With so many great courses in the Southeast Asia region just begging to be played, my list could easily have been documented as a top 100 rather than a top 10. Golfers can play in a variety of settings, ranging from seaside links courses to those perched high in cool mountainous locations. Tiger Woods has played in the region, and occasionally, golfers get a glimpse of tigers in the woods around some courses.
Often, it’s not just the golf that makes these courses popular; sometimes it’s the location, the scenery, the challenge, and the company in one’s golf flight. Bearing this in mind, here are 10 courses that have impressed me over the years.
Angkor Golf Course, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Few places in the region beg to be explored as much as Angkor in Cambodia. Religious sites, dating back to the ninth century, have been of interest to scholars for centuries, and now intrepid travellers also enjoy the delights of Siem Reap and Angkor. With three golf courses, golfers can enjoy the delights of this tourist town after some challenging rounds of golf.
Former world number one Nick Faldo designed this 18-hole course. It has arisen from the vast rice fields that surround the historic town. The 7,239-yard, par-72 layout features the second and 13th holes. Sublime!
Bali National Golf Club, Bali, Indonesia
What was once the Bali Golf and Country Club has been revitalised and is now recognised as one of Indonesia’s finest golf courses as the Bali National Golf Club. Its well-deserved recognition is for the golfing surface and the meticulously maintained 6,552m course that is usually a riot of colour year-round from its extensive landscaping.
The course looks like the surface of a billiard table and is perfect for golf. The greens are very fast and true, but some are sufficiently undulating to make them quite challenging. Ocean vistas are a feature, but coastal breezes come into play on several holes. The course is perfectly located in the tourist precinct of Nusa Dua, adjacent to many dreamy resorts.
Damai Golf and Country Club, Sarawak, Malaysia
The 6,428m, par-72 Damai course has been described by Arnold Palmer as “The finest test of golf with the most dramatic setting of all in Malaysia. This is a ‘must play’ course for those who love golf.” Not surprisingly, Arnold designed the course. Despite this, it’s a very picturesque and challenging 18 holes, with fairways running along the South China Sea, near mangrove-lined streams, and up into the foothills of Mount Santubong, which towers overhead.
Coastal Damai has some pleasant beaches, a resort (Damai Beach Resort), and the Sarawak Cultural Village to make it a pleasant retreat after discovering the wilds of Borneo.
Desaru Coast, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Desaru Coast, one hour east of Johor Bahru, has two courses: The Ocean Course, designed by Ernie Els, and the Valley Course, designed by Vijay Singh. The former has 27 holes, while the latter has 18 holes. There is a magnificent clubhouse, golf shop, luxury locker rooms, function spaces, and an open terrace to be enjoyed.
The three Els 9s have multiple tee boxes with fairways that meander through natural wetlands, lakes, and rolling terrain beside the South China Sea. The Ocean Course has a mandatory golf cart policy, but there are no caddies.
Empire Hotel and Country Club, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The Empire strikes back with a mighty swing of a three-iron club. A course fit for a king, the exclusive par-72 championship Jack Nicklaus-designed course was once the domain of the sultan and those with royal connections. Everyone can now play the coastal course, but the queue is long, and tee-off times can’t always be guaranteed.
Be greeted by lush fairways lined with tropical rainforest that adjoin the South China Sea. Night golf is an added bonus in the tropical heat, and golfers can choose to stay in the exclusive domain of the 359-room country club at the game’s end.
Camp John Hay, Baguio, Philippines
This scenic 18-hole course is located in the clouds at 1,700m above sea level. The cool mountain air attracts Filipino tourists and the country’s elite, who crave a round of golf on the Camp John Hay Golf Course. Jack Nicklaus turned the former US military base into a golfing masterpiece two decades ago.
The par-69 course is the one local golfers aspire to play, as it’s known for its undulating terrain, narrow pine-lined fairways, and lightning-fast greens. Golfers must factor in that golf balls travel further in the thinner air.
You’ll also find that this course is unusual for Asia because all-male caddies, decked out in traditional Augusta whites, are on hand. Other activities in Baguio include mountain walks and shopping at local markets for fresh strawberries. Discerning golfers can stay at The Manor, which adjoins the course. Baguio can be chilly, and fireplaces aren’t uncommon here.
Laguna Golf Lang Co, Thừa Thiên Huế, Vietnam
The 130km coastline between Hoi An and Hué in central Vietnam is home to numerous beaches. Lang Co is one of the most picturesque stretches, with a narrow isthmus backed by an expansive lagoon. Laguna Lang Co, a 280-hectare integrated resort, includes the Banyan Tree and Angsana Resorts and the Sir Nick Faldo-designed 18-hole layout.
It is flanked by the South China Sea and the foothills of surrounding mountains. Faldo worked closely with the lay of the land and its existing environment to create the course. The par-three, 167-yard 11th hole is the most popular on the course. The long stretch of sand is home to watersports like jet skiing, fly fishing, kayaking, surfing, and water skiing. Danang International Airport is within one hour’s drive of Lang Co (60km).
Lao Country Club Golf Course, Vientiane, Laos
Golfing in Lao PDR (Laos) is slowly making an impact. Golfers can enjoy a round in an exotic destination, far from the crowds of other regional destinations. The Lao Country Club Golf Course, a mere 14km from Vientiane, is one of the premier courses in the country.
The mostly flat, 6,771-yard, par-72 course is a mature one with well-developed landscaping. Water hazards ensure that golfers must be on top of their game, as accuracy is essential along some narrow fairways. This is an excellent walking course, with a good clubhouse and restaurant. Green fees are inclusive of caddies.
Marina Bay Golf Course, Singapore
Marina Bay Golf Course, Singapore’s only 18-hole public golf course, was designed by South African Phil Jacobs. The 6,493m, par-72 links-style course features 66 dramatic bunkers along the undulating layout. Its signature holes are the fourth (651m, par six) and the 13th (119m, par three).
Besides being one of the few courses in Singapore to offer night golf, Marina Bay Golf Course also features one of the most extensive driving ranges in the region. The course is located close to the city centre on the eastern side of Marina Bay.
North Hill Golf Club, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Inquisitive travellers can peel back the layers of history in northern Thailand to reveal traces of the early kingdoms of Chiang Mai and Chiang Saen. The north’s mountainous setting ensures the weather is cooler than Thailand’s central plains, with Chiang Mai rated as Thailand’s most liveable city. Eight golf courses are within easy reach of the city, including North Hill.
Golfers quickly realise the importance of water on this course, with the 453m-long first hole running parallel to a lake. Clubhouse facilities include MIX Bar and Restaurant, a spa, a fitness centre, a driving range, a pro shop, and on-course accommodation at North Hill City Resort.
Shopping is another appealing reason for visiting the north, with the Night Market plus two ‘walking street’ markets on Wualai Road (Saturdays) and Rachadamnoen Road (Sundays).
*All images courtesy of respective golf clubs.