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BusinessAugust 18, 2020

Critical workers: border exemptions for ‘artistic work’ on billionaire’s golf course

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Immigration NZ has deemed a golf course designer and three ‘shapers’ to be critical workers, approving their entry to work on an American billionaire’s two courses in Northland. Rebecca Stevenson of BusinessDesk reports.

A golf course designer and three “shapers” have been approved entry to New Zealand as critical workers for US billionaire Ric Kayne’s coastal Te Arai Links courses north of Auckland.

Immigration NZ confirmed to BusinessDesk the four were granted exemptions on July 14 so work can start on one of the two 18-hole “championship level” courses planned for Kayne’s development.

Managing partner of Te Arai Links, Jim Rohrstaff, said the golf course “architect” and the shapers would work hands-on to develop the course. He said without those key staff, work on Te Arai Links cannot proceed. Golf course architects are not like house designers who draw up plans and hand them over, Rohrstaff said. They will be on the ground “doing the artistic work”.

“As soon as they get here, we are off to the races.”

Ric Kayne and his wife Suzanne Laughinghouse Kayne in Los Angeles in 2013 (Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images)

The Te Arai Links courses are being designed by Tom Doak and Coore & Crenshaw. Bill Coore from Coore & Crenshaw will also need to enter New Zealand a number of times to oversee the project, spending a 14-day period each time in managed isolation, Rohrstaff said.

The workers are coming from Tasmania, Canada and the US. Some would live in NZ for a year or possibly longer. “We are paying for everything – testing, accommodation, food, et cetera – and they will do the 14-day quarantine like everyone else.”

Immigration NZ said the workers were crucial for a “time-critical role” essential for the delivery of a major project that had wider significant benefit to the national or regional economy. It said the $50 million project was estimated to provide significant economic and employment benefits to the Northland region, as well as indirect benefits to Auckland. Well over 100 jobs would be created with the construction and development of the project, it said.

Other critical worker exemptions are granted on a number of criteria including that they have unique experience or technical skills that can’t be found in NZ, are undertaking a time-critical role essential for the delivery of an approved major infrastructure project, or have significant wider benefit to the national or regional economy.

Golf course architect Tom Doak (Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Since March 31, Immigration NZ has approved 1,274 border exemptions as “other essential worker” or as a “critical worker”, including people working on James Cameron’s Avatar sequels and four workers for an all-weather horse-racing track in Cambridge.

The department said it accepted there were no NZ workers with the technical capability available to “complete a project of this level”.

A few of the course workers will be coming with their young families, Rorhstaff said. It is hoped one of the golf course designers will be arriving soon after a long process to get approval.

Tara Iti, a nearby golf course also developed by Kayne, is regarded as one of the finest golf courses in the world, and Kayne hoped to turn the area into a premium golf tourism destination with tourists drawn to the “cluster” of world-class golf courses. He was granted Overseas Investment Office approval in 2012 to purchase 230 hectares of sensitive land for $10 million.

Kayne, through a trust ultimately owned with wife Suzanne Laughinghouse Kayne, was granted approval by the OIO on March 31 to purchase a further 25.2 hectares of sensitive land at Te Arai, alongside a leasehold interest in 143.8 hectares, for $3.4 million for Te Arai Links, a clubhouse, visitor accommodation, maintenance and water storage facilities. The land is currently a pine forest plantation.

Tara Iti, Kayne’s existing golf course near where Te Arai Links is being developed (Photo: Supplied)

Documents released by the OIO under the Official Information Act submitted in support of Te Arai Links said once the course is operating there will be an annual contribution to gross domestic product of $14 million in Northland, with 140 direct and indirect jobs, 90 of which will be local.

International golf tourists would contribute an additional $20 million in spending to the national economy each year. Its economic modelling assumed 14,000 rounds of golf played by overseas visitors annually, and 16,000 rounds of golf by New Zealanders across the two courses, it said.

Tara Iti Golf Club is a private club, but Te Arai will be open to the public. Tara Iti claimed more than $700,000 in wage subsidy support for 104 workers, data from Work and Income showed. It was planned that both courses would be ranked in the world’s top 100 golf courses, the OIO application said.

The OIO decision said an estimated $6 million in export receipts would be generated by the courses by the end of 2022. The new courses would also increase visits to the Kauri Cliffs golf course, owned by another US billionaire, Julian Robertson.

As well as the two links courses, houses will also be built. Te Arai had approval to build 60 homes at Te Arai South and 65 at Te Arai North, Rohrstaff said. The development would span about 12 kilometres of coastline, he said. A large public reserve would also be created after 180ha in Te Arai North and about 180ha in Te Arai South were gifted for public use, Rohrstaff said.

Currently there were about 100 to 150 people working on the Te Arai North housing development each day, he said, and a further 100 or so working in the Tara Iti clubhouse plus 30 to 40 caddies every day. “It’s massive. And what we do [at Te Arai] will be even bigger.”

Rohrstaff said the true economic impact of the Te Arai project worked out to be far more significant than the Avatar films in terms of benefits, as the golf courses would bring sustained employment over decades to come, and provide jobs and demand for businesses outside of Te Arai itself.

“The headline is not as big, not as many people know about it, but the long-term sustainability of the jobs is here.”

This article originally appeared on BusinessDesk. Their team publishes quality independent news, analysis and commentary on business, the economy and politics every day. Find out more.

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