Top 10 Golf Courses in Asia

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All the tees in Asia: Design masterpieces and stunning natural surroundings mean there are plenty of fairways to heaven across Southeast Asia – here are the 10 best (in no particular order)

Few western exports to Southeast Asia carry quite as much cache 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 the Far East that’s a big deal, and the sport has experienced a massive boom in the region over the past decade or so.  While nobody would deny the golf course’s status as a potent forum for networking and a place to smooth and close business deals, there’s a genuine passion for the game in Asia. The region is producing a growing contingent of young talents. Meanwhile, established professionals such as Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee regularly fight it out with the world elite.

The region’s ever-expanding portfolio of courses is every bit as impressive. Design masterpieces can be found throughout the region, with layouts varying wildly in style and appearance. Some of the most storied names in the sport have left their mark on Asia through their design skills. These include legends such as Greg Norman, responsible for a true masterpiece at Danang Golf Club in Vietnam, and Jack Nicklaus, who masterminded the testing Masters course at Southwoods Golf & Country Club in Manila. Such tantalising golfing fare can be found throughout the region. From a show-stopping gem on a paradisiacal Thai island to a masterpiece laid out on a Tiger Woods-length shot from the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, here are some of the best tests in Asia’s tropics.

DANANG GOLF CLUB, DANANG, VIETNAM

Built on sandy loam soil, the Greg Norman-designed Dunes course at Danang Golf Club carries echoes of the classic Scottish links and the Carolinas’ sand-hill courses, and is every bit as enjoyable to play. The Aussie’s creation is never anything less than killer. The 16th is a particular highlight. An elevated tee tempts golfers to attack the putting surface, beyond which the white sand of China Beach pours down to the aquamarine expanse of the South China Sea while the distant mountainous Cham Islands rise in green, jungle-clad bulk towards the cobalt sky. The Dunes course, of course, has more than just the one spectacular hole. The 2nd is another cracking par-3, while two streams bisect the 17th, a tough par-4. Another distinctive test is the long 10th, which plays towards the Marble Mountains – a one-time hideout for Vietcong guerrillas during the Vietnam War – through a funnel of imposing sand dunes.  www.dananggolfclub.com

X-Factor: The South China Sea makes a dramatic first appearance as the backdrop for the signature 16th

KAU SAI CHAU NORTH COURSE, HONG KONG

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 prestigious clubs in the area. While it is nigh on impossible to replicate the characteristics of classic links golf in a subtropical environment, the rolling topography and coastal setting of the course imbue it with a certain Britishness. The views over the New Territories and onwards to Hong Kong Island in the distance establish a spectacular sense of place. There are several showstopping holes on the course. The par-3 3rd is played across a daunting ravine to a green built on the side of a hill, while the 14th, another short hole, offers the most memorable vista on the course from its elevated tee.  www.kscgolf.org.hk

X-Factor: It is hard to look past the course’s excellent short holes, with the 14th taking top honours by virtue of the stunning outlook from the tee

BALI NATIONAL GOLF CLUB, BALI, INDONESIA

Everything about the newly renovated Bali National screams quality. The former Bali Golf and Country Club reopened for business in 2013 after a multi-million-dollar upgrade. The two nines at Bali National are completely distinct. 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, utilises level coastal land and works through coconut trees and several man-made 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.  www.balinationalgolf.com

X-Factor: It is hard to overlook the death-or-glory tee shot to the island green at the par-3 penultimate hole.

RIA BINTAN GOLF CLUB, PULAU BINTAN, INDONESIA

The line “this is one of the best sites I have ever had to work on” is one often rolled out by golf course designers, to varying degrees of truthfulness. In the case of his Ocean Course at Ria Bintan, however, Gary Player wasn’t sticking to a script to keep his paymasters happy. The Ocean Course on the island of Bintan in the Riau Archipelago near Singapore is regularly ranked among the best in the region and, for visual thrills alone, it is hard to beat. The first few holes set a high quality marker. The par-5 1st requires a pinpoint drive and a carry over water to the green while the 5th runs through an attractive, but treacherously narrow, funnel of forest. It is the holes around the turn, however, that Ria Bintan’s fame is deservedly built upon. The ocean reveals itself halfway down the 7th, a gorgeous downhill par-5. But the undoubted star is the short 9th where the tee shot is played over an inlet to an undulating green backed by towering trees. ; www.riabintan.com

X-Factor: The oceanfront stretch of holes around the turn are befitting of their legend

CHIANG MAI HIGHLANDS GOLF & SPA RESORT, CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Golf is rife with superstition. From elaborate warm-up rituals to the sporting of a lucky pair of socks, golfers are known for seeking any kind of psychological advantage they can muster. But no extra effort is needed to conjure up positive vibrations at Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa. The course is built on a “power spot” – the hermitage of Kuba Sivichai, the revered monk who founded the famous mountain temple on Doi Suthep just outside Chiang Mai. Designed by famed course-architecture firm, Schmidt-Curley, the layout poses a number of problems for even the best golfers, not least the presence of over 100 fairway and greenside bunkers. Course highlights are plentiful. The downhill 1st sets an inviting tone for the round and there are a number of other standout holes. The best is saved for last in the shape of the par-5 18th, a snaking gem that involves a water hazard and demands prime accuracy.  www.chiangmaihighlands.com

X-Factor: The 1st offers a relatively gentle yet visually uplifting start to the round. A great way to get into the groove

MASTERS COURSE AT SOUTHWOODS GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB, MANILA, PHILIPPINES

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Most of the best layouts in the Philippines are clustered around the capital, Manila. Of these, the Masters course at Southwoods Golf & Country Club, a Jack Nicklaus signature layout, is regarded as one of the best in the country and one of the toughest in the region. The course has hosted several Philippine Open tournaments and there’s no mistaking the veracity of the challenge it presents. A straightforward par-4 is a slightly misleading opener given what comes after. Fifteen holes incorporate water as a hazard and the presence of plentiful bunkers alongside the lakes and streams makes the layout relentlessly intimidating. The toughest hole on the course is the dog-leg 380-m 6th that throws deep bunkers, a pond and a river in front of the green into the mix. Another compelling hole is the 10th, which is entirely free of bunkers but has a prominent water hazard that guards the entire right-hand side of the green.  www.manilasouthwoods.com

X-Factor: The presence of water on all but three of the holes is an attractive, but potentially ruinous, element of this Nicklaus design

PHOKEETHRA GOLF CLUB, SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

When French explorer Henri Mouhot popularised Angkor Wat in the West in the 19th century, he possibly didn’t predict that the former seat of the Khmer Empire would become Southeast Asia’s most visited attraction. He certainly wouldn’t have foreseen top-class golf courses being constructed within a long-iron shot of the ancient temples. Golf knows no boundaries when it comes to breaking new ground and the course at Phokeethra Country Club is a majestic test in sympathy with its fabled immediate environment. The layout has actually incorporated original Angkorian elements into its design in the shape of an 11th-century bridge that links the 9th green with the 10th tee. The rest of the course is more modern in design, and is rather American in style with expansive bunkering and water hazards at all but one of the holes. The course is somewhat flat but canny design and excellent conditioning makes it a pleasure to play. Of the holes, the finest is undoubtedly the par-5 18th, which entails a double carry over water and an approach shot to an island green.  www.phokeethragolf.com

X-Factor: The course’s liberal use of water hazards is exemplified by the epic closer, which has the potential to ruin a scorecard

DALIT BAY GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB, KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA

Malaysia’s portion of Borneo is heaven for golfers. Sabah, in particular, possesses some of the country’s most enjoyable courses, most within easy reach of the lively state capital Kota Kinabalu. Sutera Harbour and Nexus Golf Resort are both great golf set-ups, but the pick of the bunch is arguably this tropical gem. Ensconced within 162 hectares of Shangri-La’s acclaimed Rasa Ria Resort & Spa, the Dalit Bay course offers an exacting challenge with water coming into play on virtually every hole. The course, however, is far from a monster and wide fairways and generous greens make it a fair test for low and high handicappers alike. Away from the golf, Rasa Ria Resort & Spa offers sumptuous luxury amid outstanding natural beauty where guests can relax on a white-sand beach or explore the nature reserve and learn about the various wildlife species found within the reserve.  play with baby orangutans in the resort’s orangutan education centre.  www.dalitbaygolf.com.my

X-Factor: The pick of several excellent par-4s is the 13th, a dog-leg that snakes around an idyllic lake

SERAPONG COURSE AT SENTOSA GOLF CLUB, SENTOSA, SINGAPORE

The best of Singapore’s courses sits just off its mainland on the resort island of Sentosa. If land constraints are tight on the main island they are even more exacting on little Sentosa. It is testament to the ingenuity of architect Ron Fream that the Serapong course has established itself as one of the region’s finest tests. More than three million cubic metres of sand was pumped and dredged from shipping channels in order 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 in character. 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.  www.sentosagolf.com

X-Factor: The steel and glass façades of Singapore’s skyscrapers frame the long 14th in imposing fashion

SANTIBURI SAMUI COUNTRY CLUB, KOH SAMUI, THAILAND

The gods were beaming on this location when it came to laying out Santiburi Samui. Carved through coconut plantations on the unspoiled north coast of Koh Samui, the acclaimed layout – the premier club on the Thai-paradise isle – is as attractive a golfing test as you’ll find anywhere. The course doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with its beauty immediately. In fact, the first few holes are relatively unassuming affairs played through mature coconut forest. The visual thrills start to mount as the elevation starts to rise. The islands of the Gulf of Thailand are famed for their splendour and the panoramic view of Mae Nam Beach and Koh Pha Ngan, Samui’s neighbour across the cobalt tropical waters, is worth any number of fluffed shots. The course is more than just a pretty face with tight, winding fairways that make accuracy paramount, while rock outcroppings on a number of holes add to the challenge.  www.santiburi.com

X-Factor: The views from the elevated fairways over the jungle and the ocean are heart-stopping.  You asked for golf in paradise – here it is

Twin Pitons

 

 

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