Laid out across bluffs overlooking Hauraki Gulf 40 minutes from the New Zealand capital of Auckland, Gulf Harbour Country Club offers championship golf in a spectacular setting where cattle once grazed. Gulf Harbour's developer savored witnessing the site's transformation, saying of the design work of Robert Trent Jones, Jr.: "As his initial conception unfolded on the hillside around us, we knew that Gulf Harbour had joined the ranks of his other masterpieces in numerous countries and in every imaginable geographic and climatic setting."
The eighteen holes here-each of which was given a native Maori name-feature classic, traditional golfing values, ocean views, rolling terrain, and a natural feel. The front nine is more open, with the last three holes playing around an inland lake. The back nine wanders back to the ocean.
Gulf Harbour's opening holes play along fairways routed through thick native grasses. Number seven, a risk/reward challenge called "Te Tahuna" is one of the highlights on the outward journey. The name means "where a bird lands," which may be appropriate here. The 330-yard dogleg is reachable off the tee for daring players when playing downwind. Water protects the entire right side of the hole, but the green will receive a drive that lands just short of the putting surface. Golfers who bail out to the left, away from the water, will face a difficult approach over three hungry bunkers.
The back nine culminates in holes that climb onto oceanfront bluffs reminiscent of Pebble Beach. Number sixteen, a strong par four, is named "Ta Moko" or "signature." This hole left a strong impression on the world's best golfers when Gulf Harbour played host to the World Cup of Golf in 1998. A lone bunker protects the green, which offers 270-degree views. The seventeenth hole, named "Taniwha," or "Supernatural Being" is the longest par five on the golf course. It runs alongside the coast before jutting inland to a green protected by a quartet of bunkers. Three perfect shots are necessary to reach this putting surface in regulation.