He's already spent an estimated $100 million creating one of the world's best golf courses in New Zealand. Now American billionaire Ric Kayne plans to spend a further $50m-plus developing two new public courses north of Auckland.

Kayne, working with Queenstown-based landscape architect John Darby of Darby Partners and world-class golf course designer Tom Doak, developed the private links-style, invitation-only Tara Iti course near Mangawhai, 80 minutes north of Auckland. It's the course where ex-President Barack Obama played last March with former-Prime Minister John Key.

Now Kayne plans to build two new beachfront links-style courses on land adjacent to and south of Tara Iti, on part of a 764ha block of land he wants state consent to lease for more than a century from the Ngāti Manuhiri iwi.

He proposes that 200ha goes to Auckland Council to extend existing reserve areas, having already gifted 200ha of land at Tara Iti as a reserve.


Kayne also plans to create visitor accommodation, a clubhouse, 60 new lots for homes, a public camping ground near the beach and a retail centre for food and surfing shops.

Tara Iti near Mangawhai, one of the world's top golf courses. Photo/supplied
Tara Iti near Mangawhai, one of the world's top golf courses. Photo/supplied

In a rare interview with the Herald , Kayne said: "The wider vision is now for the adjacent 700ha Mangawhai South Forest.

"Ngāti Manuhiri is partnering with Kayne and Darby Partners on a similar development. The goal is to create a significant recreational, economic and environmental asset for Auckland and New Zealand."

Mook Hohneck, chairman of the Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust , confirmed negotiations were under way for part of the 764ha the tribe bought as part of its Treaty settlement, but says some land has been sold and part is already reserve.

"We're discussing with Kayne to lease part of the land which the settlement trust owns, to fulfil the tribal aspirations, both commercial and cultural. We want to realise the potential for the land. Because of our size and commercial capability, we see it as advantageous to have secure relationships with strategic partners, built on trust, honesty and goodwill.

"This provides the platform for the trust to proceed with their commitment to achieve the tribal long term aspirations. To date, we have always had a good relationship with both Ric Kayne and John Darby," Hohneck said.

Kayne says the area would be turned into a "world golfing destination", with the member-only Tara Iti to the north and the two new 18-hole public courses to the south, all along a strip of golden sand beach facing Little Barrier Island [Te Hauturu-o-Toi] and the Hen and Chicken Islands [two main islands, Marotere and Taranga].

Kayne says he had no profit motive in developing Tara Iti but he does plan to make the next stage pay. "We will make a dollar from the operation of the golf club with visitors."

Kayne on the site of two planned new public golf courses. Photo/Michael Craig
Kayne on the site of two planned new public golf courses. Photo/Michael Craig

But first, the New Zealand resident non-citizen must get Overseas Investment Office consent to lease the land and Auckland Council consents to develop the courses and create the house lots. Under the Unitary Plan, golfing is a permitted activity for the sites, he says.

However, conservationists have complained about many aspects of Tara Iti, including a sturdy eight-wire fence that creates a barrier to public open space near the new house Kayne is building, and the damming of Te Arai Stream.

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Reg Whale, vice-president of the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society, is concerned about the two-course expansion plan: "I'd be worried where he will get his water from because I believe they're all struggling to keep Tara Iti green."

In response, Kayne says the Department of Conservation asked for the fence to protect reserve land and the stream was already dammed before he became involved.

However, he plans a new bridge across the stream which he believes will resolve issues.

He says water for the two new courses will come from the same sources as at Tara Iti: newly created catchment ponds and bores.

Tara Iti Golf Course members' homes. Photo/Michael Craig
Tara Iti Golf Course members' homes. Photo/Michael Craig

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage says she "wouldn't comment on an application until a decision is made".

Auckland Council this week said it was yet to receive any applications from Kayne or Darby for the twin-course projects.

One passionate Auckland golfer who plays Tara Iti says: "Kayne should get all the backing that's going. This guy's not asking for any money. He's getting older and wants to finish what he started to create a legacy."

But Whale says Kayne's "gift" of hundreds of hectares of reserves is a mandatory part of his application to offset negative environmental effects, so he's not being generous.

Kayne's original Overseas Investment Office application was for a $30m project at Tara Iti but it's estimated that he spent at least three times that.

Kayne, aged around 74 and with an estimated US$1.3b, says the two new golf courses will be a major regional asset.

"We intend to create a treasure unlike any other place in the world," Kayne said from Tara Iti on Monday, referring to the new courses being designed by world leaders Coore and Crenshaw working with Doak.

"This is the best land in the world for golf courses. We have the land to do this and it's a deep passion. I want to do something for New Zealand, Auckland, Mangawhai and Auckland golfers."

All up, about 400ha of beachfront land between Pakiri and Mangawhai would become links-style golf courses, never boggy because they are built on sand, with the fescue grass courses irrigated by pop-up sprinklers.

Last year, Golf Digest ranked Tara Iti as the world's 11th best golf course, appearing on a list with courses in the US, Scotland, Ireland and Australia.

Luxurious new visitor accommodation, Tara Iti. Photo/Michael Craig
Luxurious new visitor accommodation, Tara Iti. Photo/Michael Craig

"It's a hard four hours," says one keen player, "because it's one of the world's best. You need to be good to play there."

Kayne this week spelt out his grander vision.

"The Te Arai South precinct development - as the Mangawhai South Forest project is known - involves another two world-class golf courses. They will be public courses, and with additional visitor accommodation, assisting the Auckland region's transition from a gateway to a destination targeting what is a very valuable visitor market. It will create hundreds more jobs and have a significant economic impact on the local economy," his statement says.

"The Te Arai South precinct development involves another 200ha of land being gifted to the public estate. This will see the entire beach frontage from the Mangawhai Refuge to Pakiri – 12km of coastline - protected. Another 1m to 2m native trees and shrubs will be planted, along with extensive wetland restoration and pest eradication."

When combined with the similar reserve already created in Te Arai North, roughly 400ha of coastal land, including the entire beach frontages and sensitive ecological areas in both forests, will have been gifted to Auckland Council, Kayne says.

About 15km of land fronting the beach will be given into public protected ownership via the council at no cost, Kayne says. That would create a new coastal public park.

"The combined reserve will be one of the largest regional parks in Australasia vested from iwi/private landowners to a council. It will include a comprehensive site management plan to preserve and protect ecology, archaeology and visual and wider amenity values.

"The golf courses will retain significant open space as key recreation and natural landscape asset. Rehabilitation of unusable forest land will provide a high-quality environment for wildlife and public," Kayne says.

The forests will have equestrian, walking and bike trails.

"As Auckland grows and these sorts of facilities face rising demand elsewhere in the region, they will become highly regarded recreation assets," Kayne says.

He refers to Oregon's highly-ranked Bandon Dunes as partial inspiration for his three-course project.

That US facility has four courses stretching along the coastline, with views over the Pacific Ocean and vistas from almost every hole. The Old Macdonald Course is the newest of the four courses.

Master bedroom in club visitor accommodation. Photo/Michael Craig
Master bedroom in club visitor accommodation. Photo/Michael Craig

But what Bandon Dunes doesn't have is "the Hen and Chicks," Kayne says, referring to the stunning islands just off Tara Iti's coast. Nor does it have Little Barrier Island, glowing like a jewel on this misty Monday morning.

Of plans for 46 new homes at Tara Iti, Kayne says, "a third of the sites sold to Kiwis and 41 of the 46 have sold".

Tara Iti has "close to 200 members of which a third are Kiwis". Two homes are low down in the midst of the fairways, hunkered down beneath golden roof canopies, built using some of the sand from the land. One glasshouse-style home, designed by Pip Cheshire, is up. High-end builders Lindsay Construction have a crane up at another site nearby.

Joining fees are not publicly disclosed but members must buy a share of the course's assets, which is where speculation about a figure of some $200,000 per member comes in.

But for Kayne it's more about the experience than the price for people who he says don't need more "stuff", but want quality experiences in their lives.

"I wanted Tara Iti to return the natural state of golf; a walking course with a caddie," he says. Caddies result in a pace of play which he favours.

Members' homes above the course overlook the beach. Photo/Michael Craig
Members' homes above the course overlook the beach. Photo/Michael Craig

This month Tara Iti is staging a member-and-guest tournament and Kayne says his partner will be world champion surfer Kelly Slater, on the course this week and practising surfing at Te Arai for the upcoming world surf championships in Australia.

Accompanying Kayne on the Herald 's Monday tour are public relations specialist David Lewis and Tara Iti course supervisor C. J. Kreuscher, formerly of Bandon Dunes. Tara Iti course designer Doak is said to have selected Kreuscher as a fescue grass expert after working with him on the Old MacDonald course in Oregon.

On a hill behind the clubhouse, about 14 new homes have been built for members and are clad in neutral colours to blend with the landscape. Beneath them, shorter-stay visitor accommodation has been developed.

Kayne credits Studio John Irving Architects with being instrumental at Tara Iti and shows off one of eight gable homes: No 3, Atatū, has electric charging stations for golf buggies out the front, combined living/kitchen/dining flanked by two master bedroom suites and an outdoor courtyard with gas-ignited fireplace and entertaining in front, all facing the ocean. A translucent roof lets in natural light.

"Life is about experiences, not about accumulating more stuff. What we have tried to do is exclusively have happy people as members - also known as 'no arseholes', [who are] people that want to take their pleasure at the expense of others," Kayne says.

"We are invitation-only and have not extended invites to people who don't have that criteria. If you have happy people trying to make other people happy, it's what we have been striving for. I'm an empowerer which means I have engaged people who will own what they're involved with and C.J. owns this golf course."

Near Tara Iti is a plant nursery where Kayne says Te Uri O Hau has been contracted to sell his business 500,000 plants annually "and we helped build the nursery".

Nesting fairy tern at Waipu. Photo/Malcolm Pullman
Nesting fairy tern at Waipu. Photo/Malcolm Pullman

And among all of this is New Zealand's rarest native bird: the tara iti or fairy tern, estimated to number less than 40 and not doing well lately.

Whale says "this season was the worst for them. There are less than 40. One new chick was raised at Pakiri and one at Waipu. We were hoping for about six or more."

But Kayne says a $150,000, three-year genetic research project has been established to try to determine the factors behind the birds' poor breeding results.

That is being funded by the Te Arai and Mangawhai Shorebirds Trust, a conservation charity established by Kayne which has contracted the Department of Conservation and University of Canterbury for the study.

Reg Whale worries about golfing developments. Photo/Brett Phibbs
Reg Whale worries about golfing developments. Photo/Brett Phibbs

Researchers hope that minimising inbreeding might improve the birds' breeding prospects. The trust is funding DoC to review whether the fairy terns can be held in captivity to help breed, as has been successfully done with other bird species such as the whio and the kaka.

Linda Guzik, trust chairwoman, says the recent poor breeding season highlights the need for renewed efforts to protect the fairy tern.

But Whale says golf course expansion won't help the rare birds. He complains of helicopters - "up to four to five a day" - bringing guests to Tara Iti.

People from the resort ride electric bikes in the sand dunes and on the beach, he says.

"I've seen the tracks. And it's not just the fairy terns," he says, referring to danger to other species. And although Kayne has given DoC rangers a vehicle, "it's a dangerous golf cart-style of thing which keeps getting stuck and I've pulled it out of the sand dunes."

But Kayne has a vision, as part of what he calls the "improbable" series of coincidences that resulted in him coming here, developing his first course and now planning to treble that: "I played all top 100 golf courses in the world. It was an obsession. There's no finer property for golf courses than sand dunes on the beach. And no finer place in the world to build golf courses than here."

Kayne's plans

• $50m+ property development scheme, subject to approvals
• Two new 18-hole links-style public golf courses
• On Mangawhai South Forest, north of Pakiri
• Plans to lease land from Ngāti Manuhiri
• Clubrooms, visitor accommodation
• 60 sites for luxury homes
• Public campground and food/surfing shops
• Equestrian, walking and bike forest trails
• 200ha of land to be gifted to Auckland Council
• Needs Overseas Investment Office consent to lease land
• Needs Auckland Council consent for development