Challenge and beauty in abundance at mesmerising Kinloch Club

Kinloch Golf Club 10jpg

My first year of High School was an absolute blur, I barely remember a thing. However, looking back there is one person who has withstood the test of time and lived long in my memory – Mr Killian.

A brawny and brash South African mathematics teacher, Mr Killian was loud, bold and confrontational – quite frankly, he scared the shit out of me. He made us laugh and cry some days, verbal whippings were always followed by a light-hearted joke or two. It was an exhibition in tough love and one which ultimately yielded the best results. I look back on that time with great fondness, he was the best teacher I ever had.

Kinloch Golf Club
Why am I telling you all of this? It’s my way of explaining how I felt about the Kinloch experience – the memories will unquestionably last a lifetime but rather like Mr Killian, it’s often misunderstood and under-appreciated.


From the moment I pulled through the gates at Kinloch Golf Club it became crystal clear that this was a unique offering. Routed through the bottom of a valley with towering farmland hills above, Kinloch hits you straight between the eyes with its beauty. Wispy fescue clings to the edges of the fairways, while rugged bunkers presented as sinkholes wait, ready to steal my heart and plenty of my golf balls.

Australasia’s sole Jack Nicklaus Signature Design feels like it could be easily be in Scotland or Ireland and not look out of place- a distant inland homage to the likes of Kingsbarns, Cruden Bay and Dumbarnie Links. At first light Kinloch Golf Club felt like something straight out of Lord of the Rings and a sense of peace, wonder and anticipation settled over me.

Kinloch Golf Club
Kinloch is one of New Zealand’s most visually stunning courses

The Kinloch pro shop was the perfect place to start the day thanks to club professional Tom Long is the quintessential Kiwi transplant. Hailing from Sussex, Tom is one of my favourite people in the Kiwi golf landscape, greeting guests with a hearty grin and sending them off with a “hit ‘em hard and enjoy lads”.  Tom makes me feel at home every visit and provides a true sense of place to all those on site, a trait which should never be overlooked or taken for granted in a golfing world seemingly still ensconced by a tucked in shirt, white socks only culture.


The 1st tee perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Kinloch Golf Club, there’s beauty in the surroundings, but also recognition of an impending challenge which floods your mind with thoughts. With bunkering up both sides and the fairway framed by shin deep fescue, the first shot, like many to come, offers variety, but demands execution. It forces you to think strategically, weigh up the risk-reward tradeoff and commit to your golf swing – a good shot is rewarded, a poor shot punished. 

Kinloch’s routing and layout can best be described as captivating. Traversing severely undulating terrain, with a melting pot of variety in hole lengths, shapes and designs – every hole stands apart.

The fact that I can walk the course in my head weeks after the fact, speaks to that differentiation. Not a single hole went by without taking note of an interesting component or hitting a shot riddled with fun which I would have loved to hit five times over.

Kinloch is a course which expertly layers its defences. Often the holes offering the most straightforward tee shots have the tougher approaches and green complexes. The tighter and tougher tee shots are offset by opportunities to attack flags and make putts – just like Mr Killian, Kinloch gives you just the right amount of tough love and meets you with a smile at the perfect moment. Fun shots are plentiful across a course where undulation reigns – aiming 50 feet left and watching your ball fall towards the flag is an out of body experience and one rarely seen in New Zealand.

Kinloch Golf Club
Kinloch occupies 2,500 acres of natural wilderness in the hills above Rotorua


Kinloch is a study in the contrast between beauty and beast – despite that threat of danger lurking over a number of shots, beauty always comes up trumps. The views of the surrounding lakes and hills as they’re kissed by the morning rays find a way to put everything into perspective – it makes you feel as though nothing matters beyond what’s in front of you.

Like a class with Mr Killian, there are moments of walking on tenterhooks playing Kinloch and a small step out of line may well be punished. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel, a lost ball met with show stopping views of Lake Taupo or a crazy approach to the green that you couldn’t hit anywhere else in the world. Kinloch’s excellence will always shine through the challenge if you give it a chance.

Kinloch Golf Club 2nd
The 2nd at Kinloch Golf Club at magic hour

Playing golf at Kinloch Golf Club always brings me joy on every level. I feel welcomed and valued by the staff, I’m faced with the most fun golf shots I could ever imagine, and I feel deeply and utterly at home surrounded by one of New Zealand’s finest landscapes. In golf a sense of place intertwined with beauty and excellence is far too rare and I’ll forever come back to Kinloch as a way to escape the world for four hours, finding joy in the challenge and the occasional pat on the back.

Kinloch is a disciple of the Mr Killian school of tough love, but just like a mathematics class, tough love finds a way to make me smile and etch memories to last a lifetime. 

The stunning 8th at Kinloch Golf Club
The stunning 8th at Kinloch Golf Club

A commercial property analyst by trade and a rookie in golf journalism, Matt is an avid traveler having backpacked Europe and the USA out of a 6kg backpack. Based in New Zealand, he is travelling the country to uncover the best golfing experiences and some hidden gems along the way

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