Rees Jones, Inc.

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Rees Jones, Inc.
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“Open Doctor” Rees Jones Works His Magic At Kauri Cliffs

Kauri Cliffs
Famed architect Rees Jones redesigned the par-3 fifth hole at Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand, a bucket-list course for anyone who wants to play a top-100 layout in a spectacular setting. (Photo courtesy of Kauri Cliffs GC)

MATAURI BAY, N.Z. (Aug. 4, 2014) — Elite courses rarely make radical changes to their routings, but the brain trust at Kauri Cliffs GC has done exactly that — transforming the 5th from a long, uphill, forced-carry par-3 to a short, “drop-shot” par-3 that manages to enhance and diversify a track already ranked among world top 100.

Rees Jones was tasked with this delicate piece of course renovation. The celebrated architect was handpicked for the job by owner Julian Robertson, the American hedge fund legend who developed Kauri Cliffs GC with architect David Harman in the late 1990s. The course opened in 2000 and today is ranked #74 in the world according to GOLF Magazine (it’s #39 on Golf Digest’s Global Top 100).

“Julian’s concern was the orientation of 5th and 7th holes, which had been quite similar in orientation and length,” said Jones. “The thinking was, we wanted a shorter par-3, under 200 yards, that enhanced the entire, 18-hole golf experience, and that’s what we accomplished with the new No. 5.”

The architect took a par-3 that played some 200 yards from the back tee — slightly uphill, across a lush canyon — and moved the tee 90 degrees to the left, to a hillside looking down on the same green complex. The 5th now plays downhill to a putting surface half the size, perched at the edge of that same canyon.

Jones and the construction team broke ground on this project in April, just when Kauri Cliffs eased into its slower, winter season. (The architect also added a back tee on the par-4 2nd hole, eliminated and combined bunkers on the par-4 4th, and added a forward tee on the daunting par-4 9th, mitigating the effects of an heroic canyon crossing.) Work was completed in May, and the new hole reopens this month.

“If you look at the scorecard, all the par-3s were quite similar in yardage, even if they didn’t play at all the same,” said Kauri Cliffs head professional Jon Chapman. “The changes to No. 5 create more diversity, in addition to what is an entirely new hole. Rees Jones changed the front-nine dynamic completely. It’s going to be a phenomenal addition.”

Chapman’s point is well taken. The other par-3s at Kauri Cliffs couldn’t be more different:

  • No. 14 plays downhill along Kauri’s signature cliff-edge, with the Pacific Ocean ever present on the golfer’s left.
  • No. 11 plays amid the marshlands at the layout’s lowest point.
  • No. 7 plays slightly uphill along the clifftops, across a gap in those cliffs, with the Pacific immediately on the golfer’s right.

Each measures some 200 yards from the back tees, and though Kauri superintendent Andy Wood has great flexibility in differing yardages among multiple tees on each hole, No. 5 was just too much like No. 7.

“It’s pretty neat, because we built a drop-shot that is just 140 yards from the back tee,” Jones said. “Now we can put a different club in the player’s hands, and this new orientation provides long views of the cliffs and the ocean that weren’t there before, not till later in the round. Kauri Cliffs has such a tremendous range of golf holes, but it didn’t have that sort of hole. Now it does.”

Rees Jones is one of the most prolific and decorated course architects working today, with more than 100 original designs to his credit, on four continents. He’s also performed renovations at 100 more, including a series of U.S. Open venues. This specialized line of work has earned him the sobriquet, “Open Doctor”.

Jones had visited Kauri Cliffs and its sister course, Cape Kidnappers GC in Napier, N.Z., three years ago on a pleasure trip with his wife (“She still thinks the rooms at Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers are as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world”). Jones happened to meet Robertson on this trip and eventually the owner convinced the architect to consider this remodeling project, as Harman passed away in 2005.

“Kauri Cliffs truly is one of the great coastal golf courses in the world, because it can challenge the best and yet can be managed by the average golfer,” Jones said. “I think it’s unique, which is a credit to David Harman. I never did meet him but I know he was Arnold Palmer’s contractor for many years. The course looks like it’s been there forever, but it had to be built. It’s a very challenging piece of terrain. Harman clearly knew what to touch and what not to touch.

“He designed and built one of the great golf experiences at Kauri Cliffs. It’s very special.”

In August 2013, the verandah-wrapped Lodge at Kauri Cliffs was named the #1 hotel in the world according to Business Insider, which reached this decision by aggregating current world hotel rankings from the travel industry’s most respected sources: Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveller, and Fodor’s. In October 2013, Kauri Cliffs received a near perfect score of 99.2 out of 100 in Condé Nast Traveler ‘s 2013 Reader’s Choice Awards detailing the “Top 100 Hotels & Resorts in the World”.

“The standards here are quite high, and improvements to No. 5 were something that Julian has been talking about for years,” Chapman said. “It’s funny because, in January, Julian made a hole in one on the old 5th. We were hoping he would still go ahead with the remodel… Now that he has, we’re thrilled with the results–and we’re confident our golfers will feel the same.”