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Arrowtown: The eagle has landed

Millbrook and Mercedes go hand-in-hand, finds Andrew Alderson.
Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown.
Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown.

One day, when any future grandchildren huddle around the hearth toasting marshmallows, I hope to recite a story which explains why life as a sports writer can be so rewarding.

"So my editor rang in autumn and said, 'Do you fancy a round of golf at Millbrook Resort during an all-expenses-paid weekend courtesy of Mercedes, including a private evening's audience with Richie McCaw?"

Please excuse the name, brand and place-dropping, but this question was posed to a man who had yearned to unleash his cobweb-cloaked clubs for the best part of three years.

The sticks had been on sabbatical since the birth of my son. The prospect of hearing from the patron saint of New Zealand sporting humility sealed the deal.

The Mercedes Trophy gathers together 24 of its customers (and partners) who qualify at the company's regional golf tournaments. The best three Stableford point finishers are invited to the company's home in Stuttgart, Germany, to compete in a world final each October.

PR man Matt Bruce greeted me at Queenstown Airport in the company's latest SUV. He helped with check-in and then, as a parting shot, uttered the words every travelling scribe longs to hear: "Help yourself to the mini bar. We'll sort that."

I accept this entire plot sounds as plausible as former North Korean boss Kim Jong-il allegedly picking up a golf club for the first time in 1994 and shooting 38-under par, including 11 holes-in-one. However, I am prepared to take a polygraph testto verify my hedonistic tale.

With a stroke play score of 116, this hacker could not match the Supreme Leader's accuracy, but the 18 holes - completed on the Arrow and Coronet nines of the 27-hole layout - were almost certainly more fun.

Three examples spring to mind:

1. On the sixth hole of the Arrow course my ball nestled in a "playable" lie on the edge of a creek.
The subsequent wedge generated a bigger splash than Tiger Woods driving into a fire hydrant in 2009 with his scorned wife in pursuit, but the ball ballooned on to the fairway. The recovery shot was nothing flash, but I took comfort knowing my inconsistency prepares me perfectly for dealing with such crises.

2. On the eighth hole of the Coronet course, my tee shot sliced into someone's backyard but was still playable*. As someone who prefers to apologise rather than ask permission, I raided the manicured lawn with my seven iron and excavated a divot to make an archaeologist blush. Remarkably, the home owner sat engrossed in his paper as I hacked away like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

3. On the final hole I made my solitary par with a regulation drive, fairway iron, wedge and two putts to end my round in bliss. We reconvened for a 19th hole tipple in The Clubhouse and watched as pressure of hyperbaric chamber levels mounted on the tournament contenders.

If your driver, irons and putter go on strike, Millbrook must still rank, at least visually, as New Zealand's answer to Augusta National. Course designer Sir Bob Charles, and later Greg Turner for the Coronet nine, framed the best views.

Like the Masters' home, the course is presented immaculately. Despite it being autumn, warm-coloured leaves refuse to break ranks and litter the course. I lost one ball to a yellow blanket shed by an oak, but the foliage tended to stay in invisible circular fortresses around each trunk.

Even the marauding pukeko appeared to have signed contracts requiring them to defecate in the rough rather than the fairways. Unlike Augusta, the course opted for employing real birds rather than piping in birdsong.

The scene was enhanced at dusk on the first evening by the scent of burning macrocarpa.

A glimpse through the double-glazed windows revealed residents supping pinot noir before roaring fires in chalets lapping the course. Locals estimate the entry-level price for such properties is $1.5 million.

Nonetheless, nothing seemed pretentious or manufactured in the natural environment of the course. The same applied to the resort service.

Forgetting my toilet bag in the frenzy to get to the airport required a discreet call to reception in search of basic necessities. All but a razor - sorted by a 5-minute complimentary shuttle ride to the Arrowtown general store - were sourced instantly.

Mercedes' choice of venue made sense. With a mantra of "the best or nothing", it is in the business of excellence. It picks partners who appeal to their clientele's aspirational instincts. Hence, the resort's award-winning chef Andi Bozhiqi produced a succulent main course of twice-cooked pork belly, pumpkin and miso puree, duck croquette, broccolini, blackberry and spicy jus.

Master of ceremonies and former golf pro Phil Tataurangi put guests at ease with his amiable delivery; and McCaw's mana guaranteed a captive audience after dinner. His tales, were it not for the evening's Chatham House rules, would make for compulsory recital.

Qualification for the tournament meant buying one of the company's vehicles in the last three years, having a New Zealand golf handicap and triumphing at a regional event.

Tauranga's Stewart Browne, Hamilton's Jaden Hatwell and Waipu's Peter Northcott finished as the top three in the country. They will attend the world final and compete against fellow winners from more than 60,000 entrants in 31 countries.

• According to rumours, which I chose to accept without quibble rather than conceding another penalty stroke.


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