The first tee at Muriwai Golf Club offers one of the best opening hole vistas in New Zealand – and it just gets better from there.
The links layout butts up against the famous surf beach on Auckland’s West Coast – it’s so close to the beach that the Muriwai Surf Life Saving Club is just a wedge away from the back of the fifth green. In fact, the course had to be rerouted a few years back as the ocean and the moving sand dunes threatened to erode some holes.
It’s built in classic links fashion on sand dunes running inland from the rugged black-sand beach and towards the arable land on the other side of the road. 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.
On the first tee your view sweeps across the ocean and out to Oaia Island. But you can’t get too caught up in the view because the first hole – like so many on this course – will bite you hard if you’re not accurate enough to find the fairway. It looks simple enough but like so many holes at Muriwai, you’ll pay a hefty for taking it lightly.
Anyway, the view from the second tee is better than the first – probably the best on the course, rivalled only by the nearby eighth tee.
On the second, you climb some rough-hewn steps to stand atop a sand dune for an elevated tee shot looking south on a par-5 hole that’s potentially drive-able depending which way the wind is blowing.
This time your view sweeps to the south and west – usually the direction of the prevailing breeze which tends to eliminate that two-shot option for the 418m (men’s white tees) hole.
Muriwai has long been considered one of the best courses in Auckland – I’d go so far as to say it’s many a golfer’s second favourite course after their home track. What’s not to love: It’s playable all year round because of the sandy fairways, the greens are manicured to near perfection and the views are spectacular.
In keeping with the links-land feel the wind is nearly always present. As you drive out to the coast from Auckland – just a 30-minute trip from downtown thanks to the improved north-west motorway – you might think you’ll get lucky and it won’t be too windy but when you arrive at the course you’ll discover the breeze kicks just a little bit harder out here than anywhere else in the city.
For the uninitiated the wind can play havoc with club selection – what might seem like the right club choice is often one or two more-or-less than you need.
It’s most revealed on the par-5s – all four of them all run in much the same direction, usually into the prevailing breeze – but if you happen to strike the right conditions and a breeze from the northern quarter, they all become reachable in two shots – albeit challenging shots. The second green for instance is well-guarded by bunkers and the right-to-left turning fairway is reasonably hard to hit with bunkers pinching in at the corner. The sixth is only 399m off the whites but a long haul uphill before a gentle downhill and requires a booming drive across the dogleg corner to make it reachable in two. The 12th (400m) is a tough driving hole and you need a good shape (right to left) and a decent bounce from the elevated tee before exceptional accuracy is required to hit the long and narrow green. The 14th (again just 399m) is all about trust. Another elevated tee shot is ominous – a hillside think with marram-grass on the left, a scrubby wooded area cutting in from the right. Even if you’re in the fairway, the next shot, which can be as little as a seven-iron on the right day is a blind shot into a domed green that tends to reject balls played long or short.
Other highlights on this course include a couple of cunning par-3s. The stunning eighth hole – you’re staring from an elevated tee straight out to the ocean – is only 124m from the white tees but you can use as little as pitching wedge if you get a straight easterly while into the ocean breeze it can be a four-iron or hybrid might – and even then it might not be enough as the buffeting breeze knocks down your ball. The 17th is a tiny little hole, just 100m at best, but with heaps of terror. It’s slightly uphill to a deceptively contoured green and as a result it offers what seems like an impossibly small target even though it’s only a wedge away. The green is actually huge but again the wind can mess with your club selection. A barely hit gap wedge or a full-blooded eight-iron can be the extremes and there’s no margin for error front, back, left or right.
The closing hole is one of the toughest on the course. A 327m par-4 features an uphill drive to a narrow pinch of fairway. If you lay back it’s a long way home – blindly over the crest of a hill. If you go at it too hard and miss the fairway, you’re dead to the left and potentially blocked out by Norfolk pines on the right. And once you are in a position to go for the green you have to choose your club carefully as a dramatic three-tiered green cut into the side of a hill awaits you. Get on the wrong tier – especially above the hole and two putts are far from guaranteed.
Other features of the course are the almost-impossible to hit plateau 13th green, thick, ball-gobbling rough, and heavy black-sand bunkers (it does pay to practice your bunker shots if you’ve not played here before as the dense sand offers a completely different feel to many coarser bunkers).
The over-riding beauty of Muriwai is in its location – and there’s nothing better than an afternoon round, followed by a beer in the elevated clubhouse (with its friendly cats) and watching the sun fall towards the horizon.