Doing things a bit differently for this review since Tara Iti is too dope for WordPress. For the hole-by-hole course summary of Tara Iti, please visit the accompanying photo/video essay. This post accompanies the photo essay and delves into the backstory of the course, translates the ethos of the club and describes the experience beyond the course in detail.

Tara Iti

The driveway is nearly unmarked and Google Maps doesn’t work for it. I had to use the satellite view to drop a pin on what I believed to be the clubhouse, then followed the blue dot as it moved. From there the drive entails a gravel road long enough to make you question whether you’re going the right way. Finally, a small sign points toward the clubhouse and to the course beyond.

Tara Iti is an intimate private club (that is possible for you to play! More on this later). Located about an hour and a half northeast of Auckland, Tara Iti hugs the east coast of New Zealand. After inquiring through the website about the possibility of taking a look at the course that debuted with a top 50 world ranking, I was lucky enough to receive an invite to stay, play, and get the full experience (and pay, for the haters out there).

When Los Angeles-based financier Ric Kayne bought 570 acres of beachfront land near the town of Mangawhai in 2012 (at the recommendation of his business partner, John Darby), it was nothing but a forest of non-indigenous pines. Kayne hired Tom Doak to design and build the golf course – no small task considering the density of the forest, and the difficulty of removing the stumps and underbrush.

I rolled up to the course the night before I was scheduled to play in order to take a tour of the grounds. My host was a gentleman named Jim Rohrstaff, and his enthusiasm for the club was evident from the beginning. He’d played 18 earlier that day, and was jacked up to take advantage of the beautiful weather by grabbing some clubs and showing me around a few holes. Jim was mid-sentence telling me a story when I saw it for the first time. He saw the expression on my face change, and realized I hadn’t seen the full setting yet. He stopped, realizing the shock I was going through: “Oh yeah…. this is it.”

With temperatures in the 70’s and the best possible sunlight, this was easily the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course without officially playing. Armed with a couple of red Solo cups, some range balls, a six iron, and a putter, we went for a memorable walk. We hit all manner of shots from a variety of yardages, putted around the punchbowl third hole, and toyed with the contours of the layout, which define the experience of the course.

I’ve been fortunate to see some truly amazing places, but this course spoke to me in a way that I can’t remember any other place (much less course) coming close to. The ocean is so blue that if you’d told me it was dyed I would’ve believed it. The color of the sand dunes juxtaposed against the infinite backdrop of waves makes the setting pop, but it is the sound of the waves that makes it ethereal. Tara Iti is how I envision golf heaven.

Photos can give you a sense of what the course is like from a visual perspective. It’s as beautiful of a setting as you could imagine, and the land looks like it was destined to be a golf course. Beyond the imagery, the general ethos of Tara Iti instructs the entire experience. It’s like someone came up with a vision of golf’s perfect playground, put it in the most ideal setting you could envision, and sent you on your way.

Digging deeper into the ethos, Tara Iti is the opposite of stuffy. Make no mistake, it is a private members’ club that is made up of the elite of the elite and is the ultimate luxury experience. Membership is extended via invite only. The club goes by a code of, “we have no rules, but if you break one, we’ll let you know.” Many of my questions were answered with a, “Well, we don’t really share that information,” followed by a slight smirk.

One point that Jim stressed throughout the visit was how important it was for members to treat the staff well, as if that was one of the primary criteria for membership. Jim claimed that he knew all 62 staff members by name, and it was clear that he had a certain rapport with everyone we encountered, from the caddies, golf staff, and grounds crew to the servers in the restaurant. The staff was remarkably personable and friendly, yet seemingly never kissing your ass. They struck the perfect balance, and were truly invested in providing an authentic experience for members and guests alike.

Before arriving, I knew that Tara Iti did not get a lot of play. Even then, I was surprised at how there were barely any cars on site. Then I rolled past the putting green, which was surrounded by four helicopters, and it all made sense. It would appear that the majority of members and visitors arrive to the course by chopper from Auckland, and the sound of helicopters taking off and landing would litter the air throughout my 24 hours on site.

I checked into my room for the night. As you would expect, it was incredible. The clubhouse is relatively modest (see below). Classy, airy, and simple, it struck a perfect chord with the rest of the property. Along those same lines, jeans are a common sight.

Tara Iti clubhouse
Tara Iti clubhouse

The clubhouse patio:

Clubhouse patio at Tara Iti.
Clubhouse patio at Tara Iti.

When you think you’ve already found the best place on earth, you find something else remarkable and unique. Oh hey, a cool wood fire oven attached to the back of a truck? Sweet, a garden that provides all of the vegetables for the compound? Cool, a traveling halfway house! LOL, alpacas and mini-ponies!?

Alpacas and mini ponies at Tara Iti.
Alpacas and mini ponies at Tara Iti.

The private garden dining area:

Tara Iti private garden dining area.
Tara Iti private garden dining area.

Standing on the fifth tee box during that initial walk, Jim pointed out what appeared to be a sand dune between the fairway and the ocean. Except, it wasn’t a sand dune. Rather, it was an ocean suite complete with one of the most ridiculous views on earth, an outdoor hot tub, and a wall sized sliding door that can be opened up to the elements.

Sweetening the deal is a three hole whiskey loop that wraps around the clubhouse and never pushes you more than fifty yards from the bar. The first hole on the loop is a pitch from turf just off the 18th green to the practice green, where you play to the one full-sized flag on that green. The next pitch takes you from the first tee to the ninth green. Finally, you hit from the clubhouse patio back to the 18th green, right back to where you started.

The food menu was not extensive, but I soon learned that the off-menu options were the play. The staff knew Jim’s favorites, and he didn’t have to order dinner, it just sort of appeared. The most memorable part was the Hokey Pokey, a Kiwi desert consisting of vanilla ice cream with small chunks of honeycomb toffee.

When the sun set, it was time for a change in scenery and we headed over to the man gender-neutral cave containing a simulator, trackman, putting green, full bar, and a big screen television. Jim (after walking 18 holes earlier in the day and then playing host for another couple hours) fired up the simulator and we pounded balls into the screen as we sampled (and sampled, and sampled…) the beverage options.

Notice how long I’ve gone on talking without even mentioning the course? That’s how much of an impact this place had on me beyond the golf holes.

To (unnecessarily) sweeten the deal, golf can be played in this part of the world twelve months a year, with winter temperatures bottoming out around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. There are no tee times since the course doesn’t receive enough play to require the formality. If you want to go play as a sixsome, you can go play as a sixsome. And, while this isn’t really relevant to the experience most visitors will have, when I asked if I could stay after the round to shoot some more sunset footage, they could not have been more hospitable.

In a way, Tara Iti kind of ruined golf for me because I don’t think I’ll ever see anything this great again.

How to Play Tara Iti:

– Option 1: Get invited to be a member. Good luck with this one.

– Option 2: Get invited to be the guest of a member. More likely, but still tough. Your best option is going to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen regarding access to a private club…

– Option 3: Use your once-in-a-lifetime pass. You can cash in a once in a lifetime trip to Tara Iti (provided that you have a letter of recommendation from your club) to visit, (and pay handsomely, though consistent with other top courses in NZ such as Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers) to stay at the property and play the course. To get the process started, simply to go the Tara Iti website, click on the information tab, and Jim will review your application and get back to you (note that the club is able to accommodate visitors more frequently in the April to November timeframe).