Sanctioned by both the Australasian and European Tours, the New Zealand Open heads back to Gulf Harbour, on the Hibiscus Peninsula near Auckland, at the end of November.
Designed in the late 1990s by Robert Trent Jones Jr's practice, and ranking 76th on Golf Digest's most recent list of the world's 100 best courses outside the USA, Gulf Harbour has not been without controversy as a host venue for the Open. Michael Campbell, for example, has been quoted as saying the event should be played on "a decent course" rather than Gulf Harbour, although after the event was first held on the course in 2005, he did change his tune to an extent.
It is well-known that Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers owner Julian Robertson would like to host the NZ Open on one of his courses, but up to now, the desire to keep the event close to Auckland, the economic centre of the country, has prevented this happening. Nonetheless, the four year deal to base the event at Gulf Harbour, which also hosted the World Cup in 1998, represents an opportunity for the NZ Open to re-establish its position.
The 6,400 metre course – the first nine holes of which are inland and slightly hillier, with the back nine making use of the clifftops and water frontage – is undeniably visually impressive. Featuring shallow greens that can be quite difficult to hold, it should provide a real test for the visiting professionals.
"One of the most interesting holes on the course is the 300 metre par four seventh," says architect Jones. "This short dogleg is flanked by a lake on the right and tempts long hitters to go for the green. And the 405 metre 16th is a classic par four bordering cliffs. The second shot flirts with the rock cliffs and requires nerve as well as talent."