Would-be developers don’t often possess surfeits of stellar terrain. Even a veritable visionary with unlimited funds and lofty aspirations might serve up only 25-50 acres of superior, sandy routing fodder; the rest is something with which a course architect makes do. However, when it comes to matters such as these, Tom Doak is the wrong person to ask. Part of his genius has been the ability, or serial good fortune, to connect with developers not just with great land but thousands and thousands of acres of great land.
Convincing clients what to build on any piece of ground is central to the modern course design exercise, and not even Doak gets his way every time. The man is human, and over his long and decorated career, these courses not taken are what pass for professional regrets. In his 2020 book, Getting to 18, Doak cites one in particular, “the project I most regret not having gotten the chance to design.”
“The very first time I went to Cape Kidnappers was the end of 2001, and I was late,” the architect told me, referring to his world-beating design here on New Zealand’s North Island, developed by American billionaire Julian Robertson and opened in 2004. “They picked me up in a helicopter and landed me on the point down below, where you can see the Shark’s Tooth. At that time, Julian wanted to build his lodge down there and, in my opinion — then and now — that would have been a superb place to build a golf course. It was flat enough, to go with plenty of acreage. From the moment the helicopter touched down, I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t we build it down here in this valley?’
“It didn’t take long for Julian to make himself clear: The clifftops were his first choice and it’s hard to argue. His vision for golf on those cliffs was inspired. It’s a setting like no other. But I thought then — and I still think — a very good golf course could have gone down there in the valley.”