By Duncan Forgan
Dec 29, 2020
FEW WESTERN EXPORTS TO SOUTHEAST ASIA carry quite as much cachet as golf. ‘The Royal and Ancient Game’ may have originated as a working-class pastime played out on the wind-battered shores of Scotland, but it has transcended its humble roots to become a potent symbol of prestige. In Asia, as we know, that’s a big deal, and the sport has experienced a massive boom in the region over the past decade or so. Design masterpieces can be found throughout the region, with layouts varying wildly in style and appearance. Here are some of the best tests in Asia’s tropics.
Nusa Dua, Bali
Everything about Bali National, which (re)opened in 2013 after a multi-million-dollar upgrade from its original incarnation as Bali Golf and Country Club, screams quality.
The two nines at Bali National are completely distinct from each other. The first nine holes turn away from the ocean and wind their way up, down and across the hilly Nusa Dua hinterland. After a tricky start, the course soon gets into a less penal groove, and obvious birdie opportunities present themselves at short but striking par-4s such as the 2nd and the 8th.
The back nine, meanwhile, utilizes level coastal land and works through coconut trees and several manmade lakes. Great holes abound and the 17th, a near-replica of the famous “island” 17th at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, and the 18th, a short par-4 with a double water carry—both completely new holes—make for a grandstand conclusion.
The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip
The most acclaimed course in Vietnam might just be the best in Greg Norman’s entire design portfolio, which now exceeds 100. Set among massive dunes on a mostly undeveloped piece of coastline not far from Saigon, The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip scores big on location.
But give the iconic Australian credit, too; he let the twists and turns of the rugged property dictate much of the links-style layout, which Sergio Garcia called “spectacular” after winning an Asian Tour event there in 2015.
It is one of the few championship-caliber links courses with significant elevation changes, making for a golf experience that’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is a challenge to tame. While the highest point of the rugged property is 50 meters above sea level (on the 15th green), one of the most spectacular spots comes earlier in the round, on the short 4th.
From there, players are presented with a 360-degree view of the course, of the surrounding national forest that’s a haven for wildlife, of the expansive shoreline and The Grand Ho Tram, Vietnam’s leading international luxury casino resort.
The best of Singapore’s courses sits just off its mainland on the resort island of Sentosa. If land constraints are tight on Singapore’s main bulk, they are even more exacting on little Sentosa.
It is testament to the ingenuity of architect Ron Fream, then, that the Serapong course has established itself as one of the region’s finest tests. More than three million cubic meters of sand was pumped and dredged from shipping channels to reclaim land and construct the course.
The result is a masterpiece. The first nine holes are mostly laid out over the existing land and have a more sheltered feel to them while the bulk of the holes on the back nine are routed over reclaimed land and are open.
Both have their merits but it is the closing stretch that defines the course. The 14th, a long par-4, is played into the prevailing wind towards the towering skyscrapers of Singapore’s financial district while the 15th and 16th are classic death-or-glory set-pieces played along the water’s edge.
Connoisseurs of the game consider this as the pick of the layouts around Bangkok and it’s not difficult to see why. Untypically of courses near the city, Alpine Golf Club features various elevation changes–making for an ever-stimulating playing experience.
The long 7th and par-4 11th stand out due to their twin “island” greens, but standards are elevated throughout.
We love the way that the beautiful landscaping, tranquil lakes and verdant jungle enhance the excellent holes. The clubhouse, meanwhile, is as plush as you might expect at such a prestigious venue.
It is both an anomaly and a blessing that the best course in often-snooty Hong Kong is also the only one open to the public at large. Designed by South African legend Gary Player, the North Course offers a challenge that is every bit the equal of more exclusive clubs in the area.
While it is nigh on impossible to replicate the characteristics of classic links golf in a sub-tropical environment, the rolling topography and coastal setting of the course imbue it with certain Britishness. The views over the New Territories and onwards to Hong Kong Island in the distance, however, establish a spectacular sense of place.
There are several show-stopping holes on the course. The par-3 third is played across a daunting ravine to a green built upon the side of a hill while the 14th, another short hole, offers the most memorable vista on the course from its elevated tee.