Michael Donaldson explores options for double-up days of Auckland golf.
Auckland’s sprawling mass of land, narrowed and pinched by harbours, rivers and inlets and entangled with motorways – as a result it’s not the easiest place in the world to get around.
So, here’s a golf itinerary with a difference – a top, must-play, club and a nearby course that offers more affordable play. It’s great for those who love to play two rounds in a day at different courses without travelling too far – or, if you’re based in a certain area and want some variety; again without the challenge of Auckland’s traffic.
Titirangi + Waitakere
Titirangi’s claim to fame is the Alister MacKenzie design – it draws visitors from around the world who love to see what the Augusta creator came up with in west Auckland. As New Zealand’s only MacKenzie-designed course, you owe it to yourself to play there at least once in your life. The course name is a slight misnomer because it’s more in New Lynn than Titirangi – and it’s easy to get to from the city (about a 15-minute drive) but there some great Air BnBs in Titirangi, which boasts a charming café-filled village, art galleries and natural beauty. The course itself is an absolute gem and will test your thinking, accuracy off the tee (middle is not always best), decision-making and putting. It’s not long by modern standards – at 5657m off the white tees it looks positively short on paper but don’t be fooled – Titirangi boasts some of the most challenging short par-4s you’ll find anywhere. The first and second strung together might make a decent par-5 but if you walk away from these with two 4s on your card you’ve done well. The signature holes are the famed par-3s – each facing a different point on the compass and each with its own complexities on the green. Make a par on all four in one round and you’ll earn an Alister MacKenzie pin as a sweet memory of a special place. From Titirangi it’s a 30-minute jaunt along the bush-clad Scenic Drive in the Waitakere ranges to one of Auckland’s most special and under-rated courses. Waitakere Golf Club is cut from the rugged ranges and is embedded in a regional park. As befitting a course carved from native bush-clad mountains this is a test of fitness with some tough vertical climbs but the course where Kiwi legend Frank Nobilo learned to play his golf is a must-do for its sheer beauty.
Muriwai + Huapai
The rugged black sand west coast beaches of Auckland – Piha, Bethell’s and Muriwai – are tourist destinations in their own right but only one features a stunning links course. The Muriwai course is so close to the beach it had to be rerouted a few years back as the ocean and the moving sand dunes threatened to erode some holes. It’s not what the purists call “true links” because the traditional fescue and bent grasses struggle to survive in Auckland’s temperate climate – it’s all kikuyu in the fairways – but it’s as close as you get to a true links experience in New Zealand’s biggest city. The views are stunning, the architecture pleasing, and the challenge mighty. Muriwai has long been considered one of the best courses in Auckland – mostly because its sand-based fairways make it playable all year round. Muriwai is just over 30 minutes’ drive from the city on the north-west motorway but equally it’s a stunning spot to stay a night – you could swim, or just walk along the beach after your round. Back towards the city and just 15 minutes away is Huapai. Take the turn-off on the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway and follow your nose. a few minutes down that road is Huapai Golf Club. Tree-lined, undulating but very pretty given its farmland setting, Huapai has a mix of quality – some holes are straightforward but the trio of holes from 11-13 is special (and difficult). The 11th in particular – with a blind tee shot over bushclad hillock – a is a real treat. Down the road is Auckland’s best beer garden, Hallertau, for a refreshing drop and fantastic wood-fired oven fare that goes way beyond pizza.
South Head + Helensville
You could make a great multi-day trip along Auckland’s northwest corridor by adding South Head to your itinerary. The course where Tiger Woods famously carried the bag for caddie Steve Williams on the eve of his wedding – back when they were best partnership in golf history – South Head is home to some of the best views in Auckland. Located on the south head of Kaipara Harbour, South Head is only an hour’s drive from the central city but you’ll be transported to another place entirely. It’s an undulating course of contrasting nines. The front nine feels long and testing – with two long par-3s and three par-5s – but the back nine provides relief with some shorter par-4s as well as glorious views over the Kaipara Harbour. The signature hole is the par-5 17th – reachable in two if you can boom a drive and land it on the equivalent of a 50c piece, as that’s how the narrow the snake-like fairway seems from the elevated tee. Afterwards you can head back towards Helensville and soak in the hot pools at Parakai to complete a get-away-from-it-all feeling. If you want to play two in a day or are staying way out west (maybe you want to try out the Woodhill Forest mountain bike trails as well?) then the Helensville Golf Club is just up the road. A true country course, this tree-lined parkland course is flattish and not too long, making it a great place for all levels of players. Back in Helensville itself, the hugely popular Liberty Brewing has a taproom right next to a fish n chip shop, making it a great place to replenish.
Akarana + Maungakiekie
Akarana is arguably the most-easily accessed golf course in Auckland. Centrally located in Mt Roskill it’s hemmed in by the famed Dominion Rd and the Southwest motorway. From the club carpark the airport is only 15 minutes away and the city closer still. So, no matter where you’re staying – town or airport – if you’re pressed for time Akarana is the place for you. But there’s more than convenience at play here – this is a tidy and challenging golf course which requires accuracy and an ability to shape shots in different directions. There are plenty of undulations requiring shots played semi-blind to elevated greens as well water carries on some of the par-3s. Akarana has two distinct nines. The shorter inner loop with a par of 34 has one of the great holes in Auckland golf, the par-3 8th which measures 176 metres from the blue tee to a narrow green with bunkers on the left and water on the right. The longer outer nine, which has out of bounds on the left of six holes, has the two longer par fives, two demanding par fours in the 13th and 15th, the testing par-3 16th. It’s fun track where the greens can get slick when cut closely. In theory – and if you were named Dustin Johnson – you could hit a ball from the southwest corner of Akarana and land it in the north-east corner of Maungakiekie. From gate to gate it’s less than a five-minute drive. Maungakiekie is one of those funky and fun golf courses. On the surface it doesn’t present any great terrors but it’s a hell of a walk, with a lot of uphill hikes and lovely downhill drives – the best of which comes on the 10th tee where the walk to the elevated tee block gets ample reward with a wide inviting fairway. There are some clever holes tucked into a tight layout.
North Shore + Pupuke
North Shore Golf Club is the unique in the city in that it’s a genuine 27-hole layout – there’s three loops of nine that offer good variety because you never really know which combination you’re going to get. In a parkland setting but close to the water’s edge, it’s an idyllic location so close to the city. While the three nines are independently listed as Red, Blue and Gold the entire 27 holes blend into each other smoothly. If there was one set you’d want to play it’s probably the Red, as it wanders along the banks of Lucas Creek and offers the best views. Overall, North Shore offers a great all-round test without being overly difficult or punishing, reflected in the fact it’s easily one of the busiest courses in the country and booking in advance is essential. There’s a recently redeveloped practice area with a pitching green, a covered driving range, as well as two practice putting greens. Just 10 minutes away is Pupuke Golf Club which has become something of mecca for aspiring golfers as it’s the place Lydia Ko learned her skills under the watchful eye of coach Guy Wilson. But there’s more than the Ko factor at play here – one of the oldest clubs in the Auckland, Pupuke boasts outstanding and uninterrupted views of the Hauraki Gulf and Rangitoto Island. It’s a truly stunning place to play and it’s no wonder little Lydia fell in love with playing golf here.
Gulf Harbour + Whangaparoa
As New Zealand’s only Robert Trent Jones Jr designed course, Gulf Harbour is a must-play for many golf fans. Set on the spectacular Whangaparoa Peninsula about 45 minutes north of the city, this well-maintained resort-style course starts out tamely through residential areas but gives you full noise on the back nine when nature – and some spectacular views – come in to play. The course features many classic risk-reward propositions and there is no hole in Auckland more demanding, exhilarating or dramatic than the par-4 395m 16th which requires a drive over a ravine to a hole that doglegs right. The more fairway you chose to bite off the greater the carry and the greater chance your ball will sail into the ocean. Only minutes down the road the Whangaparoa Golf Club offers a relaxed country feel. The views may not be as dramatic as Gulf Harbour but it’s a picturesque, well-maintained (if a little rough around the edges) layout and with some demanding and quirky holes. There are lots of doglegs and shots either up or down to climb. It would be easy to overlook this gem – so don’t.
Howick + Waiheke
If you like your golf scenic then put down the Howick Golf Club on your hidden gem bucket list. Located at the romantically-named Musick Point on Auckland’s eastern shores, the golf course sits at the top part of a finger of land pointing directly at Rangitoto and sits above the gorgeous Half Moon Bay. It’s a priceless location and one of the most delightful settings for golf in Auckland. The pretty course is quite undulating and well maintained but don’t expect championship golf – this is quaint and beautiful. For the near perfect golf weekend, catch the ferry to Waiheke Island from nearby Half Moon Bay (you can take your car) and visit Auckland’s favourite getaway island. Try some wine, dip in the ocean and visit the down-to-earth and always-available Waiheke Golf Club. Don’t go expecting the golf course to match the vineyards here but be prepared for a bit of fun on this 11 (yes, 11) hole layout that can be played as either 11 or 18 (or anything you desire really, as it’s that relaxed). Great views and fun for everyone.
Windross Farm + Whitford Park
Windross Farm is only a few years old but has already played host to a dramatic New Zealand Women’s Open – won by Brooke Henderson on a week plagued by wild weather which didn’t give the course a chance to show its true nature. Think of it as inland links where minimalism and simplicity rule the look but – like any innocent looking course – there’s more to it than meets the eye. The wide fairways offer an easy target for the mid-range handicapper but the good player will seek the edges for angles. Undulating ground offers unpredictable links-like bounce and roll. Set in rural Clevedon, south-east of Auckland it’s a short drive from the airport but a fair hike from town but there are plenty of great places in the area. With its excellent condition all year round and incredible facilities, Windross is a great addition to the Auckland golf scene. Just 10 minutes up the road is Whitford Park – a lovely parkland course set in a lush valley and offering some of the best conditions in the region. Mint couch-grass fairways, challenging holes, superb greens and a picturesque setting make it an idyllic course. A driving bay and excellent clubhouse complete the experience.