Their capital cities might be more than 11,400 miles apart but Scotland and New Zealand actually share rather a lot in common.
Approximately 20% of the original European settler population of New Zealand came from Scotland, whilst the second largest city on the country’s South Island, Dunedin, is Gaelic for Edinburgh.
The country celebrates Tartan Day on July 1 every year, whilst four of its Prime Ministers between 1844 and 1950 were born in Scotland. There are also towns called Oban, Hamilton and Napier, whilst the main streets of Invercargill, one of the most southerly cities in the world, are named after Scottish rivers, such as Dee, Don, Esk, Tay and Spey. No wonder more than 15,000 people in the 2006 New Zealand census declared themselves to be ‘Scottish’, with just over 29,000 residents stating that they were born in Scotland.
The two countries also share a great affection for golf. Indeed, whilst rugby union might be the national sport of New Zealand - the ‘All Blacks’ are currently the world champions in that particular sport - golf is immensely popular in the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’.
It is, in fact, the highest participation sport in the country, with almost half a million Kiwis over the age of 18 playing the game regularly. Its popularity is reflected in the fact that there are almost 400 golf clubs in New Zealand, placing it second in the world for the number courses per capita. The only country with more? You guessed it: Scotland.
New Zealand’s golfing portfolio will be strengthened further this October with the official opening of the spectacular Tara Iti. Designed by acclaimed American golf course architect Tom Doak - the man behind The Renaissance in East Lothian - it is situated amongst the dunes of Te Arai Point, a popular spot for surfers just over an hour’s drive from the heart of Auckland.
A former pine plantation, it has been almost completely cleared and restored to native dune vegetation and affords jaw-dropping ocean vistas on every hole. Interestingly, it is also the first course in New Zealand to feature fescue turf on fairways and greens, delivering an authentic, real links experience.
Everything points to Tara Iti becoming one of the top courses in New Zealand in double-quick time, taking its place alongside another classic Doak design, Cape Kidnappers. Occupying one of the most dramatic golf course settings in the world, Cape Kidnappers is an exhilarating test of golf laid out in the Hawke’s Bay region on the east coast of the North Island.
Several of the holes on its back nine run along narrow ’fingers’ of land which are separated by deep gullies that dip down to the sea below. It is, in simple terms, a feast for the eyes.
Kauri Cliffs, meanwhile, sits at the northernmost tip of the country, just a short drive from Whangarei, the most northerly city in New Zealand. Like Cape Kidnappers and Tara Iti, it offers superb ocean views from no fewer than 15 holes and was once described by former FedEx Cup champion and Ryder Cup player Brandt Snedeker as ‘Pebble Beach on steroids’.
Paraparaumu Beach is another ‘must’. The host venue for 12 New Zealand Opens, the first of which took place there way back in 1959, it is a quite superb course. Located on the Kapiti Coast, on the south-west of the North Island, it opened back in 1949, having been designed by former Australian Open champion Alex Russell.
Interestingly, Tiger Woods’ former caddie, Steve Williams, grew up close to the club and it is thought that his career as a looper started there when he was a teenager looking to make some extra pocket money.
The Kinloch Club, 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus’ first signature course in New Zealand, opened in 2007 and stands as a homage to the classic British and Irish links course, albeit it is about as far from the ocean as it is possible to be in the country. Break par around there and you’ll be doing well.
Jack’s Point, meanwhile, is nothing to do with the aforementioned Mr Nicklaus but is still well worth checking out. It has been built within the ‘razorback’ Remarkables mountain range to the east and Lake Wakatipu to the east in the south-west corner of the Otago Region on the South Island. It is a modern classic.
Other places worth playing include Pupuke GC, where Lydia Ko had her first introduction to the game, as well as Titirangi, Wairakei, Millbrook, Royal Wellington and Manawatu, the oldest golf course in New Zealand.
It’s no exaggeration to say that, for Scottish golfers, New Zealand really is a little bit of home from home. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.