Hunters Oak near Queenstown is so tough and so demanding that head professional Bill Horney sounds almost defensive when discussing it. "In four years of standing behind this counter, I've had a lot of customers shooting bullets at me," he says. It is likely, however, that the people taking those shots at him weren't shooting straight with their clubs, either.
Hunters Oak is a golf course that medium or high handicappers may automatically dismiss as unfair, but they might change their minds if they played it more than once. If you have time for only one round, go somewhere else. Hunters Oak is daunting, confusing, challenging, exhilarating, maddening?and that's just the first hole. But, give it time and study, and Hunters Oak could have the stuff of a lasting, although frustrating relationship.
Hunters Oak is a Scottish style links design by Ian Scott Taylor--- a winding myriad of mounds, swales, blind shots, tight landing areas, water hazards, knee-high rough, double fairways, bunkers-en-echelon, greens guarded by grass moats, and initial befuddlement. "Without a yardage guide, first-timers would be lost," admits Horney. For example, the 9th and 18th fairways run parallel on either side of a lake, and share a green. "I like this hole," I said to my playing partner. "It's nice to have options when approaching a green."
"That's not an option," he corrected. "You missed your drive. This isn't the 9th fairway, and that flag on the left isn't the 9th. It's the 18th."
As an aid to bamboozled golfers, Horney has placed aiming stakes in many of the fairways. Assuming a player has the technical ability to follow his leads, it is possible to score and have fun. As proof, the LPGA Futures Tour plays Hunters Oak, and has averaged 13-under par in their three-round tournaments.
Your first key to success---don't try to the ball on most tee shots. Your second---trust your swing, which can be a daunting task when confronted with so many blind shots. "Some golfers have described this course overly challenging," Horney told me with a note of understatement. "In our first year, one foursome claimed to have lost ninety-six balls in the water and grasslands. I think that was an exaggeration. At least, I hope it was."
Hunters Oak exacerbates bad swings and rewards good ones. Depending on your course knowledge, on your ability to execute, and the whims of golf, its countless mounds will either help you or hurt you, sometimes in the same hole. If such terrain bothers you, find a course with flower beds, fountains, and faux waterfalls?but don't claim to appreciate links golf.
My biggest compliment?that the course is visually stunning and mentally challenging.
My biggest complaint?that some of the holes are far apart, making the course difficult to walk.
Officially, Hunters Oak is a private club, but it keeps an open door to the general public. Call in advance, make a reservation, and you may have much of this sensuously undulating, beautifully manicured course to yourself.
But, and I repeat---do not come to Hunter's Oak intending to play it one time, or even two. Do not expect to set a course record. Do look forward to a round combining golf intellect with golf execution. Tour it the first time. Start playing it the second.
Hunters Oak Golf Club
7072 yards/ 74/1/ 135