND
What to Expect: Few courses have ever hit the world golfing scene with more pop than Tara Iti when it debuted as the 6th best course in the world outside the United States on Golf Digest’s World Rankings list. Located an hour and a half north of Auckland on a stretch of beach that was exposed after a massive clearing of trees and non-native plants, the property for Tara Iti was a blank canvas for Tom Doak to work with which created a scenario that could only be limited by his imagination. The beautiful setting, which now features some native planting, rests alongside the ocean but is located 200 meters inland due to development restrictions. There isn’t a single weak hole on the property with each one being compelling for different reasons, but the marque feature of the design centers around the three driveable par fours; 4, 7, and 13, which give players an opportunity to employ a variety of strategies. While those holes are played with great anticipation, the lengthy and controversial par four 12th if often played with a significant dose of dread with its blind tee shot and a green that is tilts harder to the left than Bernie Sanders. I’m not sure I would identify a signature stretch of holes at Tara Iti that really jumps at you. That is great from the aspect that the holes are consistently so good from start to finish, but it also lacks the type of climax that you get from so many of the best coastal courses in the world; 15-17 at Cypress Point, 6-8 at Pebble Beach, 15-18 at Cabot Cliffs, and 9-12 at Turnberry come to mind. Doak being Doak, you aren’t going to find the conventional par 72 at Tara Iti with the front nine playing a 36 with just one par three and one par five while the back plays to a par of 35 with a trio of one-shotters. When you arrive at the golf course you will be introduced to your caddie who will carry your bag for the day as carts aren't allowed during your experience on the links. If you don't have an invitation from a member, Tara Iti allows players a "once in a lifetime" visit that will allow you to play the course. When you schedule that visit, you'll be required to book at least one night in the onsite accommodations which are extremely nice, but come with a steep price tag so you'll want to prepare for that. Two more courses are planned for Tara Iti, both public access, which will make the area all the more attractive for visitors to put on their bucket list. When all is said and done, Tara Iti is one of the finest golf experiences on Mother Earth. That being said, Cape Kidnappers actually offers more engaging, dramatic, and varied terrain to tee it up on so don't let Tara Iti's private status keep you from coming to Kiwi country.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 6th Hole – 461 Yard Par 4 – While many people will talk about the trio of driveable par fours as a highlight at Tara Iti, it was this lengthy two-shotter that I found to be particularly impressive. Reminiscent of the 4th hole that Doak designed at Pacific Dunes, the 6th at Tara Iti plays straight down the coastline with waves from the Pacific rolling into the beach on the player's right. A tee shot up the right half of the fairway will keep the waste area out of play that pinches the fairway on the left side, but yields a less desirable angle into the green if the flag is tucked behind the bunker flanking the front right of the putting surface. How strong the wind is blowing will be a major factor in your success on this hole, particularly on the approach shot where more precision is required. Fortunately, there is a backstop in the back of the green so if the wind is howling the best play is a low shot that bores through the breeze and utilizes the backstop of the green to work the ball near the hole.
Best Par 3: 17th Hole – 160 Yards – Simply a gorgeous offering, and a welcoming moderate distance to tackle, the 17th plays straight towards the ocean with mountains providing an additional backdrop to the rolling water. With the wind commonly in your face here, it should be relatively easy to get the ball to sit soft on the putting surface so long as you don't balloon it and come up short. The putting surface gets more narrow in the back left portion of the green and should only be attacked then you are in the zone, otherwise favoring the right half of the putting surface provides plenty of safety and an opportunity to roll a birdie putt. Bunkering surrounds the entire putting surface creating a desert island effectively leaving nowhere to bail out, so swing with confidence.
Best Par 4: 3rd Hole – 446 Yards – After playing the par three 2nd featuring a bunker in the middle of the green as inspired by Riviera, the 3rd offers a formidable challenge to take on. The tee shot plays straight away until the fairway makes a late turn to the right before the green fishhooks back to the left. The further right you can keep your tee shot the greater reward on the approach shot to this Punchbowl green as it offers the best angle to get your ball into the opening of the putting surface on the extreme right. From the left side of the fairway, approach shots will have a bunker and hillock to clear to find the green while a sandy waste area lurks behind to gather balls going long. The approach shot into this green and ensuing unveiling of how close it finished to the flag is perhaps Tara Iti's most highly anticipated second shot on the course.
Best Par 5: 18th Hole – 547 Yards – If forced to identify whether the 3s, 4s, or 5s were the weakest element at Tara Iti, I would identify the par fives but you wouldn't know it from playing this quality finishing hole. A large tree sits high on the left side of the hole and stands as a mark to be sure to stay right of as its roots grow in the waste area left of the short grass. Finding a level lie in the fairway is a virtual easter egg hunt which will require some creativity on the second shot as players decide just how much to bite off on their exodus to the green. If you are fortunate enough to end up at the base of one of the rolling waves in the fairway then you can take dead aim at the flag with your third shot to a green that is equally as undulated. With a wedge in your hand you can spin your shot off one of the mounds to work the ball in tight to a low spot where the flag will inevitably be placed. Finishing with a par five is always a welcome feature as it gives players an opportunity to walk off the course with a smile on their face, and this is no exception.
Birdie Time: 13th Hole – 317 Yard Par 4 – With three driveable par fours to pick from as the Birdie Time hole, it is the 13th that presents the least amount of things that can go wrong. A wide fairway greets the player and the solo bunker in the short grass is easily carried which leaves little to worry about. Staying in the center or right side of the fairway leaves an uphill chip to the flag if the green isn't reached with your drive. With the putting surface sloping back towards you, a chip that works off the backstop can yield a kick in birdie depending on the pin placement. As long as you don't go wide left with your tee shot you should end up with a great opportunity to get aggressive and get under par on this hole.
Bogey Beware: 12th Hole – 480 Yard Par 4 – Unquestionably the most controversial hole at Tara Iti is the punishing 12th. From the back tees, players are presented with a blind drive over a raised waste area to a fairway with some high points in the center that filter balls to the left or right. While a tee shot to an elevated fairway is a welcome feature not found often enough in modern courses, it is the approach shot that garners all of the attention. Anyone that has played Merion's East course will instantly draw comparisons to the world renowned 5th hole with its steep right to left sloping green. The kicker at Tara Iti, with its seven foot falloff from high right to low left, is that the firmness of the green can yield the hole unplayable to certain pin placements when attacked from a variety of different angles or with different shots. The concept of the hole has merit, but the firmness of the conditions create a green that borders on insanity and results in a hole that is much more difficult than the famously challenging counterpart at Merion. Approach shots from the right side of the fairway are hopeless before they ever leave your club while approaches from the left side leave a glimmer of hope since a slice spinning ball can fight the hillside well enough to settle into a decent position on the green. This hole is a brute where a bogey is a win.