Yes, the hallowed crests and vales of St Andrews in Scotland are still the holiest grail. Yes, the links courses in Ireland are still the true test of any semblance of mastery over this fickle, cruel and magnificent game. But there’s a whole new set of experiences out there for golf nuts—from multiple-course repasts in Mauritius, Thailand and Delhi to tropical gems in Langkawi and Mauritius. Gather your clubs, lie through your teeth to your better halves and slink away with your golfing buddies to indulge your greatest vice at some of the finest golf resorts in Asia.
Bali National Golf Club, Bali, Indonesia: Everyone understands that you’re likely to be hungover in Bali. And that’s why none of the three courses on this island of idyll penalise itinerant swingers for missing their tee times. Am or pm is all you’re likely to be held to, and as long as you lurch to the tee in the vicinity of those hours, no one will deny you a game. Bali National’s new avatar—the course reopened in 2013 after major renovations—has brought the oldest layout on the island up at par with the newer Kuta Golf Club and the spectacular par-3 ‘championship’ Bukit Pandawa Golf Club. More so, Bali National has managed to conserve its old-world colonial vibe, and the high-ceilinged clubhouse and restaurants exude an elegance that is almost exclusively the preserve of historical golf clubs. The layout, with its newly sodded fairways and lightning-fast greens, is still ensconced within a lush tropical forest and coconut groves set against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean on one side and the imposing Gunung Apang mountain. It’s the best of both worlds, Bali National is.
Classic Golf & Country Club (ITC Grand Bharat), NCR, India: First there was a standalone 27-hole golf course, and now there’s a resort; so superlative that it makes the three nines look like complements to the property, rather than the other way around. It’s hard to overstate the sybaritic allure of the ITC Grand Bharat: an all-suite extravaganza of gastronomic indulgence, wellness and supremely deluxe habitation that would make a regular five-star property look and feel like a slummy hole-in-the-wall. Jack Nicklaus Design’s original three Nines—Canyon, Ridge and Valley—present as much of a golfing challenge as they did when built (1998). This is a fun golf course to play; if you’re not having fun then do yourself a favour and move to the blue tees, or even the whites. Instantly, the course changes in character. No longer a leviathan, it rewards precision placement, strategy and a sound short game. For that reason alone, players, irrespective of abilities, will enjoy playing from different tees on subsequent rounds just to get an insight into Nicklaus’ golf-course-design genius. Shorter isn’t necessarily easier—often it requires a completely different strategy.
Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius: With a choice of two—The Legend and The Links layouts, which are attached to the Constance Belle Mare Plage hotel—this resort is the hub of golfing action on this tropical atoll nation. Host of the Mauritian Open and a European Senior Tour event, The Legend is the older and tougher of the two—with punishing thickets running along the fairways, a surfeit of water inlets, lakes and even an open lagoon to add to the challenge. There are quite a few spectacular holes, the pick of which is, unquestionably, the 152 m par-3 17th, which involves a daunting wedge (or even a 7-iron depending on which way the wind is blowing) over the lagoon to a tricky green. The more modern-feel The Links’ layout is the easier of the two, although it’s no walk in the park either. The fairways are more open and there are fewer water hazards, but the greens are much more undulating and quicker. There are a number of unsettling blind shots and it’s a good idea to pick up the detailed course guide from the starter if you’re not taking a caddy.
Black Mountain Golf Club, Hua Hin, Thailand: Golfers are confronted with a surfeit of golf courses in Hua Hin—as many as 10 championship layouts—but most make a beeline for the top-rated Black Mountain Golf Club, designed by Australian Phil Ryan and the scene of numerous Asian Tour events. Set in the shadow of the Black Mountain, and dominated by rocky outcrop, Black Mountain is a modern layout characterised by large greens and peppered with bunkers (highlighted by red pampas grass, very common on courses in Thailand). Among Black Mountain’s features are rock faces set in to the mountains and natural creeks that run through the course. The par-3 11th is Ryan’s signature hole: it has a green cradled by a wall of white stones and protected by an expanse of water. The course also has dramatic elevation changes, which make for interesting tee shots, none more so than on the downhill par-5 sixth hole, with its twin fairways. Not surprisingly, Black Mountain has become a winter home for a bunch of Swedish golf pros, including the likes of Johan Edfors (who owns a villa here) and Henrik Stenson.
The Els Club, Teluk Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia: Ranked 84th in ‘Golf Digest’s Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses in the World’, the Els Club Teluk Datai is by far one the finest golf courses in Asia. Set amidst a million-year-old rainforest and abutted by the ocean, the course has an abundance of 100-feet-high trees, an assortment of local wildlife and stupendous vistas of the ocean. The course underwent significant redesign and renovation a few years back at a time when it was already considered one of the best courses in the region. The unique thing about the new course is a complete absence of bunkers ostensibly to account for the heavy rain that Langkawi receives; but the impenetrable forest on the sidelines and liberal water hazards make the Datai a formidable challenge, especially from the tips. That said, playing this course is more about the stunning views more than the golf itself.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game