The private Hills Golf Club, a 20 minute drive from Queenstown, is one of the most unique golf courses I have been fortunate to experience in my 20+ year in international golf travel. It´s the result of Jewelry magnate Sir Michael Hill, who built a golf course like no other. Designed by Darby Partners in 2007, the Championship layout was built on a natural combination of farmland and wetlands, where more than 50,000 red and silver tussock plants create a spectacular visual statement; and the rugged glacial valley setting provides 180-degree views of the surrounding mountains, awesome!
However, what fascinated me the most was the fact that the course serves as an outdoor gallery of a diverse range of art work and sculptures by local and international artists, including several crafted by Michael Hill´s artist son Mark.
Michael Hill – a keen sponsor of art – believes that especially young people lack imagination and need to be exposed to art and sculpture. Being aware of art by physically seeing and touching it, will tweak your senses and create out of the box solutions to all sorts of things. “Love it or hate it, art stimulates thought and creativity”, says 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. ‘The Wolves are Coming’ is the latest addition by Chinese artist Liu Ruowang and comprises 111 cast iron wolves alongside 18th fairway!
My personal favorite hole is the signature Hole 17th, a par 5 with stunning vistas and views and a fairway that winds through a canyon of rocks to a semi-blind green. A stainless steel tube work by Grant Palliser decorates the tee-box and the dynamic energy of the piece – generated by a variety of diameters – matches with the energy of the landscape – light and color.
While this array of sculptures certainly adds to the uniqueness of the golf experience, the course itself is nothing but short of praise either. Sir Bob Charles, the Kiwi golf icon, considers The Hills the best golf course in New Zealand – a strong statement for a country with numerous award-winning internationals including Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers. “The course is an incredible challenge for the great – and incredibly enjoyable for the not so great,” says Sir Bob.
The Hills Golf Course is home of the NZ PGA Championship and hosts the New Zealand Open in March and an exclusive group of 20 golfers from the US, escorted by Elite Golf Experiences´ CEO Paul Clare in October 2017.
In short: This challenging Championship layout with dramatic elevations in a constantly changing sculpture park delivers a world-class experience!
TIP: After golf, sample award-winning Central Otago wines in New Zealand´s most scenic wine area, also known as the home of the Pinot Noir; or stroll through the picturesque historic gold-mining village Arrowtown (just around the corner), which dates back to the heady days of the Otago gold rush. It´s a foodie´s heaven with a legendary dining out scene. Don´t miss out on it.