Malaysia’s Top 10 Golf Cour­ses

HORI­ZON HILLS TAKES TOP SPOT OUT OF 20 NOM­I­NEES

Golf Digest (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Our in­de­pen­dent five-man panel ranks them. You’ll be sur­prised which course is No. 1

WHEN GOLF COUR­SES STARTED

sprout­ing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, de­vel­op­ers re­al­ized that hav­ing a golf course as part of their town­ship projects was the in­cen­tive that lured buy­ers. This was the start of Malaysia’s mod­ern golf course de­sign and con­struc­tion boom. There were al­ready planters’ cour­ses left be­hind by the Bri­tish colo­nial masters but golf and the num­ber of golfers was grow­ing. Perak state was where the na­tion’s first course was built.

The Perak Golf Club was the first recorded golf club formed un­der the Fed­er­ated Malay States. The coun­try’s first golf course was a 9-hole course re­served ex­clu­sively for mem­bers and it was lo­cated near the Taip­ing Goal.

Ac­cord­ing to records, the course was de­signed by G. A. Le­froy in 1893. The Royal Se­lan­gor Golf Club (RSGC) fol­lowed suit that same year when the Club was es­tab­lished by the Glass­ford broth­ers and a gen­tle­man by the name of Robert Meikle.

The only course in Kuala Lumpur then was a 5-hole pub­lic track lo­cated at the Lake Gar­dens.

In the past, in­di­vid­u­als have spo­ken about newly-dis­cov­ered in­for­ma­tion that Malaysia’s old­est course, with three or six holes, was ac­tu­ally built in Sarawak in the late 1870’s dur­ing the Ra­jah Charles Brook era.

No con­crete record of these claims were ever dis­cov­ered and it is likely that there were many other “holes” built dur­ing that time around var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in the coun­try, wher­ever the Bri­tish had set-up com­mu­ni­ties and trad­ing sta­tions.

The word de­sign in golf course con­struc­tion did not even ex­ist then.

But when the boom started in the late 80’s, de­sign­ers or ar­chi­tects as they are pop­u­larly known, soon headed here in big waves.

Bri­tish planters’ cour­ses have char­ac­ter­is­tics that are straight for­ward park­land cour­ses that are flat, with lo­cal tree species, or ca­suar­i­nas trees in­tro­duced by the Bri­tish lin­ing the course. A bunker or two there, throw in a few ponds, and voila!

Then, su­per­in­ten­dents were not even a pre-req­ui­site in golf course con­struc­tion. Most of the time, the shapers would ad­vise the own­ers on a main­te­nance pro­gram.

In 1962, Malaysia’s first Prime Min­is­ter Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man ini­ti­ated the first Malaysian Open. Golf was part of the many sports that Tunku used to build a na­tion.

The first Malaysian Open (Malaya Open then) was held at RSGC. The course would go on to host the open con­sec­u­tively for 24 times un­til 1986, and host­ing it for the fi­nal time again in 2002.

Cow­grass was a com­mon species used at the planters’ course of old and it was time for change. There was a need to mod­ern­ize the look and start a de­sign revo­lu­tion.

Then came Tem­pler Park Coun­try Club and Sau­jana Golf & Coun­try Club, Malaysia’s “new look” mod­ern golf cour­ses at that time. Tem­pler Park was de­signed by Jumbo Ozaki and Ken­taro Sato, while Sau­jana re­ceived the mag­i­cal touch of renowned Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect, Ron­ald Fream.

Sau­jana was con­sid­ered the bench­mark due to its stag­ing of nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional

amateur and pro­fes­sional cham­pi­onships. It was long, me­an­der­ing and fea­tured un­du­lat­ing fair­ways lined by oil palm trees.

Sau­jana soon be­came the pre­ferred “new” venue for the na­tional open. It was venue host at least nine times (1988, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007 & 2009).

Fream was renowned for his grow­ing list of de­signs world­wide and soon be­came a key name in the golf course de­sign busi­ness in Malaysia with many cour­ses un­der his belt. His first Malaysian mas­ter­piece was the 9-hole Ke­lab Golf Darul Eh­san in Am­pang es­tab­lished in 1981.

While Fream’s de­sign busi­ness soon ex­panded, other names soon cropped up. Even leg­endary play­ers were get­ting into the mix, which greatly ben­e­fit­ted golfers.

Aus­tralian pro­fes­sional and three-time Malaysian Open cham­pion Gra­ham Marsh, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nick­laus (Nick­laus De­sign), Peter Thom­son and Jumbo Ozaki were some of the leg­endary names that have drawn-up cour­ses around the coun­try.

Some of the pop­u­lar ar­chi­tects and com­pa­nies of that time were Ross Wat­son, the trio of Nel­son, Wright & Ha­worth, Pete Dye and Robert Trent Jones Jr. to name a few.

At one time, Malaysia used to have a to­tal of 200-odd cour­ses that mainly com­prised 18-hole cour­ses. While the de­sign­ers of these cour­ses com­prised in­ter­na­tional names, there were some lo­cal names in the mix.

One of them was the for­mer Deputy Prime Min­is­ter of Malaysia, the late Tun Ab­dul Gha­far Baba who de­signed Ayer Keroh Coun­try Club (1964) and Ke­lab Rah­man Pu­tra Malaysia (1987).

For­mer pro­fes­sional Bobby Lim is an­other re­spected name with cour­ses such as Har­vard Golf & Coun­try Club in Kedah and Era Golf & Coun­try Club in Ba­hau, Negeri Sem­bi­lan un­der his name.

To­day, de­sign­ing cour­ses in Malaysia is chal­lenged by main­te­nance bud­get is­sues due to the weak Ring­git against the US Dol­lar.

Even get­ting bunker sand with the cor­rect mi­cron mea­sure­ments is a tough ask. Golfers are of­ten heard de­bat­ing sand con­di­tions af­ter a round.

While some of these fac­tors have in­flu­enced how cour­ses are de­signed and main­tained, there have been some in­no­va­tions adopted by ar­chi­tects.

Ernie Els did away with bunkers for the spec­tac­u­lar The Els Club Langkawi to re­duce costs. Could this be a trend we won­der?

High face bunkers were in­tro­duced when Kuala Lumpur Golf & Coun­try Club (now TPC Kuala Lumpur) needed a re­design by Ted Parslow and his as­so­ciate Ja­son Win­ter in 2006. It was an aes­thetic suc­cess, as many other cour­ses like Kota Per­mai Golf & Coun­try Club soon fol­lowed suit.

These are but some of the in­no­va­tions in­tro­duced by ex­tremely tal­ented ar­chi­tects.

And it cer­tainly re­minds us that of­fer­ing va­ri­ety and a great golf­ing ex­pe­ri­ence mat­ters more than ever.

july 2017

TPC KL

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