Every Hole at Tara Iti Golf Club in Mangawhai, New Zealand
Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner and Golf Digest Contributing Editor Thomas L. Friedman narrates this flyover tour and overview of the Tara Iti golf course in Mangawhai, New Zealand.
Released on 8/6/2018
[Thomas] Tom Doak's masterpiece at Tara Iti
has taken the golf world by storm
since opening quietly in October, 2015.
Ranked number six on Golf Digest's
World 100 Greatest List,
this magnificent seaside links course
has once again put golf in New Zealand
squarely in the crosshairs
of enthusiasts from all over the world.
This is Every Hole at Tara Iti.
Actually, finding Tara Iti
is the first accomplishment of a visit.
After driving about 90 minutes north of Auckland,
you leave the pavement for the journey
down the gravel road leading to the gate.
As you wind your way into Tara Iti,
the pine forest starts to thin,
and sand begins to reveal itself.
Before you get your first glimpse of golf,
the clubhouse sets the tone
for what this place is really all about,
understated elegance, attention to detail,
and blending with nature
while even standing opposed to it.
To put the level of detail into perspective here,
the sand for the sandstone
used in the construction of the clubhouse
was mined on site to ensure
that the color palette matched the building it surrounds.
The course is unique and so beautiful
that it is really difficult to put into words.
It is truly just perfection.
The opening hole introduces you
to the importance of angles at Tara Iti.
A small grove of lanky pine
force you to play this as designed,
as a little dogleg left.
It's not a long hole,
but the second shot is played
to a slightly elevated green.
There is a brilliant backstop
that will bring the ball back down to the hole
if you go too long.
Brute force will not produce the lowest score at Tara Iti,
but the right mix of imagination and execution will.
The second at Tara Iti has a small pot-like bunker
situated almost in the middle of the green,
with several tee options and shifting winds.
this par three could literally require
anything from a fairway wood to a nine iron.
The elevated tee provides your first,
but by no means your last,
majestic view of the Pacific Ocean.
It's hard for me to pick a favorite hole at Tara Iti,
but the third, I have to tell you, is a strong contender.
The wide fairway leads to a natural punchbowl green
built in the dunes, and on most days,
the pin can't be seen.
Anything from a high middle iron,
low running punch, or even a well struck putter
can produce incredible results
thanks to the firm contours surrounding the green.
I have literally putted from 50 to 75 yards
off this green.
Every great golf course should have at least one
drivable par four,
and Tara Iti is blessed with several.
One would foolishly think these are easy pars,
or even birdie holes, but beware.
An errant shot to the left
will put you in a deep bunker
out of which you can't see anything,
and anything short right
will leave you with an uphill shot
to a pin you can't see as well.
One of the longest holes on the course,
with the largest green on the course,
the fifth provides a generous landing area off the tee,
but requires a lot more thought
for your second and third shots.
This is also a social corridor in the course,
with the fairways of the fifth
and the third holes intersecting.
It provides a great opportunity for golfers to interact
from a brief nod to some friendly banter,
like, What the hell are you doing in my fairway?
The walk from the fifth green to the sixth tee
is destined to be among the best walks in golf.
This elevated tee allows for huge ocean views,
but your eye is drawn to the massive
natural sand dune in the distance.
This is the closest you'll play to the Pacific,
which adds a joyful distraction
to this difficult, par four, elevated green
that I have to say has consistently given me fits.
One of the most brilliant holes on the course, the seventh,
is as exciting as it is diabolical.
At less than 300 yards, this drivable par four
almost begs you to have a courageous swing
with your driver, and you're even more tempted
because you can get a lot of roll here.
If you go right, you'll be slammed into the side
of a sand dune, and if you go long,
the sand trap, coming back,
oh my goodness, bring a shovel.
Perhaps the most challenging driving hole in the course,
the eighth, is right about where you start to realize
you're almost to the halfway point.
Once you've safely found the fairway,
this green is well protected on the right,
and slopes off sharply on the left.
Tara Iti always provides a safe play,
which on the eighth hole would be to the left.
I have been there almost every time.
But you'll have to earn your par from there,
because to chip back up to that sloping green is never easy.
From one of the best driving challenges on the course
to now one of the most challenging
green complexes on the course.
The ninth plays long, uphill,
into the wind, and requires first timers
to put complete trust in their caddies.
Because of the bowl shape of the green,
and the giant backstop behind it,
balls approaching from the left
will typically feed to the right side of this green,
and balls approaching from the right
will do the opposite.
While this is apparent to the caddies,
it is not to the golfer.
There is also a huge trap in front,
and if you end up there,
getting up and down can be next to impossible.
That brings us to the mighty tenth hole.
It's a monster of a par three
that could easily be mistaken
for a short par four,
and most likely will require
a head cover to be removed.
This hole is the epitome of a firm, fast golf hole.
The ball is very much alive when it lands.
The best play here is to land it short,
right of the green, then watch it bound forward
and trek left toward the center of the putting surface.
If you do go left into the sand and bush though,
you will discover that it's easy to find your ball there
and actually make a play from that spot.
The eleventh is a sweeping par five
with a generous landing area.
The hole bends toward the ocean,
and the green site is framed
by the craggy islands in the distance.
A small bunker in front of the green
flanked by large slopes,
make holding the green on this hole very difficult,
even with a short iron.
That is, it's a short par five,
but its protection is in the slope of this green,
and once again, you can pull your putter out
from 75 yards away.
The twelfth requires a blind tee shot over a ridge line,
but you'll be rewarded with tremendous roll,
making this 450-plus yard par four much shorter.
The real fun is on the second shot,
where the green sits amid a dune
that falls hard from right to left.
An approach landing in the center of the green
will settle 20 to 30 yards down the bank.
Instead, play your approach onto the hillside
right of the green, and watch as gravity pulls it down
20 to 30 yards toward the hole.
The thirteenth, another brilliant,
potentially drivable par four,
takes you to the highest point on the course.
A well placed fairway bunker is both Satan and savior,
Satan if you find your way inside,
leaving you a near impossible, I can attest,
hundred yard shot into the green,
savior because it allows you to choose the line you wish
to attack this green, either over the bunker
to run the ball in, or right of the bunker
to try to chase it on.
A heroic tee shot on the fourteenth,
an elevated par four, should stay well left of center.
A ball hit down the center line,
or with a bit too much gusto,
will have you fighting for a five from the sand
that runs along the right side of the hole.
As good as the golf hole is,
your eyes are drawn to the Hen and Chicks,
the islands directly behind the green on your approach,
and the magnificent sand dune to the north,
visible for much of the course.
Again, there's a false front here,
which is hard to detect when you're coming up the hill,
so make sure you get it over that.
Appearing as if a green blanket
has been laid gently across the dunes,
the fifteenth is a downhill par three
that is as beautiful as it is ruthless,
where three feels like a major accomplishment.
A green that slopes from front to back
adds even more challenge,
but your first reach isn't for an iron.
It's for your camera, as the fifteenth
is one of the most photographed holes on the course.
Sandwiched between two difficult par threes,
the sixteenth requires a well struck tee ball
that will leave you with a middle to short iron in.
However, a front pin can turn a would-be par
into a what the heck just happened six.
It's often easy to lose focus here
as your eyes start to wander to the left
and the postage stamp green
of the par three seventeenth coming up.
I think the seventeenth is a hole
that is destined to adorn
everything from magazine covers to calendars,
and I have to warn you, some nightmares.
This tiny, elevated green
demands one of your best shots of the day.
It's the shortest hole in the course.
I often hit a nine iron there into the wind.
But the brilliance of the hole's design
is that you have to fly the ball to the hole.
With the constant breeze on the seventeenth,
high in the air is the last place you want to be,
as shots that appear to be tracking on line
have a habit of drifting ever so gently
into the many parless spots around the green,
including these incredibly craggy,
deep sand dune traps
that make up and down next to impossible.
After a brief moment to wipe the tears from your eyes
as you recognize that your round at Tara Iti
is coming to an end, you'll need to reapply your game face
for the final tee shot of the day.
The par five eighteenth is reachable
even for moderate hitters.
I've hit it several times with a three wood,
but the landing area
is among the most narrow on the course,
which is why I've also hit the traps around it
several times with a three wood.
Above the magnificent green complex
sits Tara Iti's clubhouse.
Many watchful eyes will add even more pressure
as you attack this finishing hole.
Indeed, your New Zealand mates
are often sitting on a bench up there
watching, cheering, and having
often a pretty good laugh
as you come in for a landing
on the eighteenth at Tara Iti.
Few golf courses, if any, can approach
Tara Iti's raw beauty.
Its relaxed, understated atmosphere
truly sets it apart from any golf destination in the world.
The on-site cottages are cozy but transformative.
A 31-foot, 1970 Airstream Time Traveler
has been refitted with a chef's kitchen
capable of providing everything from light snacks
to full meals, to homemade pizza.
There are organic gardens, a caravan
that's been converted to a bar,
not to mention ample opportunities for kayaking,
paddle boarding or biking.
Several days after golf,
I'll take a cart and walk down
to the seven or eight miles of utterly pristine beach.
In all my days at Tara Iti,
I've never been on that beach with anybody else.