The next shot was crucial. Chasing down a surprisingly handy tee shot, I figured I could plonk it on the green if I hit the next one well. And then it happened.
I looked up from my ball's lie to size the distance to the pin. In front, Lake Wakatipu sparkled before me, ringed on all sides by jagged peaks. Behind me, the towering, snow-capped Remarkables felt so close I thought they must impede my backswing.
Overwhelmed and distracted, the resulting approach shot dropped neatly into a greenside bunker. Well, I'm claiming distraction, anyway.
The pattern repeated several times over the subsequent round at Jack's Point, when I had to continually remind myself that I wasn't playing in the Scottish Highlands, or the Swiss Alps, but just three hours by plane from Australia's east coast in New Zealand's Queenstown.
The holiday mecca built its reputation on offering the most jaw-dropping scenery anywhere in the southern hemisphere alongside the densest cluster of fun. Its skiing, bungy jumping, jet boating and mountain biking activities are legendary.
Not (yet) as well known are a cluster of exceptional golf courses that have sprung up in recent years, forming a ring within 20 minutes' drive of Queenstown airport.
Three premium examples – there are also more affordable public courses at Queenstown and nearby Arrowtown – form a formidable drawcard for Aussie golfers looking for something a bit different.
Fifteen minutes south of the airport, Jack's Point is the inarguable champion for scenic magnificence. With views alternating from the postcard-esque lake to sheer mountain tops, and with planeloads of skydivers cascading in from above, it would have few peers anywhere in the world for the quality and diversity of golfing scenery.
Designed by renowned local John Darby and built in a rural links style, it makes great use of the land's original contours to present a challenge to all skill levels.
Unusually for an 18-hole course, the ninth green lies at the furthest point from the clubhouse – about three kilometres away – making popping in for a quick nine virtually impossible.
Jack's Point only opened five years ago and is already cultivating an enviable international reputation, says resident pro and golf operations manager Andrew Dorsey.
“The common phrase we hear that our visitors are telling others is not to leave Queenstown unless you've played Jack's Point,” he says. “A lot of visitors who have played around the world have it in their top five courses.”
Cost: $160 plus $20 for optional motorised cart; subsequent rounds within 10 days cost $90 (includes cart).
If you like to play where you stay, Millbrook Resort - on the outskirts of Arrowtown and only 20 minutes from the airport - is a golfing mecca. It has a total of 27 holes split between three nine-hole layouts, each with its own distinct character.
The most established, Remarkables, is typically played as the front nine in a round of 18. Designed by Sir Bob Charles, it has a genuine resort feel, with homes and apartments lining many fairways and overlooking greens. This nine brings plenty of trees and several water hazards into play to complement generous fairway bunkering.
Another nine, Coronet, is a more recent addition designed by Greg Turner and set in the lee of a nearby mountain range. It ratchets up the challenge with a number of tests that call on players to be pinpoint accurate or risk sand, water or out of bounds (aka the front yard – or worse - of someone's house). It's characterised by rocky outcrops of schist, the local volcanic rock, which guards many greens and can send a clumsy approach shot flying at random angles.
A third nine, Arrow, was under maintenance during our stay as Millbrook prepares to co-host early rounds the New Zealand Open along with neighbour The Hills.
To say that playing Millbrook is less spectacular than Jack's Point is akin to saying the Eiffel Tower is less amazing than the Taj Mahal. Play Millbrook first and you'll retain that sense of awe over both rounds.
Staying and playing at Millbrook also brings access to the resort's restaurants, cafes and a spa centre that offers a refreshing one-hour “golfer's reviver” package.
Cost: $165 for visitors; $75 for resort guests (unlimited golf). Golfer's reviver spa package is $125.
At every turn on my trip someone asked “have you played at Michael Hill's yet?” This was initially confusing as my itinerary held a different, but similar name – The Hills. It soon became clear that Michael Hill is a bit of a celebrity in these parts, a local who made his fortune in jewellery retail (yes, that Michael Hill) and then assembled – almost one hole at a time – one of the most exclusive courses in the world.
There are no signposts to find The Hills, and the driveway is protected by thick wooden gates bearing a tiny name plaque and an intercom. You don't simply arrive and play, you hustle well in advance to snaffle one of the very few public slots that may be available on any given day, depending on member traffic. Soon you may not be able to play at all, as membership numbers swell towards the target of 200 families and their guests.
What's immediately remarkable – apart from sharing the same incredible vistas as neighbouring Millbrook – is the condition of The Hills. It's impossibly green and immaculately groomed. The next discovery – courtesy of a wayward shot from the elevated first tee – is the length of the second cut of rough, which grabs and hides balls with alarming efficiency.
Arguably the most famous aspect of the course is its art installations, with a wide variety of modern sculptures overlooking the fairways. As if you weren't already distracted enough …
And there's the “signature” 17th, a hole to rival any in the world for beauty and drama. The doglegged, uphill par 5 narrows as you approach the green between a pair of bunker-lined rocky bluffs – complete with a cascading waterfall. It's as spectacular as it is challenging.
Cost: Approximately $450 (includes golf cart).
Extreme golf tee
This is adrenalin-soaked Queenstown, so there must be a way to further ratchet up your golfing adventure, right?
How about taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain, and hitting golf balls off the edge? It's called the Extreme Golf Tee and the action takes place on Cecil Peak, 5500 feet above Queenstown.
Lest anyone accuse us of perpetrating a Seinfeld-esque ecological disaster, we'll point out that the golf balls supplied by Over The Top helicopter charters are of a special design and completely break down when they get wet. They respond exactly as they should when whacked with a driver – albeit with an ear-splitting “ping” – and for a moment it does appear as though your ball will sail forever before it drops from view. Mighty satisfying.
Cost: $295 for the 45-minute return trip from Queenstown Airport.
Between them, the trio of courses – plus an adrenalised extra activity - are a genuine notch in any golfer's belt, serving up challenge, reward and seriously jaw-dropping views in equal measure.
The New Zealand Open will be co-hosted from February 27 until March 2 by Millbrook and The Hills.
Steve Colquhoun travelled to Queenstown as a guest of Tourism New Zealand.