Malaysian golf jamboree

Written by meraj shah | Updated: Oct 27 2013, 11:08am hrs
Every October, golf leapfrogs from the sports pages to cover headlines of dailies in Kuala Lumpur as some of the worlds best players descend on the Malaysian capital for the US PGA Tours (co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour) CIMB Classic the pre-eminent tours only stop in Asia. And every year, this elite band of players reiterates its pre-eminent place at the apex of professional golfs pyramid. Consider the winning scores that have been recorded at the event in its last three editions: 18-under-par (Ben Crane, 2010), 23-under-par (Bo Van Pelt, 2011) and 22-under-par (Nick Watney, 2012). This year is no different: At the time this column was written, Keegan Bradley was leading at 13-under-par after shooting an astonishing 14 birdies in the first two rounds. Shiv Kapur was the only Indian in the huntlying nine shots adrift at 5-under and tied for the 13th place.

What is different about this years edition, though, is the venue. Unlike the past three years, when it was hosted by The Mines Resort & Golf Club, the 2013 CIMB Classic is being played at the West Course of the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.

The KLGCC is only a 10-minute drive from the city centre and a classic 36-hole layout comprising the East and West courses. The CIMB Classic joins an impressive roll of top tournaments hosted herethe Maybank Malaysian Open, and the Ryder Cup-styled Europe vs America Solheim Cup for ladies. When I visited last year, the West course was closed for renovation (it was being primed for the CIMB) and our group played the East course (which was the venue for the Solheim Cup). Chauvinists all, our group decided to play from the longer championship tees, as opposed to the more manageable Blue tees (after all, we werent going to play a sorter yardage than the ladies!).

As expected, the front nine was spent more in drop zones and in deep sand, rather than the fairway. Suitably chastised, we quietly moved up to the blue tees on the back nine.

The KLGCC is a classic layout for imaginative golfers who like to shape their shots. Most holes give spectacular views of the holes and surrounding scenery, and offer different routes to the greens for golfers of different skill levels. The longer and tougher West course is constantly undulating and features a huge lake at the turn on the ninth hole. If youre planning to play here, carry plenty of golf balls: Water comes into play in as many as 13 holes and youll find yourself in the drink more often than you can imagine.

Let me digress here to say the anguish of realising that your golf swing (fickle and truant as ever) has abruptly decided to desert you is unmatched: and one that most of us who play, nay, work at the game, know only too well. But add the further ignominy of that happening just as you tee it up at a beautiful championship course overseas (which you are paying top-dollar to play) and the feeling evolves from anguish to utter despair.

Dont be misled by the crazy scores that the pros shoot at the CIMB Classic. When our group teed it up at The Mines, host of the tournament for the past three years, we were itching to shoot some record scores of our own. Whether The Mines felt defiled by that tournament barrage is difficult to assess. What isnt, though, is that the hapless amateur golfers, who took to the Robert Trent Jr-designed layout (yours truly amongst them) the day after the culmination of the tournament, bore the full brunt of a snubbed golf courses fury.

The Mines used to be the worlds largest open-cast tin mine (the Hong Fatt mine ceased operations in 1982 and was subsequently acquired by Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew, a Malaysian entrepreneur). Yew roped in golf course architect Robert Trent Jones II to create a top-quality resort location just south of Kuala Lumpur. It may not be a mine any more, but it is a veritable minefield of jungle-bounded terrain: Add to that plenty of water hazards and deep liberally scattered bunkers. Natural elevation changes have been used to create two of the holes which stay with you once youre finishedthe risk-reward, downhill, short par-4 6th (with a deep swale awaiting anything hit left), and the plunging par-4 9th with its intimidating tee-shot and panoramic backdrop.

On the front nine, the par-3 2nd seems straight out of an Indiana Jones flick: played across a lush undergrowth-filled ravine towards a huge tree adjoining the green. When the jungle does give way on the back nine, its water that comes into playlots of it. The magnificent Mines Resort Lake (formerly the heart of the mine) provides an impressive backdrop to many of the holes with an array of buildings flanking the opposite side of the lake. The National mosque and the Palace of the Golden Horses (which you can closely inspect at the par-4 12th) provide a stunning backdrop. Starting a golf vacation in Malaysia with The Mines is not advisable (unless youre a single handicapper and love to challenge yourself). If, like me, your game is challenged, then youd do better to start at a less punishing layout.

Such as the Palm Garden GC, a half-hour drive on the Klang expressway out of Kuala Lumpur. Going by experiences narrated by golfers whod played there, the mayhem seemed certain to continue. At this point, the group was checking golf ball suppliesyou dont go for a golf trip with three dozen golf balls because if you prepare for the worst, it usually happens. In our case, wed been massacred. And so it was a pleasant surprise to behold a 300 and something metre opening par-4, with (would you believe it!) absolutely no water!

As it turns out, the folks at Palm Gardens have decided to go the populist way by decimating the existing 27 holes, building a new 18-hole layout with a shopping mall to boot! Since the new course is supposed to be a public course, its designed to be much less demanding. Its still beautiful and way more playable for average golfers. Its also much cheaper. Highly recommended, not for boast value, but as a tonic for flagging spirits. Why, you even feel like a golfer of some merit once youre finished!

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game