In the picture-perfect setting of a glacial valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains near Queenstown, The Hills is not only one of the most dramatic golf courses in New Zealand, but also the most challenging.
One of the homes to the New Zealand Golf Open, the venue is as much a destination for spectators as competitors - and has earned a reputation endorsed by the greats of golf including New Zealand’s own golfing hero, Sir Bob Charles.
Sir Bob considers The Hills the best golf course in New Zealand - strong praise for a country with more than 400 courses and several award-winning internationals including Millbrook Resort also in Queenstown, and - in the North Island - Kauri Cliffs (Bay of Islands), Cape Kidnappers (Hawke’s Bay) and Wairakei (Taupo).
The Hills - "stop of the year"
The Hills - initially New Zealand entrepreneur and jewellery magnate Sir Michael Hill’s own private golf course - was redesigned by Darby Partners to host the New Zealand Open in 2007.
Set on 500 acres of former deer farm land near Arrowtown, Queenstown, The Hills is home to an incredible array of flora including native brown top grasses and wild native mountain tussocks. Sculptures crafted by New Zealand artists compliment the natural beauty of the course’s lakes, waterways and wetland areas.
The rugged glacial valley setting provides 180-degree views of the surrounding mountains and gives the X-factor to the tournament course - making it a popular destination for international golfers who often choose to combine the NZ Open with a family holiday. The event has been called the "stop of the year" on the Australian tour.
The course itself has family-friendly facilities and panoramic views of Queenstown’s famous alpine landscape. It is surrounded by celebrated wineries, top notch restaurants, luxury accommodation and a vast range of activities.
The Hills Club House is an architectural statement and was designed by New Zealand architect Andrew Patterson who met the brief of a building that needed to be "totally in harmony with the landscape, with a presence of religious proportions that would stop people in their tracks and polished off by functioning flawlessly".
The club house won the New Zealand Institute of Architects Supreme Award in 2008 and was also a finalist in the World Architecture Festival in the same year.
Sir Michael Hill - from backyard to fairway
Sir Michael Hill is an avid golfer with a lifelong interest in the sport.
At 11 years old, Hill created his first golf course on the lawns around his family’s house - at Whangarei, in northern New Zealand - by mowing little circles for greens and implanting baked bean tins for holes. He collected fees from neighbourhood kids who were allowed to play the course and ran little tournaments offering prizes for the winners.
While living in Australia at the Sanctuary Cove Golf Resort in Queensland, Sir Michael became accustomed to having a golf course at the back door so, when he returned to New Zealand and moved to Arrowtown, where his nearest course was just across the road at the Millbrook Resort.
Looking out on his property, a former deer farm, one morning Sir Michael thought how nice it would be to have his own putting green. He asked good friend and Harvard-trained course designer John Darby to assist, and one green became another, then another. Before he knew it, he had three greens, bunkers and a selection of tees around the house.
The end result was a championship course of over 7000 yards from the tips with no parallel fairways and where no two holes are alike.
Art at The Hills
Sir Michael is a keen sponsor of the arts and has created a contemporary sculpture park at The Hills to house a diverse range of works, including several crafted by his artist son Mark Hill.
More than a dozen installations grace the course, cleverly placed in settings fitting the style of the work - from metal dragon flies on a tranquil pond to ‘Red Ridge’, a kinetic sculpture surrounded by tussock behind the 13th green.
To date the art works are mainly from New Zealand and Australia but ‘The Wolves are Coming’ is a major new addition by Chinese artist Liu Ruowang. The work comprises 111 cast iron wolves and is an extraordinary spectacle alongside The Hills 18th fairway and with its dramatic mountain backdrop.
Sir Bob Charles - scenic charms
New Zealand professional golfer Sir Bob Charles, who has won more than 70 titles and is ranked amongst the most successful left-handed golfers of all time, says most tees at The Hills are elevated, giving not only excellent visuals of the challenge ahead, but a 360-degree panorama of spectacular snow-capped mountain scenery all year round.
"There are reachable par 5's and a drivable par 4 for the possibility of an exciting eagle or two. For the lesser golfer there is an impressive assortment of tees for enjoyment.
"My personal favourite would be the 17th hole, a par 5 through a canyon of rock to a semi blind green. Of course, there is the inevitable controversy of the 16th, a par 3 with a kidney shaped green, a stream on the right edge, a huge grass bunker on the left and another semi-blind back half."
He advises golfers playing The Hills to beware of the course’s scenic charm - saying it has the ability to lull players into a false sense of security, destroying the "very concentration needed to avoid disaster".
"The course is an incredible challenge for the great - and incredibly enjoyable for the not so great," says Sir Bob Charles.
Despite its modest beginnings as a little par three course, The Hills has developed into a world class championship golf course which has so far played host to three NZ Opens and is now the home of the NZ PGA Championship.
Background: Queenstown - golfing paradise
With six golf courses all within a 25-minute radius of the town centre, Queenstown is gaining a reputation as an internationally renowned golf destination.
Choices range from family friendly 9-hole courses to breath-taking fairways with rugged mountain backdrops and immaculately groomed 18-hole championship courses.
Facilities are world-class and the six leading courses - The Hills, Millbrook Resort, Jack’s Point, Arrowtown Golf Club, Queenstown Golf Club at Kelvin Heights, and the Frankton Driving Range and Golf Course - offer a wide variety of golfing from fun to technically challenging.
Away from the greens, Queenstown is famous for year-round thrills from skydiving and bungy jumping to jet boating and paragliding. There’s also the chance to explore scenic trails on foot or bike, sample award-winning Central Otago wines and local cuisine, relax with a spa treatment or a quiet saunter around shops, galleries, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Queenstown is also a great base for visiting some of the Southern Lakes region’s most famous attractions like the picturesque historic gold-mining village of Arrowtown, Glenorchy’s epic Lord of the Rings landscapes, and Milford and Doubtful Sounds.