You do not go to Kinloch to enjoy a nice game of golf. Dotted strategically around the 18 holes of its Jack Nicklaus-designed, championship course are two lakes and 172 bunkers. These lie eagerly in wait, ready to trap any slightly errant ball.
Focus, a zen mind and strong play however, will navigate you successfully to the greens. Which is where your troubles will really begin as you encourage your ball into the hole across often undulating and two-tiered rolls.
"There's been a few helicopter clubs into lakes. Quite a few sets probably end up on Trade Me. It breaks a lot of people," Tom Long, the Director of Golf at the Kinloch Club and PGA professional, admits with a wry smile. "But you know they come back. They come back for more."
Aside from the rugged splendour of the course, which has quite literally been carved and sculptured out of the surrounding hillside, and the inspiring view of Lake Taupō in the background, Long says the challenge of the course is its appeal. It's a true championship course that's both mentally and physically demanding.
It's the definition of a golfer's golf course.
"Every shot demands your full attention," he says, estimating a full round will take just over an exhausting five hours. "You have to possess an array of different shots. You can't have a one-dimensional game to play this course and be successful."
The Kinloch Golf Club sits just outside Taupō and is part of the luxurious Kinloch Manor and Villas estate that stretches out over 254 hectares of grounds and farm. The Lodge and the accompanying freestanding villas are magnificently perched atop the hill.
Their angular and sharp, modern design is striking, especially looking up from the fairways of the back nine, which truly is the best vantage point to appreciate their striking
interpretation of a traditional Scottish castle and to
appreciate how tastefully they've been planted into the sloping land.
From inside the lodge, bold large windows frame the course and shimmering waters of the great lake. This view is best appreciated at 6pm in the glorious West Lounge Bar, where drinks and canapes are hosted before dinner.
Despite the encompassing opulence, the vibe is
casual as you mingle with the other guests and swap tales of golfing victory or, more likely, the plethora of shots you left out there.
One chap I spoke to over a couple of craft beers and a pleasingly strong Old Fashioned at drinks sighed when he said, "It's hard, it's a tough course," before revealing he's played it six times, lending credence to Long's assertion that its difficulty is a big part of the fun.
What's particularly cunning about Nicklaus' design is that the first few holes are brutal. They look fairly straightforward but they most definitely are not. They're designed to rattle and shake your confidence. To get inside your head. Survive those, however, and the course eases up. But, by then, it could be too late.
Long says golfers really need to play Kinloch twice; the first go round to learn its tricks and traps, and the second to really take it on.
"Once you know where you're going you think you're gonna score better," he says. "You don't necessarily do so. But you'll enjoy it."
While it's not for newbies to the game - "it would destroy a complete beginner," Long admits - they do still want people to have fun out there. To this end, each hole has four tee-off points. These start at easy, comparatively speaking, and soar all the way up to Championship level. Before tee-off, Long has a chat with players to gauge their skill and advise them on the best tee to use.
"A lot of people don't take our advice," he chuckles, "and then hindsight is a wonderful thing."
With my golf skills being more Jack Nicholson than Jack Nicklaus, I was more than convinced that my profoundly terrible, incredibly rusty ability was not up to the challenge that the Golden Bear had thrown down with this design. Politely declining Long's generous offer of a round I opted instead to see what else I could do.
So while golf may be Kinloch's Raison d'etre, I had no problems occupying my time during the stay. The vibe is peaceful and unhurried and, away from the fiendish course, has been designed to make you comfortable and relaxed. The earthy elegance of the lodge encourages you to lounge around its large common rooms that are filled with books, games, plush couches and spectacular views.
On this windy day, the warmth of the villa's fireplace made it difficult to want to venture out. And I might not have if I didn't have a massage appointment at the Lodge's spa to knead out all the knots and post-lockdown stress that were riddling my body. Golfer or not, a visit to do the same should be on the top of your list
Back on the links I asked Long why people coming back to a course that gleefully knocks them - and their ego - around. There was no hesitation in his reply.
"It's challenging, it's tough, but you never get bored of it. If you come and you score well, you've earned it. Every par is earned around here, you can't fluke one. It's one of those golf courses where you always leave a shot out there. Or think you have. You probably haven't, truth be known, but you want to come back and have another crack at it. Even if its just one hole you mess up, that will bring you back. You've always got a score to settle."
Then, with a knowing grin he says, "There's never any unfinished business".
CHECKLIST: Kinloch Manor
Kinloch's 2-bedroom manor residences are $995 per person, per night, with a 2-night booking required. The rate includes breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, 4-course dinner and activities. kinlochmanor.co.nz
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