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Cape Kidnappers–Pay Attention

by | May 5, 2024

We’re here in New Zealand playing one of the world’s top 100 international courses at Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay.  This is my second trip here as we were last here in 2015.  I didn’t remember much about the course except the signature 15th hole, which stands 500 ft. above the coral reefs of the ocean below.  Shots over the 15th green will descend into the ocean, so it’s important to judge the wind to keep the ball below the hole.  The course is a grind, there isn’t an easy hole out here and you have to pay attention to your position and approach shots to the green.  High winds will equal high scores as you must be able to control ball flight and direction.  I found the greens to be wonderfully fast and true, as putts can be made here, but you must study the grain of the green to get the ball to the hole.  There isn’t a hole out here that doesn’t have some trick up its sleeve and the punishment for the errant shot can be exponential.  The official yardage book welcomes you with the statement that the first hole is “a difficult opening hole is a prelude of things to come.”  A very accurate statement as more than a few holes have swales and gullies that push a well struck ball from the fairway into the scrub bush.  I would say that this is very unfair but playing the course eventually should resolve getting around these swales, but I was victimized on a few of the holes-particularly the 18th, when my perfectly struck 5 iron carried the crest of the mound down to the green but made an unexpected swale turn into the rough with the ball moving 40 yards after landing in the fairway.  The second hole is a long par 5 of 540 yards with a series of fairway bunkers that seem to be the ideal spot to catch the high handicapper.  You have to maneuver around these bunkers as the pins today played right over these bunkers.  The greens are fast and true so only the player that can really spin the ball from distance will be able to fire at the pin–the rest of us will be past the pin with little to no opportunity to sink a birdie or a par putt.  Kidnappers can be intimidating off  the tee as many of the holes require carries over gullies, gorse and the like to reach the fairway.  The fourth hole is a good example of the requirement as a par 5 of almost 600 yards, it demands positioning to avoid the trouble that lurks everywhere as you approach the hole.  Another feature of Kidnappers is to avoid going over the green with anything, as nothing good happens when you miss the green over.  You have to keep the ball in front of you for most of the time and let shots release towards the pins.  Since I hadn’t played here since 2015 and with my current game more than a few yards shorter, my strategy was to hit shots that put me in position to get up and down for par and no worse than bogey.  I hit a number of 5 irons that accomplished being in the right position, but I also fell prey to a few swales that I wasn’t aware of.  The 7th hole of 453 yards is a good case in point, as I hit a perfect 5 iron (or so I thought) to the middle of the fairway to about the 75 yard mark only to discover that the ball took a bounce to the right in the direction of a swale and now I needed a full pitching wedge without being able to see the green.  I find it interesting that the swales are not described in the yardage book so you have to have a few negative experiences and come back and make those corrections.  The 403 yard, par 4, 9th hole was another one of these holes with the requirement to carry the drive over gully into the fairway and then avoid the swale to the right of the fairway on the approach shot.  Therefore, the front 9 is essentially a “grind.”  Would the back nine be any easier or it is more of the same?  Unfortunately, easier would not be the operative statement as the “grind” continues on the backside beginning with the 470 yard, par 4, 10th hole.  You have another swale to contend with as this time the fairway is sloped from right to left, whereby most of the other holes that have swales from left to right.  The fun starts on the 12th with a wide open fairway, with another swale from right to left that could impact the second shot particularly if there is wind.  The 12th and the 15th are at the end of the course with the ocean 500 ft. below so the views are spectacular.  The 13th is the par 3 along the ocean so you must be to the right to have a slight chance of making par.  My seven iron ended up mysteriously short but at least to the right side of the hole as the left is either certain death or double bogey automatic.  My lob wedge chip was surprisingly perfect to 3 feet for par.  The 14th is the shortest par 4 on the course at 348 yards and the yardage can fool you into a false sense of security.  You must be on the left side to give yourself a chance-my 6 iron approach looked happy and handy in the air but landed in the pot bunker in front of the green.  I managed to execute the bunker shot and make a satisfying par.   The 15th is the signature hole-it is 650 yards from the tips but I played the hole at 551 yards.  I had fond memories of this hole from my last visit here as it has the widest fairway I have ever seen except the first at the Old Course at St. Andrews.  Today, a following wind was a gift from the gods as I hit the best drive of the day–a wind assisted 285 yards.  I then produced the 3 Wood that had been gathering dust in the bag all day as I was afraid to hit it into these narrow-like fairways.  I creamed this 3 wood about 210 yards leaving me with 60 yards to the green knowing I had to keep the ball below the hole and avoid having it travel over the green to an oceanic death.  I got reasonably close but missed the birdie putt and walked very satisfied with a par 5.    I had lots of pars on this day, but mostly because my chipping gave me opportunities to sink putts and I made more than I missed on this day.   The exhilaration from making par on 15, was soon a distant memory.  The bright sun that shone on my achievement on 15 left completely.  The skies turned gray and the temperature dropped by at least 10 degrees in less than 10 minutes.  Now we were playing into the wind so my “in the fairway” tee shot carried no more than 190 yards.  This hole is full of tricks with 9 bunkers and I would end up in one of them at green-side to get up and down for a slightly miraculous bogey.  The finishing holes would provide interesting tests with swales and bunkers to complete a round.  The 18th hole will test your patience as you must keep the ball to the left as any shot hit down the middle is liable to trail off into a huge swale producing the requirement for a blind shot to the green.  I was victimized the first time I played the hole and ended up in the swale, but the second time around I kept the ball almost too far to the left.  My approach shot from the left was to a green that becomes a bowl.  I was then able to convert a 20 ft. putt up the hill for an unexpected par.

Cape Kidnappers is special.  The ball has to be hit to the right positions to attack the pins or you will grind.    Putting and chipping saved the score for my round but irons and woods were also well hit for the most part but not always to the right positions presenting one difficult shot after another.  For me, Kidnappers is close to Spyglass Hill from the point of view that you can be hitting the ball well all day, but how you score will depend on the positioning of your approach shots to the pins.

15th hole

15th hole

1 Comment

  1. Frank Nunley

    What a life experience Big Joe! 500ft cliff golf and a beast of a course. Pics kinda remind me of Bandon dunes a bit.


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