Mountain golf in a royal Thai retreat: Black Mountain Golf Club, Hua Hin, Thailand
Thailand has become a firm favourite for golfers who want to play in an exotic setting. The Land of Smiles has more than 250 courses, many by top-name designers, in locations that range from popular beach resorts to lush mountains. Add in a year-round golfing climate, renowned levels of service on and off the course, great-value green fees and friendly, attentive caddies and it’s easy to see its appeal.
Three of its golfing hubs have been named Golf Destination of the Year in the golf tourism industry’s ‘Oscars’, the IAGTO Awards, with Hua Hin being honoured in 2014, along with Pattaya (2012) and Chiang Mai (2017). Hua Hin lies 125 miles from Bangkok, around a two-and-a-half-hour drive, on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand and has long been a retreat for the country’s royal family. There are plans to link it with Bangkok by high-speed train within the next five years.
Hua Hin has a long, sandy beach, lined with high-end resort hotels, watersports, top-class restaurants, shopping, a lively night market, cultural attractions and nearby national parks. Complementing those, Hua Hin also serves up 11 top-quality golf courses. Located in foothills eight miles inland from Hua Hin, Black Mountain Golf Club opened in 2007 with 18 holes. A further nine holes opened in 2016 to give it three 18-hole combinations, all over 7,500 yards from the tips. Its golf is regularly ranked as among the best in Asia. The resort is a European Tour Destination and features accommodation in villas with private pools, a restaurant, spa and other sports and activities. Free shuttles operate to and from Hua Hin.
blackmountainhuahin.com, green fees from £85
Swing in style on the Island of the Gods: Bali National Golf Club, Bali, Indonesia
Bali is the archetypal tropical holiday paradise and lives up to its nickname of ‘Island of the Gods’. It blends exquisite bays of white-sand beaches fringed by palm trees and world-class resort hotels with stunning scenery that encompasses paddy fields, volcanoes and temple-crowned cliffs and islands, in addition to its fascinating culture and artisan villages. Add golf to the mix and it makes the perfect recipe for a long-haul golf break — with the added bonus that national airline Garuda carries golf clubs free of charge.
There are currently four 18-hole courses and one nine-hole layout on the Indonesian island, following the July 2017 closure of the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali resort and its Greg Norman golf course pending construction of a new, luxury resort under the Trump banner and a revamp of the course. Most golf facilities are situated in the south of Bali, where the main tourist areas are.
Bali National Golf Club is located in Nusa Dua, Indonesia’s only master-planned tourism complex, 20 minutes south of provincial capital Denpasar’s international airport and featuring two miles of beaches, upmarket international-chain resorts, restaurants and a shopping centre. Its 18-hole golf course plays through three distinct environments: the front nine featuring creeks, canyons and native vegetation; holes 10 to 16 offering sculptured fairways through mature trees; and the final two holes challenging golfers with an island-green par-3 and a lakeside 18th hole. Bali National is also home to the Leadbetter Golf Academy.
The golf club forms part of the Bali National Golf Resort, which offers seven luxury villas each accommodating up to six people. Guests have a personal butler to cater to their needs during their stay.
balinational.com, green fees from £118
Tropical island golf with a zip in the Philippines: Fairways and Bluewater resort, Boracay, Philippines
A victim of its own popularity, the island of Boracay was closed to tourists for six months at the end of April 2018 to undergo an environmental clean-up operation and a crackdown on illegal sewers and building development — after President Duterte described it as a cesspool because of pollution on its iconic White Beach. Authorities are promising the reborn island will be better than before and strict measures are being put in place to prevent future violations.
The island is the Philippines’ most-visited tourist destination, attracting a million overseas visitors a year. The big draw is the aforementioned White Beach, named for its sugar-soft sands from which traditional outrigger sailing boats take tourists on sightseeing cruises. The beach is lined by cafes, bars, restaurants, shops and boutique hotels, with fire jugglers entertaining diners underneath coconut palms at night.
Fairways and Bluewater resort is Boracay’s largest hotel, with 600 rooms, and also has its only golf course as well as secluded coves with beaches sheltered by cliffs, several restaurants, bars and swimming pools and an in-resort shuttle service. Shuttles are also offered to Station 2, one of the main areas on White Beach. The 18-hole golf course is a design by Australian Graham Marsh, the front nine holes taking golfers around the lower part of the resort and flirting with lakes alongside while the back nine offers roller coaster fairways and costal views from the highest tees.
The most unusual element of the golf course is on its first hole. A double zip line spans the hole by the green and riders fly high overhead as golfers take their approach shots and putts.
fairwaysandbluewater.com.ph, green fees from £74
Golf through lush rainforest in Malaysia: Els Club Teluk Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia
Holiday hotspot Langkawi is the jungle-covered main island of an archipelago of almost 100 islands, set in the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea off Malaysia’s northwestern coast — right by the border with Thailand. Its five-star resorts, beautiful beaches, duty-free status and easy air access from points across Asia have made it one of Malaysia’s most popular resort islands.
Besides all the facilities at its luxury hotels, Langkawi offers visitors a host of activities. They include trekking through the rainforest on the slopes of its highest mountains, and wildlife and bird watching in the mangrove swamps and canopies in one of the three wildlife-rich geoforest parks that form the UNESCO-designated Langkawi Global Geopark. You can also look down on the rainforest canopy from glass-floored gondolas on the 1.4-mile Langkawi Skycab cable car, venturing out on the 400ft-long Sky Bridge for panoramic views at the top.
Langkawi has three golf courses, the undoubted star being the Rainforest Course at The Els Club Teluk Datai. Forming part of The Els Club Malaysia, the course was four-time Major winner Ernie Els’ first design in Asia and opened to great acclaim in 2014, being ranked among the world’s top 100 golf courses by Golf Digest soon after opening. The course enjoys a dramatic setting, its holes set amid towering, ancient rainforest trees on the lower slopes of Gunung Mat Cincang mountain and tumbling right down to the water’s edge. The Troon Golf-managed course has two luxury resorts for guests to stay at and play on their doorstep, including The Datai Langkawi which reopened in September after a year-long, £46m renovation. Guests can relax on a mile-long beach fronting Datai Bay.
elsclubmalaysia.com, green fees from £116
Links-style golf by the beach in Vietnam: The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, Ho Tram, Vietnam
Vietnam is Asia’s fastest-growing golf destination with courses continuing to spring up all over the country. It attracts a growing following of holidaymakers eager to explore its rich history, vibrant cities and spectacular scenery or simply to kick back in its luxury hotels and on its glorious beaches.
Among its cities, Hanoi appeals for its bustling French Quarter and old town. It’s also around four hours away from departure points to cruise the magnificent limestone rock islands of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Halong Bay.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, makes a great base to visit sites such as the Cu Chi tunnels, built by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War, or Danang, where American troops first landed during the war. To the north is the ancient city of Hue, while 30 minutes south is another UNESCO site — the preserved, canal-laced old fishing port of Hoi An. This area is also Vietnam’s premier golfing spot, featuring four designer-name 18-hole courses augmented in March by a new, nine-hole Nicklaus Design layout. Nha Trang and Phu Quoc Island in the south are also prime golf areas.
The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip is a links-style Greg Norman design that opened in 2014, two hours by road from Ho Chi Minh City, situated on a crescent-shaped bay. The course has several holes laid out on coastal dunes that run parallel to the sea, the others routed through hilly terrain skirting a protected forest. Earning rave reviews, it ranks among Asia’s top courses and hosts the Asian Tour’s annual Ho Tram Players Championship. Shuttle buses run between the clubhouse, perched high on a bluff overlooking the course, and five-star casino hotel The Grand Ho Tram Strip set on the beach.
thebluffshotram.com, green fees from £144