Good news for golfers who can’t get enough of Coore and Crenshaw designs: They’ve been keeping plenty busy of late. Since the calendar flipped to 2021, the pair has made a site visit to Mike Keiser and Ben Cowan-Dewar’s big Caribbean play, Cabot St. Lucia, and Coore is back on the road checking on another project under construction: Brambles, the brainchild of longtime C&C associate James Duncan in Lake County, California. Meanwhile, yet another new course, on Lake Martin in Alabama, was announced a couple weeks ago.

I recently caught up with Bill Coore for an interview while he was at home in Scottsdale. The conversation focused on the project where the architect spent much of this past winter: New Zealand’s Te Arai Links, for which he endured rigorous and extended hotel quarantine in order to access the relatively COVID-free nation.

Imagine a true links – all-fescue, sandy soils, wispy native surroundings – that you can play in nearly subtropical warmth in shorts and a polo. Now imagine your group has the course almost to itself – because it’s extremely private – and the conditions are basically perfect, for the same reason. That’s Tara Iti Golf Club, Tom Doak’s design for Los Angeles hedge-funder Ric Kayne, which since its 2015 debut has carved out a reputation for many players as one of the 20 or so best golf courses on the planet.

Given that precedent, as Adam Schupak documented in Golfweek in the fall, the expectations for its neighbor, Te Arai, are off the charts. This new 36-hole, public-access facility (which is also a Kayne development) is a bit like trying to add a couple of Pebble Beaches to a portfolio that already includes a Cypress Point.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Coore and Crenshaw have stepped to the plate following a Tom Doak home run. According to Coore, they are certainly up for the challenge.

Te Arai Links is scheduled to open in October 2022.

(This interview has been edited for length.)

Te Arai

Te Arai Links, a new course being constructed by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in New Zealand (Courtesy of Robinson Studios NZ)

Dunne: For Golfweek readers who have never been to New Zealand, can you give your impressions of that part of the world in general and the Tara Iti/Te Arai property in particular?

Coore: The whole country, from what I can see, is one national park. It’s just stunning. And there’s such a great variety between the South Island and the North Island, where we are. It’s possibly the most fantastic place I’ve been in the world. I’m not saying other people will agree with that, but it’s easy to see why so many people who are able to do so gravitate to New Zealand.

Regarding Tara Iti, I’m a huge admirer of Tom and his guys to start with, but I would put Tara Iti in the category with Pacific Dunes and Barnbougle Dunes, which are my three personal favorite Renaissance Golf Design courses.

I think golf courses should be complements to the landscape they’re put upon, and Tara Iti is absolutely that. It’s a very interesting landscape with dunes and vegetation and landforms that were so gifted for golf in their natural state. They managed to put the golf course there without taking away from the landscape, and that’s hard to do when you have a site that is that spectacular visually. It kind of reminds me of a mosaic, the way the turf areas intermingle with the native sand areas and the dunes.

It’s interesting – Tara Iti’s site is removed from the ocean a bit, but you still experience it, you feel it. I suspect you can see it from almost every hole. But it was also just far enough away that it afforded Tom and the guys the chance to route holes in different directions, which you actually don’t see so frequently on seaside courses. Generally, if it’s a dunes property, it’s usually a fairly linear configuration of dunes along the sea, and that lends itself to more of an out-and-back, Old Course-type of routing.

Te Arai

A hole design for Te Arai Links, a new course by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in New Zealand (Courtesy of Bill Coore)

Dunne: Does the Te Arai property have some of those traits, as well?

Coore: No, it’s quite different. It is closer to the water and is defined by a big dune ridge that runs parallel to the water, similar to Pacific Dunes. So it creates a landform that when you start to study how you’d lay out the holes, it’s more of a linear situation than at Tara Iti. There’s still a 120-meter setback – a governmental setback for a nature reserve – so you’ll never hit a ball into the ocean, but at Te Arai, you’re going to feel like you’re much closer to the water.

Over both nines, on the first and 10th holes, you see the ocean, but you then hit your tee shot and go inland of the big dune ridge, which has trees on it. On the third hole, you play back up the ridge and from there on, it’s just … I happen to really like the first three holes, but I’m sure some people will probably say they’re the introduction. Just like at Barnbougle, at Te Arai Links there’s a beautiful river that comes out of the hills and enters the ocean. It’s right there where our fourth hole cascades down the ridge to the green, and it’s in the background on the little pitch-shot par-3 fifth. So from there on, once you go over the hill at the fourth cascading down the ridge, numbers 5 through 9 are all right on the ocean.

Te Arai

A hole design for Te Arai Links, a new course by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in New Zealand (Courtesy of Bill Coore)

Dunne: I know how hard you work on your routings. Was it a similarly laborious process at Te Arai or did the land offer suggestions a bit more easily?

Coore: You probably wouldn’t go out there and say, “Gee, where to start? Which way do you go?” It was pretty obvious you would gravitate toward the ground between the large dune ridge and the ocean. So the key was how to get the holes.

The strip between the dune ridge and the reserve setback line along the ocean, particularly on the front nine, was not wide or deep enough to have two holes – parallel holes – coming and going. So that’s why the front nine is basically a bit of the old butterfly routing. It loops itself out, kind of like a propeller on a plane, going counterclockwise. On the back nine, the dune ridge moves farther away from the ocean and there was enough room to place holes side by side, running clockwise.

Ric Kayne and Jim Rohrstaff (Te Arai’s managing director) didn’t demand that the course come back to its starting point after nine holes, but they did like that aspect of Tara Iti. They said, “Find the best golf and we’ll deal with the rest.” As it turned out, the more I studied and walked out there, I saw an area where we could loop the nines together.

Te Arai

A hole design for Te Arai Links, a new course by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in New Zealand (Courtesy of Bill Coore)

Dunne: What has it been like for your team building a golf course in the midst of the pandemic?

Coore: Well, I’ve been going down there for four years now. The holes were staked, we decided on the routing and we talked about the hole concepts in general. CJ Kreuscher was someone we got to know when he was working for (superintendent) Ken Nice at Bandon Trails. He was an assistant professional who decided he wanted to be on the maintenance side, and he was hired be involved with Tara Iti and to be its superintendent. Anyway, CJ and I walked through what was to become Te Arai countless times, and there was an absolute game plan.

When the pandemic arrived, Ric and Jim said, “We’d like to get this thing started.” Everything was beautifully in place, given the circumstances. CJ knew everything we needed to do, and he had the complete freedom to start cleaning the dunes, clearing the pine trees and building the irrigation and holding pond, which is way back in the trees – you don’t see it. Start the main line, get the pump station going – everything.

I went back at the end of September last year and was there for a little over four weeks. By the time I got there, they’d already finished the practice facility and the major earthworks on holes 1, 2, 3 and part of number 10.

It’s just an unbelievable crew in place there. John Hawker is an Australian guy who’s worked with us on numerous projects, from Shanqin Bay and Trinity Forest to Branson and the Sheep Ranch. He went from Sheep Ranch to do Bougle Run at Lost Farm (in Tasmania), the par-3 course. After the lockdown he came over to New Zealand with his wife and daughter. And Riley Johns, who worked with us at Cabot and has done some beautiful stuff with Keith Rhebb, moved his family, too.

So when I got there, everybody knew what the hole concepts were and were starting to rough them in. I’d given them sketches, but as those guys all know, sketches are just something to start the process.

Te Arai

Te Arai Links, a new course being constructed by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in New Zealand (Courtesy of Robinson Studios NZ)

Dunne: Would you say that your team of shapers has had a greater degree of latitude here than on other projects?

Coore: Our guys … they’re so talented. We try to give them extreme amounts of creative freedom. The difference here would be that in most of our jobs throughout the years, Ben or I have been able to visit the sites much more frequently and see what’s happening. Were we going to slow this process down and just do it in little pieces whenever I could get in? With trying to get grass planted at certain times of year, we needed to proceed … not necessarily quickly, but in an efficient and organized fashion. And remember, it wasn’t based on my schedule – just getting a spot in quarantine in New Zealand is extremely difficult. Tara Iti had to get permission from the government for me to even go.

So if I’d been trying to do this with people I hadn’t worked with before, well, I’d just be a nervous wreck. Because this site is so good. Am I going to say it’s the best site we’ve ever had? No. But it’s among them. And I’ll leave it for other people to make that determination. But it is a site that’s very much like the Sand Hills (in Nebraska, which is Golfweek’s Best No. 1 Modern Course): If you don’t produce something special, you’ve failed mightily.

Dunne: It seems like this project was really the culmination of team building that you and Ben have been doing for quite some time.

Coore: That’s absolutely true. I observe what’s happening there and I marvel at it. Yes, it’s John Hawker and Riley Johns, along with CJ and his crew, who are making it happen, but if you connect the dots they’ve had input from so many of the guys who’ve worked with us for a long time.

Obviously, the goal is to create as many interesting and wonderful golf courses as you can, but you also want to see other people with whom you’ve worked take your standard and elevate it. If you talk to Jeff Bradley and Jimbo Wright and, of course, Dave Axland and Jim Craig, they’ll say that whoever the next new guy is that comes along, teach him what you know. They’re all good at that. There’s not that jealousy factor, there’s not that “Wait a minute, I don’t want him to know everything I know, because then he might be better.”

Dunne: Does it feel good knowing that lots of people will be able to see your work, given that Mr. Kayne has adopted a public model for Te Arai?

Coore: One hundred percent. I mean, I grew up playing the cheapest little public courses in North Carolina. I was never a member of a club and hardly knew anyone who was. So public golf is the foundation of my understanding of the game. As magnificent as Tara Iti is, it’ll be seen by very few people, no matter their love of the game. Ric knows that, and he wanted Te Arai to be public access. It’s more in keeping with New Zealand’s culture, and my hope is that it becomes a part of golf that New Zealanders appreciate.

Dunne: You’ve already built what’s widely considered to be one of the best courses in the southern hemisphere at Lost Farm. How do you think of Te Arai in the context of your career? Do you think you’ll build again down there, or do you see this as a capstone moment?

Coore: I don’t know that I’ve given it much thought, but I doubt that we would work in the southern hemisphere again. Not that we wouldn’t want to, it’s just that right now we have design commitments that will take us the next three to four years, and I don’t know after that.

I remember when Ben and I first formed this partnership, we knew we weren’t going to do a lot of courses. In those days, we thought about working in places in the U.S., like Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Long Island, that have been so influential in golf architecture. Ben and I were talking about it not that long ago. Looking back, we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams that we’d be able to work the places we’ve worked.

And so when I go back to your question about the southern hemisphere … would we ever try to work with something really special there again? Perhaps. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. But it’s also great to be able to say that we were there. I’ve had the opportunity to experience and work in Australia, and in New Zealand. Even if it was just one time – we were there. So if there’s never another Coore and Crenshaw course in the southern hemisphere, that’ll be okay.

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