NEW ZEALAND’S TOP 40 GOLF COURSES

As we head into 2019, it is important and timely to recognise some of New Zealand’s great golf courses; ones that each of us should play if we get the opportunity. So, which golf courses have you played?  And where should your next golfing road trip planning take you and your friends? 

Anytime the golf rankings have been undertaken, it has been with the goal of stimulating debate amongst golfers and having the qualities of their home courses or favourite courses compared to those in the Top 10.  The other goal of the rankings, is to increase golf participation and even to help to increase greenfee revenue, with the hope that golfers will try to play as many of the courses on the list over the summer as possible.  How many of the Top 10 courses have you played?  Do you agree with how Kauri Cliffs compares with Cape Kidnappers or how Kinloch compares with Wairakei?  Similarly, what is the best course in the Queenstown region?  Is it The Hills or Jacks Point?  If someone is paying an “affiliated greenfee” what is the best ‘value for dollar’ golf course?  Do you believe it is Arrowtown? 

The rankings were compiled from twenty-one Rankers submitting their Top 12 courses in the North and South Island.  The 21 member ranking panel has over 700 years of combined golf experience, with “rankers” from Invercargill through to North Auckland, with a diverse mix consisting of professional players, experienced amateur players, golf industry professionals and some club players with extensive playing experience here in New Zealand and internationally.  These golf industry ‘insiders’ have ranked their top twelve golf courses in the North Island and the South Island.  This year, those who submitted were:  Phil Aicken, Leo Barber, Robyn Boniface, Barry Brown, Peter Cutfield, Blair Dibley, Stuart Duff, Susan Farron, Simon Forshaw, Doug Holloway, Denise Langdon, Josh Longney, Dave Mangan, Trevor Marshall, Nigel Merrett, Grant Moorhead, Alan Rose, John Sanders, Duncan Simpson, John Spraggs and Doug White.

The ranking system is based on seven criteria that cover the key factors that are essential in good golf course design and also criteria of what is important to the golfers that play these golf courses.  This includes: Risk/Reward, Playability, Layout, Design, Scenic Values, Conditioning and Ambience.  A maximum of five points was awarded per category so the maximum any course could receive was a total of 35 points.  The points awarded were totalled up and then divided by the numbers of rankers so the average was calculated thus giving the overall result.

The last New Zealand Top 40 Golf Rankings were compiled in July 2016. Therefore, this is the first ranking conducted with two new courses having been added: Windross Farms (21st) and Wainui GC (30th).  Two previously ranked courses have since closed: The Grange and Oreti Sands.  A point to note, with the redevelopment of Royal Auckland, it was not included for consideration in the rankings this time around.

Once again, as in previous rankings, there are some “hidden gems” that were mentioned by some rankers but which didn’t quite make the final Top 40.  This included such courses as Waverley, Kaikoura, Wanaka and Roxburgh Golf Clubs which all have some great features that make them fantastic places to stop and play a round. 

It is also important to note that no ranker was able to rank a golf course where personal bias or conflict of interest could be a factor; meaning that they could not rank a course where they were a current member, where they were employed, or with which they had any other direct affiliation.  It is important that this ‘personal connection’ related to the rankings is removed from the judging process, which is also why such a diverse group of the golfers were involved in the rankings.  Geographically, it was also essential that there was fair coverage of rankers from both the North and South Islands so that all golf courses were able to be judged on their merits.  All courses had to be ranked by a minimum of four rankers each, with Wairakei being the most popular golf course overall, having been ranked by all 21 rankers. 

Tara Iti is clearly the best golf course in New Zealand, based on the rankings, and it is also recognised in the international global golf ‘world’ as being our best place to golf.  Yes, the golf course is quite private but it is truly something special and if you are ever given the opportunity to play there, then you should jump at it!  The setting, the layout and how the course plays is definitely unique and memorable.  Right from the time you drive through the gates, through to the holing your final putt on the 18th green; it is absolutely magical! 

On closer examination of some of the results, the gap between the First and Second ranked golf courses is only 2 points; while the difference between the Second and Eighth ranked golf courses is a mere 1.4 points.  Kinloch jumped from #5 in the last rankings to 2nd place and Kauri Cliffs was able to leapfrog its sister course, Cape Kidnappers.  Wairakei jumped from #9 to #5 having been awarded big points for scenic values and ambience which lifted its results.  Taupo and Queenstown are clearly New Zealand’s best golf destinations, and ones that every golfer should explore.  The rivalry of the three top Queenstown area golf courses for the Number One ranking in the region is heating up with The Hills (6th) just pipping Jacks Point (tied 7th) by 1/10th of a point and Millbrook (9th) only 1/15th of a point behind, with all three courses receiving high rankings for conditioning. 

Arrowtown continues to be a standout course to play, as in previous years, and it adds to the magic of playing golf in the Queenstown region; it also stands out as the most affordable golf course to play in the Top 15! Of interest, Queenstown Golf Club came in at #40 in the overall rankings.

Sneaking in at #15 in the rankings and the biggest climber from prior rankings is Gulf Harbour, north of Auckland.  This just shows how the work that they have been doing at the course has definitely been recognised by those who are playing there.  The two new Auckland courses made the Top 40 with Windross Farms entering the rankings at #21 and Wainui coming in at #31. 

Other big movers climbing up the rankings were Hastings Golf Club, moving up 13 places to #16, Mangawhai Golf Club, moving up 10 places to #23 and Cromwell Golf Club, climbing up 10 places to #28.  Also, for the first time, Waitangi enters the golf rankings at #37.

So, the challenge for all golfers reading this article is to mark off all the courses you have previously played in the Top 40 and then mark how many of the golf courses on the list will you be playing this coming year.  Also, more importantly, what hidden gems will you be playing, as some of our rankers were raving about courses like Walton and Waihi.  To be honest, it’s not only about playing the “big name” or more famous courses, but it is also about getting out and enjoying the many, great courses we have around our beautiful country, Aotearoa. 

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