Mike Keiser’s book – The Nature of the Game – was very instructive for me. Perhaps it was this book that convinced me how exciting and beautiful the links courses are and why minimalist golf course architecture is a good choice.
In search of new links courses in the world, I discovered Te Arai Links in New Zealand. I was delighted when Jim Rohrstaff, managing director, Te Arai Links, accepted my interview invitation.
What is the concept of Te Arai Links?
My partner Ric Kayne and I wanted to create a world-class golf destination utilizing the amazing sand-based site that we have which runs along the Pacific Ocean.
We have built 36 holes of golf, two clubhouses, 48 luxury suites, 19 two-bedroom cottages, 6 four-bedroom villas, and multiple restaurants.
Our initial casual restaurant, Ric’s, is surrounded by a 2.5-acre putting green called “The Playground”!
We decided to use two of the absolute best golf course architects, Coore and Crenshaw (South Course) and then Tom Doak (North Course).
After developing and building Tara Iti and seeing its success, we really wanted to make a club that was now accessible to the public and to tourists from around the world.
We set out to create a combination of great golf, beautiful architecture, and a very high level of service. Our visitors will fall in love with Te Arai Links the second they see it.
Why and how you selected the architects?
We selected Coore and Crenshaw and Tom Doak because we believe that they are the best two living architects in the world. The two of them are certainly responsible for more top 100 courses in the world than any other living architects.
On top of that, the site really lends itself to links golf and a minimalist design. Our desire is to have the best 36-hole complex in the world, so we wanted to go with the architects whose work is proven to be the best.
Both were called and invited down to the site to have a look. Coore and Crenshaw had never designed anything in New Zealand, so they were thrilled with the opportunity.
Tom Doak designed Cape Kidnappers for the late Julian Robertson and then Tara Iti with us. Based on the success of Tara Iti and the job that he and his team did here, we thought it was right to reward them with another course to design.
What kind of golfers is the goal these golf courses designed for?
The brief for both architects was unbelievably simple:
- First, we wanted the best golf course they could create on this property.
- Second, we wanted courses that were fair and FUN!
- Finally, we wanted the pace of play to be in 4 hours or less.
The courses were designed for all golfers. Too many developers set out to design a “Championship Course”. For who?
The average golfer (their customer and/or member) is a 16-20 handicap. The goal for us was to have courses that are playable and enjoyable for the average player but also are fun and challenging for great players. I believe that both architects succeeded here.
They have designed courses that are pure links golf. You can play creative shots that use the natural terrain that the courses occupy.
Links golf to us is the most fun and enjoyable type of golf.
How high is the demand for links courses in New Zealand and globally?
Well, I think that if you were to look at the top 100 in the world golf courses, it’s dominated by links golf. It provides firm, fast conditions and an interesting strategy. And that’s the kind of golf that we have down here.
But if you look at how many true-links golf courses there are in the world, I don’t recall what the number is, but I believe it’s only around 250 true-links courses.
So there are not a lot of them, but links golf certainly dominates the top 100 in the world list, and I think people like them because it is interesting golf and typically coastal with a nice sea breeze.
But it’s you know, it’s a much more fun way to play the game. And I think a lot of people agree. So the demand is there for sure and now we have 3 absolutely pure links golf courses between Te Arai Links and Tara Iti.
What are the trends & customer expectations in golf real estate?
From a real estate perspective for us, we look at golf first. We believe that if we create great golf, it will help drive the real estate component. Great building architecture, service, and having the right amenities are also expected.
For us, we have walking/biking trails, tennis, pickleball courts (which are now a must-have), and multiple dining options. We also happen to sit on one of the nicest beaches in New Zealand which helps too.
Along with all of these amenities, you must think and act in a sustainable way. Sustainability is certainly an integral part of development now, but it needs to make sense commercially too.
As for trends, we try to stick with what we know and just deliver a great product. And I guess, our track record of selling our property before it’s even built is proof that our clientele agrees.
How could New Zealand become a better-known golf destination? How will you attract golf tourists?
With the addition of more “bucket list” courses like Te Arai Links, I believe that golf tourists will make their way down to New Zealand in larger numbers than ever before. The connectivity to markets like Australia, Asia, and the US are huge for New Zealand.
In the US, you have direct flights to Auckland from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and New York. It is a really easy trip even though on the surface people look a the long flight and think it is hard.
The flight is overnight and people are always stunned by how easy it is and the lack of jet lag.
For us, word of mouth is the best marketing, but it takes time. We’ve been fortunate that we have a project in Te Arai Links that people want to know about, so you have a lot of nice articles that talk about it.
It is also a very photogenic course, so the imagery will always help to bring people down whether they are golfers or not!