Malaysia’s Top 10 Golf Courses
HORIZON HILLS TAKES TOP SPOT OUT OF 20 NOMINEES
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.