Kuala Lumpur emerging as Asia’s next golf tourism hub

While Thailand and Vietnam are South-east Asia’s leading golf destinations, Malaysia is emerging as a prime alternative thanks to its affordability and variety of courses. Particularly appealing is the array of greens in its capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Land is so scarce in big Asian cities that their golf courses tend to be far flung. Which makes Kuala Lumpur unique in having a dozen within 45 minutes’ drive of its downtown tourist district.

Here are four of Kuala Lumpur’s finest facilities.

Saujana Golf & Country Club

Woven into a picturesque landscape of rolling hills and palm trees in Kuala Lumpur’s western outskirts are two tricky 18-hole golf courses. The Palm Course and Bunga Raya Course were both designed in 1984 by American golf architect Ronald Fream to be used for championship play, with the Malaysia Open held at Saujana nine times.

This helps explain why I was equal parts mesmerised and intimidated when I recently played Saujana’s Palm Course. As a newcomer to this sport, never had I tackled a course this puzzling. On the first tee box, I was transfixed by its tropical beauty.

On the second tee, I stared with trepidation at what Saujana’s website claims is “the most difficult hole in Malaysia”. A deep, lush ravine separated me from the elevated green, which sat 163 yards away. This was just one of many memorable holes I encountered on this course, which has meticulous fairways and slick greens.

I had warmed up at Saujana’s practice facility, which includes a 300-yard driving range, and short game area for putting, chipping and bunker play. Before or after their round, golfers can admire Saujana’s scenery while having a drink or savouring some spicy Malaysian at the Golfers’ Terrace.

An 18-hole round at either of Saujana’s courses costs $120 per person on weekdays, including a shared buggy, and $150 on weekends. Golfers who want to play both courses may wish to stay at the adjoining Saujana Hotel. Rooms at this five-star property start from $55 per night.

Sungai Long Golf & Country Club

When my tee shot curved wildly into greenery on the first hole at Sungai Long, I had an ominous feeling about what was to come. But such nerves rattle many golfers, and soon I was relaxed and relishing perhaps the most enjoyable round of my life.

That was partly due to the tranquility and beauty of this 18-hole course, hemmed by jungled hills in Kuala Lumpur’s southern outskirts. Heightening my pleasure was the intrigue of gradually decoding its layout, created by Jack Nicklaus, who stands alongside Tiger Woods as history’s greatest golfer.

At times, I needed power to blast over lakes. Then I required technique to escape from bunkers. Or delicate touch to manoeuvre Sungai Long’s layered greens.

Overlooking Nicklaus’s masterpiece, Sungai Long’s huge clubhouse offers spotless change rooms, a swimming pool and the open-air restaurant and bar, Golfer Terrace.

For a high-quality course, its green fees are low, with an 18-hole round starting from $55 on weekdays.

Royal Selangor Golf Club

One of Asia’s most distinctive courses, Royal Selangor Golf Club boasts a massive 45 holes despite being located in downtown Kuala Lumpur, flanked by skyscrapers. That’s because it dates back to 1893, when the city was just a town, and shifted to this current location in 1918.

I learnt this history from senior Royal Selangor members Ezani Abu Bakar and Michael Chin Fook Tow as we played 18 holes on this intricately designed course. The density of its greenery – highlighted by dozens of colossal rain trees – provides a degree of serenity not typically present at inner-city courses.

Winding through all this natural splendour are five, nine-hole layouts that are beautifully balanced. In the sense that each one is complex enough to challenge elite golfers yet not so difficult as to overwhelm less gifted players, like myself.

After our round, we had a satisfying meal in Royal Selangor’s enormous clubhouse, which also offers a pro shop, change rooms, barber, sauna and massage facilities.

Visitors can golf at Royal Selangor by invitation, or by being the member of one of the many clubs with which it has a reciprocal playing arrangement.

Impact Golf

Before playing one of the challenging courses, golfers can get themselves properly equipped and prepared at Impact Golf. Located about 15 minutes east of downtown Kuala Lumpur, this large facility has a two-storey driving range, modern coaching spaces and an impressive club fitting studio.

Chief fitter and veteran golf coach Eric Chong uses high-tech video systems to record and analyse a customer’s swing and ball striking. Based on this data, he recommends the length, weight and lie angle of the club that best suits them, before that equipment is custom built on site. This service costs $64 per hour, but is waived if the customer then makes a club purchase of more than $640.

Golf tourists can also hone their game well by doing lessons, from $57 per hour, with Impact Golf’s team of teachers. That includes one of Asia’s most renowned golf mentors, Steven Giuliano, who recently joined Impact Golf after a stint as the director of instructions at Singapore’s prestigious Laguna National Golf Resort Club.

The writer was a guest of each of these four golf facilities.

Updated: January 02, 2024, 10:46 AM

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