Just as the 2016 North American golf season kicks into high gear, the inaugural “summer” season here at Tara Iti Golf Club comes to a close having turned the heads of course raters, links aficionados, Claret Jug winners, conservationists and property investors worldwide.
Designed by Tom Doak, Tara Iti GC debuted in October 2015, on 1,700 seaside acres an hour northwest of Auckland. Open 12 months a year, sub-tropical Tara Iti GC now embarks on its first New Zealand “winter”, meaning weather comparable to the California coast between Santa Barbara and the Monterey Peninsula.
“In this singular climate, we set out to create a unique combination of great links golf, great service, great beauty and great fun — and so far, I think we’ve exceeded our own expectations,” said Ric Kayne, the L.A.-based financier who is majority owner of Tara Iti GC, and whose N.Z. Land Fund 2 has developed the exclusive real estate community next door, Te Arai. “We’ve also been heartened by the reactions of visitors, who have uniformly confirmed that our efforts hit pretty close to the mark.”
According to Jim Rohrstaff with Auckland-based Legacy Partners, Ltd. (www.legacypartners.co.nz), the exclusive real estate marketing agent for Te Arai, 20 of 46 housing lots have been released thus far. Nineteen of 20 have been sold, meaning design and construction of homes is now getting underway. “In terms of beach access, privacy and sheer beauty,” Rohrstaff said, “these home sites have very few comps anywhere in the world. The most apt comparison would be the Hamptons, but at a fraction of the price.”
Kayne has two partners in Tara Iti Golf Club: New Zealander John Darby, one of Australasia’s most decorated land planners and golf course design/developers, and Cincinnati-based entrepreneur Larry Sheakley. All three have purchased home sites within the club, at Te Arai, where founder lots feature an array of eclectic designs, including a striking glass-and-steel structure from noted Kiwi architect Pip Cheshire.
Rohrstaff said the second release of home sites — in a section of the property dubbed Sandhills — would commence in the coming months. Compared to the first 20 lots, which average 5 acres in size. Rohrstaff said the Sand Hills lots are slightly smaller and the developer will undertake home-building on behalf of purchasers.
“None of these lots at Tara Iti encroach on the golf course at all, and you can hear the water crashing on the shore from every one,” Sheakley reported. “The pricing on them, from the U.S. perspective, is pretty extraordinary when you consider comparable sites here North America. I mean, there are 7 miles pristine beach! Ric and I walk down there at 5 p.m. and we just start laughing — there’s no one there, yet we are 75 minutes from the largest city in the country.
“People make investments where those investments are protected, which is what makes New Zealand so attractive: a first-world country, a democracy, with the Rule of Law.”
Tara Iti GC was conceived and remains a very private club where membership is extended to individuals by invitation only. Yet the club’s ethos is also quite casual, conservationist, and thoroughly international. These qualities are reflected in a club policy that welcomes guests, with the appropriate references, through the first few seasons (www.taraiti.com). Indeed, Tara Iti has been built and accoutered with elegant guest cottages, so that visiting members, their guests and unaccompanied links enthusiasts might be welcomed and have a place to stay.
Tara Iti’s maiden voyage was highlighted by February’s Renaissance Cup, the annual tournament hosted by Tom Doak for an international cast of friends, design colleagues, course raters and vintage architecture enthusiasts. Doak came away as impressed with the work of course superintendent C.J. Kreuscher as his own.
“The condition of the course for the Renaissance Cup was unbelievable — I think it was the finest links playing surface I’ve experienced,” Doak said. “To be honest, that’s the only way C.J. and I could have played so well — there was really zero for either of us to worry about.
“Ric Kayne, Terry Quinn and I played with Sir Bob Charles the day before the Cup, and Sir Bob was putting from 50 yards out on some holes — and always getting down in two! He was like a kid in a candy store on a real links,” Doak said of Charles, the only Kiwi ever to have won the British Open — on the hallowed seaside turf of Lytham & St. Anne’s in 1963. “He’s still got as good a short game as anyone I’ve seen.
“The feedback from the event was excellent; people loved the course but I think they loved the ambience of the club even more. It’s a super-relaxed place. One afternoon we’re all having cocktails on the lawn overlooking the 18th hole when a pod of dolphins decided to play in the surf out along no. 6.”
Pods of dolphins simply don’t congregate within view of most world-class links courses. At Tara Iti GC, they do.
On the course itself, Doak’s work is essentially done, though the curation of this unique golf course property continues apace. “The native plants on the back nine still need to cover a bit more ground, while the front nine has graduated to where they have to be thinning out the spinifex,” Doak explained. “Spinifex is the native dune grass we planted to stabilize the dunes. It’s a light green plant that runs across the ground and roots in every foot or two along the way … It’s great for holding down the sand. But it’s also hell to play from because the runners are substantial and they keep rooting in, so we will have to keep pruning it back.”
Off course, club staff continue to fixate on the fortunes of the fairy tern, the endangered shorebird for which the club is named (deploying the local Maori term, Tara-iti). Upon acquiring this property, club founders established the Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust — to conserve and protect fairy terns and other at-risk shorebirds on the Mangawhai Marginal Strip. With the summer breeding season now completed, much of the New Zealand winter will be spent monitoring the fortunes of new chicks.
In a very real sense, the property development at Te Arai complements and advances conservation effort: The Tara Iti GC property (indeed, the entire shoreline stretching north from Te Arai Point) had long been home to dense, non-native tree cover that provided shelter to all manner of fairy tern predators. The clearing and development of Tara Iti GC, in addition to selective clearing for housing sites, has played a major role in aiding what David Wilson — an NZ Department of Conservation ranger at the Mahurangi/Warksworth Office — calls “predator control”.