After Mangawhai Golf Club and a lunch at The Dune with Alec, I rode back to Alec and Ryan’s workplace, Tara Iti. It was the first time I saw the property despite studying pictures and essays about it prior to my trip. My first reaction was, this place is in a FOREST?! Every picture I saw of the course only showed a handful of trees and all of the holes are situated on rolling sand dunes. Nevertheless, I was quite shocked to see that drive in be tree lined. Also, the entrances to the new courses are literally situated in the “Southern Forest” to give you a clue about what those sites look like.
Ryan was finishing up at work, so I waited patiently at the staff accomodations (Podville), a series of dorms transformed from shipping containers. I had plenty to do listening live to ESPN radio following the ACC Championship Game which ended up being a dismantling of UVA. Eventually, Ryan came rolling in on a golf cart to provide me the tour of the property properly. All I can say is UNDERSTATED luxury. Everything that is needed and nothing that isn’t. Everywhere you go has every one of your questions answered without you having to ask. Perhaps the most impressive part of the facility’s infrastructure is the learning facilities. Given the place only does 8,000 rounds (that actually sounds high), this building is to the T, everything you would ever want. It has a full service bar that looks like it came out of the Great Gatsby. It has a full simulated golf hitting bay. It has a full “garage door” to the practice fairway to hit shots from inside. It has every fitting system known to man. It has a putting studio. It has a practice fairway – as in… this is not the range (that is somewhere else and altogether awesome on its own), so you have a private fairway for all your instruction needs (at most there would be another person getting a lesson). What an incredible facility – one that might not make sense, but most great things in this world do not make sense.
Ryan mentions that there is an American PGA director of instruction on property looking for a game and wants to know if I’m keen. Duh. We end up having a fourball and soon enough I am getting ready to embark on my maiden voyage around Tara Iti. I suppose I will dive into the writing now even though it is overwhelming!
The first tee ball is described by my caddie as the reverse of the first at Sebonack. I found that a bit odd as I had played there and visually it didn’t click, but the more I thought about it, perhaps it was true. It is more of just a short dogleg that entices the log hitter to take on the left side if it is downwind. More of a reverse of the first at Pacific Dunes if you ask me. All in all, I didn’t take enough care in aiming down the right side as we had a decent headwind that knocked my ball into the short left bunker (I’ll know for next time). My approach was virtually blind as I was punished by my indifference in shot selection off the tee. I hit a well struck short iron to the back of the green. The green is well different than Sebo or Pac’s first hole. The further right you go off the tee, the more the green acts as a backstop, but the more direct line you take off the tee, you are face with a NASCAR inspired bank turn half horseshoe. With the pin in the very front of the green, long or left is a virtual bogey or worse, and as we’ll learn throughout the day, being pin high is a great key to scoring at T.I.
The second is inspired by owner Ric Kayne’s housesite in Southern California. Apparently, he overlooks the 6th at Riviera and therefore the donut shaped green. The small bunker in the middle of the green is supplemented by a large bunker complex guarding the front left side of the green (where the pin was located during our play). These two bunkers are quite strategic in that they encourage the skilled golfer to use the slopes right of the flag (but challenging the middle bunker) and play a combination of ground game and air game to combat the courses hazards. What a beautiful theme that you must use both facets of the game (air and ground) to have the most success in scoring. My high cutting 8 iron proved to be the right shot selection as the ball landed softly and used the right to left slope off the middle bunker to bring my ball 15-20 feet directly behind the hole. A good read and a meek effort left my first putt conveniently in the middle of the hole just 2 feet short.
The third is a funny hole – lots of local knowledge on this one. I might have made the only 3 on the second, so I grabbed driver and hit down my caddie’s line but pushed it about 10 yards and ended up in the right waste area fairway bunker. Then I see Ryan and Alec both blast drivers 40 yards right of me?! They claim that it adds length to the hole but opens up the angle tremendously, if you play down the 4th fairway. I’ve got another blind approach out of the bunker, but I trust my line and crisply strike a 6 iron to what I think is left of the green. I learn from my looper’s vantage point that the wind actually carried the ball 20 yards RIGHT of the pin but grabs a convenient bounce into the green’s punchbowl and ends up about 20 feet under the hole. We get up to the green and what a marvelous DELL/PUNCHBOWL like greensite. I understand why Alec and Ryan don’t love the 3rd fairway angle as it can be blocked out by the massive dune guarding the center and right portions of the green. With the left to right wind we had today, it was important to have a clearer angle unless you were to rely on the short right punchbowl slopes (the ground hook if you will). We got to the green to find a load of stinky natural fertilizer spread out on the green that was sure to make your ball dance on the way to the hole. I was third to putt and saw how each of the prior putts bounced all over the place and came up short, so I didn’t put a lot of thought to the line of the putt not thinking it would matter much, but I did focus on make a firm assertive stroke at the middle of the hole and what do you know?! My first birdie at Tara Iti!