In recent decades, the golf fever that took hold in China, Japan and South Korea kept most of the talk in golfing circles focused on those countries. But with China enforcing a years-long moratorium on golf course construction (Hainan excepted), and the markets virtually saturated in South Korea and Japan, the way was clear for other Asia-Pacific countries to come to the fore. Now imaginative course designs in exotic locales farther afield are drawing golfers from all over the world.
Tara Iti Golf Club, New Zealand
Opened: October 2015
Background: With the opening of Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers a little over a decade ago, New Zealand golf received a much-needed shot in the arm in terms of its ability to attract the affluent golf tourist. While the country is not short on good courses – Paraparaumu near Wellington is one of the Southern Hemisphere’s finest links, for example – these exceptionally scenic layouts, each with their own luxury accommodation and on-site spas, opened the country up to a new crowd; the type of well-heeled folk who have little issue spending $500 a night and $250 on a round of golf. Tara Iti, which like Cape Kidnappers was designed by the renowned Tom Doak, is the latest addition to New Zealand’s portfolio of courses – and by all accounts, it is an absolute cracker.
Lowdown: Located a 75-minute drive north of Auckland, the course lies hard by the sea on sandy, links-like terrain that has been sculpted and contoured to perfection. The course, which is part of an upmarket property concern, only opened to private play in October 2015 and, unlike Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, doesn’t look to be welcoming those without a member’s invitation any time soon. Tara Iti seems to have all the design characteristics to make it a shoo-in for top-100 course status, so one hopes its visitor policy changes.
Other facilities: A luxurious clubhouse and fitness center.
Details: As a private members’ club, you’ll need an invitation from a member to play.
Contact: taraiti.comThe Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, Vietnam
Opened: October 2014
Background: Since winding down his playing career, two-time Open champion Greg Norman has made his mark away from the professional tours by forging a hugely successful business empire, one that encompasses real-estate development, wineries and clothing. But it is in the sphere of golf course design where the Australian has been most prolific. Norman’s courses can be found all over the planet, and it his work at The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip on Vietnam’s southern coast that has garnered most attention in recent years.
Lowdown: The Bluffs is a unique place. A links-like layout that has been routed over and around impressive seaside sand dunes, this par-71 challenge provides a setting and playing experience that is more akin to the great courses of southwest Ireland than tropical Indochina. Given its proximity to the coast, wind is nearly always a factor at The Bluffs, but the course, which also features significant elevation changes throughout, remains highly enjoyable for mere mortals thanks to the generous fairways that Norman and his architects have provided.
Other facilities: The course forms part of the Grand Ho Tram Strip, an ambitious resort and casino complex that includes a five-star hotel, and it hosted its own Asian Tour event – the $1 million Ho Tram Open – in late 2015.
Details: Green fees from $185. Two hours from Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN).
Contact: thebluffshotram.comAnvaya Cove Golf and Sports Club, the Philippines
Opened: December 2013
Background: The Filipinos know their golf – their national Open is one of the oldest in the region and they have no shortage of quality courses at which to tee it up. This is especially the case in and around Manila, the archipelago’s capital.
According to a 2015 Golf Around the World report, there are 94 golf facilities in the Philipines. For well over a century golf has been played in the Philippines but there has been little course development since the boom years leading up to 2000, which saw a number of swanky clubs and well-received designs come online. Anvaya Cove, which opened to much fanfare at the end of 2013, is one of the few exceptions – and in a very short amount of time it is now considered one of the best layouts in the country.
Lowdown: Located in Subic Bay (60 miles north of Manila), which was a major US naval base until the Americans pulled out in the early 1990s, Anvaya Cove is part of an exclusive residential enclave that takes in dramatic mountain views and ocean vistas. The most memorable holes here come early on the back nine, with the short, clifftop par-4 11th earning most of the plaudits thanks to its risk-reward nature. When conditions are right, the hole is reachable in one mighty blow from the tee – but make a mistake and the West Philippine Sea lies in wait.
Other facilities: A five-star clubhouse featuring country club-style amenities.
Details: Green fees on application. Ninety minutes from Clark International Airport (CRK).
Contact: anvayacove.com.phThe Els Club Teluk Datai, Malaysia
Opened: October 2014
Background: The work of four-time major champion Ernie Els, The Els Club Teluk Datai, situated on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, occupies one of the most beautiful locales in Asian golf. Routed through ancient rainforest and alongside the Andaman Sea, the course has proved a hit with vacationers staying in the luxury resorts that are a feature of this popular resort island.
Lowdown: Despite not having any bunkers (Langkawi’s heavy rainfall led Els to do away with any sand for practical reasons), the Els Club is a wonderfully diverse layout that incorporates spectacular views and clever strategic nuances. Raised greens, run-off areas and elevation changes place an onus on accurate approach play, but this place is definitely more beauty than beast: the Els Club is highly playable for all thanks to its generous fairways and sub-7,000 yardage.
Other facilities: The smart clubhouse serves up a fine array of post-round dishes and offers views over the 18th green. The Datai and Andaman resorts are located a five minute drive from the club.
Details: Stay and play packages are available. Price on application.
Contact: elsclubmalaysia.comNikanti Golf Club, Thailand
Opened: December 2014
Background: Such is Thailand’s popularity among those who travel with their clubs in tow that the country is expected to overtake Spain as the most popular golfing destination within a decade. The vast majority of visitors spend at least a few days in Bangkok, and while there is certainly a good selection of appealing layouts situated within the capital’s boundaries, only a handful can be considered among the region’s best. Nikanti, a radical design from local architect Piraporn Namatra, is one such course.
Lowdown: Located an hour’s drive to the west of Bangkok, Nikanti is almost the complete antithesis of what has become the norm. For a start, it measures less than 7,000 yards and, rather than having the traditional front and back nines, features instead three loops of six, each comprising two par-3s, two par-4s and two par-5s. Don’t have time for a full 18? Just play 12. Want to have another go at that reachable but dangerous par-5 18th? Go ahead and play that final loop again. Nikanti’s flexibility aside, its generous fairways, highly contoured green complexes and rolling terrain – unusual for pancake-flat Bangkok – are the club’s main characteristics.
Other facilities: Nikanti’s well-equipped clubhouse is one of the most sumptuous around.
Details: Green fees start at $115, which includes pre- and post-golf meals, cart and caddie.
Contact: nikantigolfclub.comCape Wickham Links, Australia
Opened: October 2015
Background: It has only been playable for a matter of months but already Cape Wickham Links is making waves as one of the most spectacular courses to have opened anywhere in the last decade or more. Situated in the middle of the Bass Strait on the northwestern tip of remote King Island, a tiny dot of land that lies three-quarters of the way between mainland Australia and Tasmania, Cape Wickham Links offers up glorious coastal views, incredible scenic variety and towering sand dunes and valleys.
Lowdown: The work of American designer Mike DeVries and noted Australian golf writer and course connoisseur Darius Oliver, Cape Wickham might not be all that easy to get to – it’s a 45-minute flight in a small turboprop from Melbourne – but it is certainly well worth the effort. Indeed, for many, its out-of-the-way location is undoubtedly part of its allure. I’ve seen Cape Wickham described as Australia’s answer to Pebble Beach, the famous coastal course in California that has hosted numerous US Opens throughout the years, but that is far too simplistic. More rugged in nature and more playable in character (thanks largely to the width of the landing areas), Cape Wickham Links is already considered one of the finest strategic tests in a country that already boasts a handful of the world’s best courses. Add jaw-dropping vistas into the mix and, for golfing purists at any rate, this surely ranks among the most important courses to have opened in living memory.
Other facilities: On-site accommodations are available.
Details: Green fees from $108. Daily flights from Melbourne with King Island Airlines (kingislandair.com.au), Sharp Airlines (sharpairlines.com) and Regional Express (rex.com.au).
Contact: capewickham.com.auAl Zorah Golf Club, Ajman, UAE
Opened: December 2015
Background: The United Arab Emirates boasts a number of first-rate courses – the Majlis at Emirates Golf Club, host of the long-running Dubai Desert Classic, being a particular favorite. But the tiny emirate of Ajman, a short drive north of the glitz and glam of Dubai, has until now been bereft of golf. Enter Al Zorah, a championship-strength layout that is also Nicklaus Design’s first solo project in the Middle East.
Lowdown: A captivating par-72 layout set amongst a naturally preserved environment of native sandy areas, lakes and 250 acres of mangroves, Al Zorah, which is situated in close proximity to Ajman’s collection of luxury hotels and resorts, has been routed alongside seven miles of waterfront and hopes to make a name for itself in the region thanks to its stellar conditioning, thoughtful design and environmentally friendly maintenance practices. Another boon: the club is operated by leading golf course management company Troon Golf.
Other facilities: A clubhouse and assorted amenities due for completion in 2017.
Details: Green fees start at $66. Thirty minutes from Dubai International Airport (DXB).