Millbrook Resort buys land for double golf courses

10:12 AM Friday August 22, 2014 Colin Taylor

Birds eye view of the land purchased by Millbrook – marked by red boundary - with the existing Millbrook Resort to the left.

Queenstown’s well-known Millbrook Resort has conditionally purchased 66 hectares of land adjacent to the five-star resort which could significantly expand the property and see it upgraded into a full two golf course layout. 

Millbrook currently comprises 27 golf holes with only one full 18-hole course available at any time using a mixture of the three nines – the Arrow Nine, Remarkables Nine and newer Coronet Nine.

“This has maintenance benefits but limits golfing capacity to just a single course shared between members and guests, which can be an issue at peak times,” says Brian Spicer, Millbrook’s CFO.

“In peak times we experience capacity issues regularly and so moving to a two-course layout would not only ease the pressure but also enable us to offer New Zealand’s only two course resort complex and double our capacity.” 

John Hart, chairman of the organising committee for the New Zealand Open, says the potential for a two course layout at Millbrook is “exciting” for golf tourism and Queenstown.

“For the New Zealand Open it means we’ll have a great opportunity to consider expanding it in future years. The New Zealand Open, with Millbrook and the Hills as co-hosts, plays a key role in the Government’s Golf Tourism Strategy.” 

As co-host of this year’s New Zealand Open, Millbrook received worldwide exposure and will once again co-host the event with The Hills in Arrowtown from March 12-15, 2015.

Ben O’Malley, Millbrook’s property and development manager, says the land, adjacent to Millbrook’s western boundary, is fairly rugged in nature and has obvious and significant potential for improvement through integration with Millbrook.

The economic realities of sheep farming have meant that land maintenance and improvements over the past few decades have been uneconomic and therefore limited.

“The land is a bit rough at present,” O’Malley says.

“However with careful planning and a lot of hard work its natural beauty can be restored and used sustainably. Mill Stream runs through the land before passing through Millbrook Resort, but unlike at Millbrook it’s largely choked with willow trees. We see some great opportunities to continue upstream the riparian and habitat restoration successfully completed at Millbrook. Bird and fish life has flourished in the Millbrook section of Mill Stream since the development of Millbrook’s Coronet Nine golf course.”

O’Malley says the resort is “very excited about the acquisition” and “confident” of obtaining Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approval, given Millbrook’s contribution to the local economy and New Zealand tourism industry and because acquiring the land would enable Millbrook to create further employment and tourism opportunities for the district.

Millbrook is owned by the Japan based Ishii family which is the reason OIO consent is needed for the acquisition.

Spicer says Millbrook has had “a major positive influence” on the local economy in terms of employment and tourism over the past two decades.

“We employ around 200 staff directly, with an $8 million annual payroll, and employ many others indirectly in the service and construction industries,” he says..

The Ishii family bought the original Millbrook land 26 years ago in 1988, and it has been under development since then. Opened to the public in 1994 the Ishii family’s ultimate vision is to develop “the best golf and lifestyle resort in the world”.

O’Malley says “this is a lofty but achievable aspiration that is at the core of all our activities and the new land will enable Millbrook to take the next step on that journey..

“Since buying Mill Farm in the late 1980s the Ishii family has shown the same pioneering spirit that the Butel Brothers from Normandy, France demonstrated in developing Mill Farm in the 1860s.

“Resort development was new territory for New Zealand at the time, and over the last 25 years the Ishii’s have exercised patience in realising their vision, with the result being the world class destination Millbrook is now. It’s a long slow process and all profits have so far been invested back into the business. Taking on the extension of the resort shows a continuing commitment to that vision.”

Millbrook Resort has won many awards and accolades, and is known for its high-class accommodation, spa, restaurants and golf course - facilities which are open to Millbrook members, hotel guests and to the public as day visitors. Over the years the residential community has grown considerably in terms of permanent residents and holiday home owners. The resort is also a loyal community supporter with events hosted at Millbrook including the Tour de Wakatipu, the upcoming Queenstown Marathon and a co-host of the New Zealand Golf Open.

O’Malley says no firm decisions on future plans for the land have been made, and that Millbrook will “take its time” to assess various options.

“There are some obvious rural lifestyle options that we could work towards but it is the prospect of an extended golf facility that has us most excited. We’ll have a better idea of preferred options once we have the OIO decision and have been able to consult with relevant neighbours.”

 Spicer, who is also Millbrook’s golf and membership manager, says golf tourism in Queenstown is significantly increasing and the government has earmarked funding to help in this growth area.

Greg Turner, who designed the Coronet Nine at Millbrook and is a member of Tourism New Zealand’s Golf Tourism working party, says he’s already looked at the new land and started thinking about possible routing options.

“Queenstown’s reputation as a golf destination is growing so rapidly that the prospect of demand exceeding supply is very real indeed,” he says. “The ‘flow on’ benefits for the region in terms of tourism, especially where the region has New Zealand’s only two-course resort, are obvious.

“While expanding Millbrook to 27-holes has balanced the pressures of member and visitor play, expanding it to 36 holes would, to all intents and purposes, add another course to the Queenstown offering. There’s international evidence that demonstrates a high percentage of visitors will stay additional time to play the second course at a resort. That’s not only good for Millbrook but also for Queenstown and New Zealand as a whole given the high daily spend of the average golf tourist.

“Given the contours of the upper terrace of the land to be acquired, with work and capital investment this land could be changed from unproductive sheep farming land into a spectacular ‘highlands’ attraction, further enhancing Millbrook’s reputation as a jewel in the crown of resort golf .”

O’Malley says quality golf courses are expensive to create.

“To be commercially viable in this region they generally need to be funded through the sale of integrated real estate,” he says.. “The challenge for us is to design a course that could enhance the natural beauty of the site while enabling surrounding residential development to be absorbed into the landscape. We believe we have the proven and necessary skills to achieve this.

“The executive team and the Ishii family are extremely proud of what’s been achieved in the last 25 years and it’s now time to look towards the next 25 and even 50 years.”