Golf in New Zealand: Post-golf Activities

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me of my happiest memories of New Zealand involve activities that weren’t golf—a first for me on any trip for which my luggage includes my clubs. I ate great food and met nice people, and I saw basking seals, a twenty-one-hundred-year-old tree, and stingrays nearly the size of Stingrays. I also saw sharks, from a helicopter. They were feeding near the breakers a hundred feet off Ninety Mile Beach, a strip of sand that runs up the northwestern edge of the North Island. As the pilot took us down for a closer look, I asked whether the presence of large marine carnivores so close to the water’s edge didn’t deter swimmers. “Oh, no,” he said. “Most of the swimmers don’t know they’re there.”

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Shark-spotting was just one small part of day-long menu of activities known locally as the Full Julian, after Julian Robertson, the creator and owner of Kauri Cliffs, the resort where I was staying. Four other guests and I traveled by helicopter to the Waipoua Forest, where our Maori guide sang a song of tribute to Tane Mahuta, an enormous kauri tree that predates Christianity:

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Then we flew to the northern tip of the island and hovered above a turbulent spot, just off the coast, where Pacific Ocean currents collide with those of the Tasman Sea:

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Then we set down for a beach picnic:

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And then we raced down dunes on rented ATVs. Here’s our adult supervision, standing at the top of a dune we were about to race down:

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And here’s what the same dune looked like from the bottom:

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Everyone made it down. I don’t remember how we got back up.

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Two nights later, I did something that surprised me by being even more fun: I went midnight possum hunting, under the supervision of a Kauri Cliffs employee who is a veteran of the British equivalent of the Green Berets. All New Zealand mammals, except for a couple of rare species of bats, were introduced to the islands by humans and are thus considered varmints until proven otherwise. Possums—which are bushier and less sinister-looking than American opossums—were imported in 1836 by some Australians who were hoping to establish a fur trade. Now there are 80 million of them, and they eat the eggs of the kiwi, New Zealand’s nearly extinct flightless national bird, and they have no natural predators, except people. I hadn’t fired a gun since summer camp in Colorado, forty years before, and was astonished to discover I have a talent for felling treed marsupials with single shots to the head. I had been a somewhat reluctant participant in our hunting expedition, but if, toward the end, our guide had suggested that we stay out till dawn I would have eagerly agreed. Possum-killin’ was also the favorite Kauri Cliffs activity of the golfers Dave Stockton and Dave Stockton, Jr., who, during a visit shortly before mine, went out every night.

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One afternoon, following a round of golf, I toured the entire property with the man in charge of the agricultural side of Robertson’s New Zealand operation. (That’s him in the photo above.) We visited the sheep-shearing shed, climbed over a 9000-volt electric fence, scaled an old volcano whose summit is the highest point on the farm, visited a couple of stunning beaches, saw some cattle that were about to be slaughtered, and ran into the Kauri Cliffs farm manager, who was responsible for twenty-five hundred beef cattle and five thousand sheep. The manager was wearing a golf hat and driving a big ATV, and there were three scruffy farm dogs standing just behind his seat. He said, “Kauri Cliffs is not a golf course with a farm on it. It’s a 6,000-acre-farm with a golf course at one end.” Then he roared off, and the dogs, like surfers, had to shift their weight in complicated ways to keep from falling off.

It’s summer in New Zealand right now. Do you understand what I’m saying?

To be continued.

Golf in New Zealand: Kauri Cliffs

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One of the most remarkable things my wife has ever said to me is that, if I ever told her I thought we ought to live in New Zealand, she’d be ready to move that minute. This was highly surprising, both because she doesn’t really even like to travel and because Donald Trump wasn’t running for President yet. I think her interest was based partly on the scenery in The Lord of the Rings movies and partly on the fact that New Zealand is so far from everywhere else that if you holed up there you would no longer have to think quite so much about the world’s most serious problems. I myself might be tempted to move, if I could persuade all my regular golf buddies to go, too.

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I visited New Zealand in 2007, in the company of the hedge-fund billionaire Julian Robertson and his wife, Josie—who has since died.

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We spent the first few days at Kauri Cliffs, a resort the they had created on a 6,000-acre farm in the Bay of Islands region, near the northern end of the North Island. “I had no idea what I’d bought,” he told me. “It turned out to be one of the most magical pieces of land you will ever see, but when I bought it I didn’t even know that it had waterfalls. I saw it at the worst time of the year, August, and it was nothing but a filthy wet sheep farm, and I really bought it mainly because it was cheaper than a modest New York City apartment.”

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In 1997, he hired David Harman, a golf architect he admired, to design a course for the eastern edge of the property, along cliffs that rise high above the Pacific. That course is now No. 49 on Golf Digest’s list of the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. It’s just ahead of North Berwick Golf Club, in Scotland—one of my favorite golf courses of all time. Kauri Cliffs is a terrific course, too, and the views from the ocean holes are spectacular.

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Josie didn’t see the place until the course was almost finished, and when she did she said they would have to build a lodge, too, in order to attract enough golfers to keep the course in operation. “I said, That’s ridiculous, this is a great golf course and they will come,” Julian told me. “Well, Josie was right; they wouldn’t have come. Kauri Cliffs is about as far away from everywhere else as you can get, so it was a real stroke of genius of hers that we did it. And, as it turns out, the lodge business down here has been very, very good.”

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The accommodations at Kauri Cliffs consist of eleven two-bedroom cottages arranged along a secluded walking path, plus the Owner’s Cottage, which is larger, has its own garden and infinity-edge swimming pool, and can be rented (for more than $6,000 a night in the high season) when the Robertsons aren’t in residence. Each suite-size half-cottage has a porch, fireplace, dressing room, and spa-like bathroom, and it looks out over the golf course to the sea. This was the view from my room:

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When the resort was being designed, Josie had a big fight with the architect over air-conditioning: the architect argued that no self-respecting five-star hotel could possibly do without it, and Josie argued that it most definitely could. The winner, naturally, was Josie—and she was right. The outdoor daytime temperature at Kauri Cliffs hovers around room temperature virtually all year long, and one of the great pleasures of staying there is waking up to birds and ocean breezes rather than the cold hum of an HVAC system.

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To be continued.

The Best Sunscreen for Golfers is Now Available as a Spray

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New Zealanders didn’t invent skin cancer, but they’ve come close to perfecting it: their country is stuck under one of the skimpier parts of the ozone layer. The only time the tops of my ears have ever peeled was during a golf trip Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, in 2007 (photo above). So it isn’t surprising that New Zealanders have also created the best sunscreen for golfers: GolfersSkin, which is used by a large and growing number of tour pros and caddies. It’s sweat-proof, and it isn’t greasy, and it doesn’t stain golf shirts, and it comes in several forms—among them, now, a spray, which is especially easy to apply to bare arms and legs. My wife says the non-spray versions smell like “fine coconut cologne”; the spray is coconut-free, and if you use it in combination with insect repellent you can turn your legs into a La Brea-Tar-Pits-style mausoleum for flying and crawling bugs.

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