By Dave Finn
When I tell my buddies that I recently visited Malaysia, I find myself pulling up a map to show them it is nestled between Thailand and Indonesia in the South China Sea and then explaining why it’s such a well kept secret, though maybe not for longer. An exotic destination indeed but most certainly wouldn’t pop up on most people’s radar as a place to play golf! I knew that it would be a unique and exciting place to visit but it wasn’t until I did my research that I learned Malaysia has a rich, long history of professional golf.
I discovered that in 2011 the country celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Malaysian Open, now known as the Maybank Malaysian Open which is held every April as part of an official Asian Tour event. This years’ winner was, Italian upstart, Matteo Manassero. In July, Malaysia also plays host to a second Asian Tour event, the Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters.
In mid-October the Ladies Tour arrives for the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia and this year nine of the ten top women golfers on the LPGA money list were present. However Malaysia’s most prestigious event has to be the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Tour Malaysia which is held at the end of October. Started in 2010 and jointly sanctioned by the Asian & PGA Tour, this 48-strong field matches 30 of the best PGA Tour professionals with the Top 10 Asian Tour Order of Merit players and eight sponsor’s exemptions who are invited to play in this premier event. Past winners have included Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie and Louis Oosthuizen. The season’s finale is the Asian Tour’s Iskandar Johor Open played in mid-November with champions that have included two-time US Open Winner Retief Goosen, Korean KJ Choi and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington so the field is always strong here as well.
It is obvious with all of these world-class professional golf tournaments taking place that the Malaysian Government is committed to promoting golf tourism. In fact the Malaysia Golf Tourism Association has just launched a new site www.mgta.com.my showcasing Malaysia as a unique world-class golf destination and the Prime Minister has reportedly declared that “Malaysia intends to be Asia’s leading golf destination and the staging of world-class tournaments will fit hand-in-glove with this vision”. A bold statement indeed but with over 200 world-class golf resorts and five televised events it is one that needs to be heeded. Since 1998 tourism has risen from 5.5 million to almost 24.7 million visitors in 2011 so do not doubt their vision!
For the amateur golfer and typical tourist the country is a land of contrasts. At one end of the spectrum are the towering skyscrapers, world-class entertainment, restaurant and shopping districts of the modern cities teeming life, day and night and at the other end, unspoiled countryside, lush rainforests, remote jungles and plenty of pristine beaches and tropical islands where you can relax at an ocean-side resort after a round or two.
So let’s start with where my journey began … Kuala Lumpur the country’s capital, affectionately known as KL to the locals and loosely translated as “junction of muddy water”. The population is 1.4 million, but blossoms to 7.2 million when you include the surrounding areas. This is the cultural, financial and economic center of Malaysia, worthy of at least a couple of days of exploration. Very metropolitan, it’s the fastest growing city in the country as evidenced by number of new office buildings springing up alongside historical buildings that reflect the diversity of the people and the region. When the KL Tower was built in 1994, it was the 4th tallest at 421m (1381 feet). Today it is ranked as the 7th highest free standing structure in the world and definitely worth the trip to the top to see the amazing vistas of the city. I’d also recommend a visit to the Petronas Towers, reportedly the tallest twin towers in the world made famous by the 1999 Hollywood blockbuster movie “Entrapment” starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
In between sightseeing and acclimatizing ourselves, we got in a round at Glenmarie Golf & Country Club, a relatively sublime layout on a flat piece of property. I can’t say that it was my favorite course but it was definitely a great way to ease back into your game. The best part is that all 18 holes are lit for night golf, a must do if you have never attempted to play beneath the stars. 18 holes including cart and a well-informed female caddy is around $60USD (tip extra). Starting from RM380 each (about $120USD) two of you could play 18 holes with breakfast and stay at the Holiday Inn situated right on the golf course.
Next we drove about 150km to historic Melaka, named after an indigenous endangered tree and reportedly the #1 tourist destination in Malaysia. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage City and maintains not only the environment but its unique original culture and heritage as a seaport. Founded in 1396, more than 2,000 ships pass through the Straits of Melaka every day.
There are four golf courses in the immediate area but we only got a chance to play two of them.
A’Famosa Golf Resort is a 520 hectare (almost 1300 acres) property that includes a resort hotel, two condotels and a multitude of suites up to 5-bedrooms villas with private pools. They also have a Cowboy Town, Water World, Animal World Safari and activities like horseback riding, fishing, go-carting, archery, paintball, biking with a free shuttle bus to get you around and keep the whole family busy.
There are 27 holes here to play and as their monikers may suggest – the Palms plays though coconut trees that line these fairways, whereas the Rocky nine is named after the boulder outcrops and the Crocodile nine is built next to a crocodile pit with a daunting island green. A’Famosa has been voted “Top Ten Golf Courses” in the country and my personal favourite. Not only is it challenging but also very picturesque. Green fees for 18 holes range from around $60USD to just under $100. Cart and caddy are extra.
Tiara Melaka Golf & Country Club was a treat in itself. We were invited to play in the 2011 Grand Finals for the World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship where 576 amateur golfers from nine countries played in six qualifying events across Malaysia to reach these finals. This 27-hole layout features the Lake, Meadow and Woodlands nine. These are all tough courses when you are forced to played from the blue tees but dastardly if you venture off from tips on the Meadow and Woodland courses where the slope is 142 and the course rating is 74.4. Recently the 9th hole on the Lake Course was voted hardest golf hole in Malaysia however the combination of 8 and 9 are the toughest that I have ever played. This is also where we saw a multitude of monkeys that will surely make your trip a true adventure. Green fees for 18 holes range from around $30USD up to $50 plus $12.50 per person for a cart and around $11 per cart for a caddy. What a steal!
99 Degree East Golf Club just opened their first nine holes in 2011 as a par 36 that starts at 2,913 yards and stretches out to 3,665 yards with the second nine slated to open in 2012. Unfortunately due to time constraints we only got a tour and did not get a chance to play this gem. Reportedly it costs $70 to play nine holes.
While in Melaka I’d also suggest that you round out your day with a visit to the oldest in temple Malaysia – Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and then take the Melaka River Cruise at sunset and experience the “Venice of the East” with its colorful array of lights and painted murals.
Next on the agenda was a quick 45 minute flight from Kuala Lumpur to explore the tropical island of Langkawi, a perennial favourite for locals and tourists alike who want to kick back and enjoy the laid back lifestyle. While you are there an absolute must is a trip on the Langkawi Cable Car, a 20 minute thrill ride on the longest free span single rope cable car in the world, up 2,079 meters at a steep 42° angle to the peak of Mount Mac. On a clear day you can see parts of Thailand and Indonesia with breathtaking views of a multitude of islands, waterfalls and hillside flora and wildlife.
On Langkawi we stayed at the magnificent Berjaya Langkawi Resort with over 400 rooms and suites that sprawl over 70 acres of land. You can choose to stay amidst their lush 500 million year old rainforest or in one of their idyllic stilted chalets perched on Burau Bay. A tropical paradise indeed!
Our golf adventure finished at the 18-hole par 72 Gunung Raya Golf Resort. Unfortunately I was tardy that day and missed the front nine so I cannot comment but the back nine featured lots of water, surrounded by dense jungle and a great way to finish our journey.
I must admit I wouldn’t normally think about traveling half way around the world just to play golf on my vacation but after having been to Malaysia there are a couple of other factors that come into play.
Malaysia has been dubbed the “Melting Pot of Asian Culture”. The population is comprised of people who are 10% of Indian descent, 22% Chinese and 57% Malay with the remainder hailing from around the world so Malaysia’s heritage, architecture, traditions and cuisine are as rich and diverse as its population – the best of the Far East, all in one country for you to explore and experience.
Secondly, Malaysia experiences a tropical climate, all year round with high humidity and temperatures that consistently range from 21C (70F) to 32C (90F). So bring your sun tan lotion, bug repellent and a lot of changes of clothes along with your clubs and you can golf any time of year.
And finally, the MGTA has laid claim that “no other country allows golfers to play beside the beach, on top of mountains, in the heart of a bustling city or deep inside a rain forest that is millions of years old, as Malaysia does”. And after being there, I couldn’t agree more! A once-in-a-life-time experience indeed!
For more information on golf in Malaysia visit www.golftourismmalaysia.com and for general tourism information you can visit www.tourismmalaysia.ca. There are also two Canadian tour operators that you can also contact for pricing – Malaysia.com and Royal Scenic Holidays Limited.