By Evin Priest

WALKING up the pristine fairway of the par-4 16th hole at The Els Club, on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, I found something almost as rare as seeing my ball on the short grass.

Macaque monkeys are everywhere on the courses of Malaysia – in the trees, on the fairways, around the greens and the cheekier ones will even search your golf bag for valuables.

But this was a baby monkey and it was 10 metres from my ball, so I whipped out the iPhone to snap some pictures. As I got closer, however, the monkey tried to run away from my encroaching figure but dragging a broken leg slowed it down.

Out came the mother monkey, scooping up her young before making a high-pitched ‘back off’ noise and scurrying off into the trees. Shaking my head in amazement at what I had just witnessed, I then returned to the task of hitting an approach shot.

But as I looked up to the green I was distracted once more. It was Mother Nature again, yet this time she took on the form of the impossibly blue water of Datai Bay surrounding the course and crashing against the rocks just metres behind the green.

Welcome to golf in Malaysia – it’s wonderfully unique.

The par-4 16th hole at the Els Club, Langkawi. Image: Evin Priest
The par-4 16th hole at the Els Club, Langkawi. Image: Evin Priest

WHEN a golfer chooses a holiday, certain destinations mean certain experiences. Great Britain and Ireland deliver a pilgrimage to the historic, windswept coastal links courses that cradled our game. A trip to the US means travelling to picturesque, majestic golf sanctuaries all trying to outdo one another.

What Malaysia lacks in history and competition, it more than makes up for with four unique golf getaways spread across 200 courses in the true melting pot of Asia. With two thirds of Malaysia covered by rainforests, jungle golf is a popular form of the game where one can share the fairways with monkeys, eagles  and exotic plants. For visually dramatic layouts, highlands golf offers the chance to play several thousand metres above sea level in cooler climates, while beachside courses await the golfer wanting to tee off alongside crystal clear water and white sandy beaches. And then there’s City golf, perfect for the cosmopolitan golfer or businessman wanting to play on upmarket layouts within a stone’s throw of shopping malls, five-star hotels and world-class restaurants.

The Right Start
If you can plan your trip for early November, a fantastic way to start your holiday and get inspired to play golf is to watch the world’s best players in action at the CIMB Classic at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. Since 2013, the tournament has been co-sanctioned by the US PGA Tour, so you’ll be watching golf’s superstars vie for a ticket to the Masters and vital FedEx Cup points. I was lucky enough to see American Ryan Moore fend off compatriot Kevin Na and Spaniard Sergio Garcia to successfully defend his 2013 title. As an Australian, it’s a luxury to be able to watch a PGA Tour event without having to travel to the States. “You know, I love it down here (in Malaysia),” Moore said after his win. “I enjoy the trip every single year, not just because I keep winning, but it would be nice if that kept happening.” Yes Ryan, that would be nice.

The Caddie Experience
Malaysians are big on caddies. While some golfers love the idea and others find it irritating, make sure you have at least 60 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) on you for a tip – it’s equal to $20 and the hard working bagmen (and women) thoroughly deserve it for their five hours of labour. It’s an enjoyable novelty and one you’ll take a few holes to become accustomed to – mainly, handing your ball to them after marking it on the green and trusting them with club selection.

Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club
Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club

Kuala Lumpur: Truly Asia
In ‘KL’ you’ll find an excellent combination of the most enjoyable aspects of a golf trip within the convenience of a world city. The golf courses act as buffer zones, protecting the tourist from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis and offering peaceful golfing escapes. Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (KLGCC) is a world-renowned layout located just 8km from the city centre and the championship West Course plays host to some of the world’s best players for the CIMB Classic each year. The hilly and challenging 6397m, par-72 layout is ideal for the better player, while the East Course is a more social, wetlands-themed par-71 course of 6071m.

Saujana Golf and Country Club is regarded as one of Malaysia’s best courses, with two inviting layouts (Palm and Bunga Raya) on offer. Situated 20km from KL, Saujana has hosted the Malaysian Open, Eisenhower Trophy and Espirito Santo Trophy and has previously been ranked as Malaysia’s No.1 course by Golf Digest.

Templar Park Country Club
The spectacular Bukit Takun at Templar Park Country Club

Out of the city and up into the mountains is Templer Park Country Club in Selangor, 22km from the CBD. The course is the brainchild of World Golf Hall of Famer Jumbo Ozaki, of Japan, and is a dramatic rainforest course that winds around the foot of mountains. The front nine is considerably flat, while the back nine has some highly dramatic changes in elevation. Visible at every point of the course are Macaque monkeys and the popular Bukit Takun – a magnificent limestone hill emerging out of the mountains. One tip for Templer Park: Take one less club than you normally would for every shot. Ozaki certainly designed the course with distance deception in mind.

Away from the links, KL is a wonderful hub of southeast Asian culture. While Tourism Malaysia’s famous slogan, “Malaysia: Truly Asia” is catchy, I had no idea of its true meaning until I visited KL. Touching down in this city feels as though you’ve travelled to Malaysia, China, India and Indonesia in one trip, but with the convenience of a place where everyone speaks reasonable English. It’s fairly easy to get around, despite the occasional traffic jam and taxis are really, really cheap – especially when compared to say, Sydney. KL is heaven for foodies, catering to every taste from local Malay dishes to spicy Indian curries and traditional Chinese seafood, as well as traditional western food. My pick of the restaurants was Hakka Chinese restaurant, which served fresh, authentic Chinese dishes and a selection of mouth-watering seafood.

Langkawi: The Jewel of Kedah
Langkawi: The Jewel of Kedah

Langkawi: The Jewel of Kedah
Nearly seven years ago, Sultan Abdul Halim, of Kedah (a state within Malaysia) changed the name of Langkawi to Langkawi Permata Kedah – the Jewel of Kedah – and this island paradise is indeed a treasure. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece of paradise where the tourist is treated as royalty and the locals know how crucial the sector is to the local economy. You’ll feel as though you don’t have to lift a finger after getting off the plane.

After the hustle and bustle of KL, Langkawi is a welcome change of pace where you can let your hair down, play some golf and enjoy the island life. But don’t think golf is all this island has to offer – when you’re not teeing off on coastal gems like The Els Club Datai, the local cuisine at the night markets will have your mouth watering, while a hike to tranquil waterfalls or diving into an underwater marine park will ensure an action-packed schedule. Oh, and Langkawi is a duty-free island – meaning there are no taxes on alcohol. Anywhere.

Gunung Raya Golf Resort is the definition of fun golf. The layout was designed by American Max Wexler and named after the mountain it’s nestled beneath. Gunung Raya, formerly a rubber plantation, is easier for guests and social players than other courses in Malaysia, with the blue and white tees both under 6000m. However, the back tees offer the Bubba Watsons of the world a 6377m challenge. With plenty of changes in elevation, the course requires you to plot your way around as hazards and fairway trees come into play from every tee.

An ariel view of the Els Club
An ariel view of The Els Club

Well played, Ernie
A resort course’s resort course. The Els Club in Datai, Langkawi is an incredibly enjoyable golfing experience and was recently voted the ‘World’s Best New Golf Course’ and ‘Best New Golf Course in Asia’ at the World Golf Awards in Portugal. At first I was taken aback by the breathtaking vista of the course meandering through the rainforest and jutting out to the sea for views few courses in the world could offer. The Els Club also boasts an interesting design philosophy of the Big Easy – no bunkers. That’s right, not one sand trap on the course.

Els believed the topography of the land, the proximity to the sea and the streams that dissect several holes were challenging enough without adding bunkering to its trouble, and several holes justify his mantra. Notably the par-3 17th hole, which is relatively short at 146m but the Andaman Sea awaits any shot drifting right, especially those that land on the right side of the green and roll towards the 15cm of fringe offered before the shore. You can literally hear the water smashing against the green complex as you putt.

The resort has an incredibly exclusive feel of luxury, too. The plush locker rooms give the golfer the feeling of a tour pro gearing up for a round, particularly when you look at the glass-enclosed locker of Els with his signature splashed across a tour bag.

Lunch or dinner (and beer) at the restaurant after your round is essential; you don’t want to miss out on enjoying a meal while looking down the course towards the sea as eagles soar gracefully around the trees near the clubhouse. A classy gift from the club to the media on our trip was an Els Club golf bag medallion, each personally engraved with our names. Exactly one week after returning from my trip, Malaysia was voted ‘Asia’s Best Golf Destination’ at the World Golf Awards. The top gong came as no surprise as I can’t imagine a more valuable golf trip; for a fraction of the cost of other international golf destinations, Malaysia offers world-class golf courses, luxurious hotels, a variety of Asian cultures and experiences in one country, in addition to extraordinary recreational tourist activities.

Whether you’re single, married, have a family or a list of clients to entertain, head to Malaysia before the rest of the world discovers the hype this proud golfing nation deserves.

The Petronas Twin Towers
The Petronas Twin Towers

Where To Stay

The Majestic,
5 Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, KL City Centre Malaysia

The Majestic Hotel is the perfect place to stay while you’re in Kuala Lumpur, and the 5-star hotel’s inclusion in the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World luxury collection means you’re getting a standard of service enjoyed by patrons of The Ritz in London or The Pierre in New York. One of my favourite things about the Majestic was being greeted by friendly staff wearing traditional colonial white uniforms with pith helmets on arrival, all of whom spoke fluent English. The staff also have a solid understanding of golf tours, so they’re on top of taking your clubs from the tour coach back and forth to your room. The Majestic is in an excellent location, just 2 kilometres from KL Sentral station and 5km from Kuala Lumpur City Central (KLCC), which includes the enormous Suria KLCC shopping mall, a restaurant district and the world-famous Petronas Twin Towers, plus a host of trendy bars. While you’re staying at the Majestic, be sure to check out the Orchid Conservatory (especially if you need a venue for a board meeting), have a swim in the rooftop pool or a relaxing drink and game of snooker in the exclusive Smoke House.

Tel : +603 2785 8000
Fax : +603 2785 8080
email: [email protected]

The Danna,
Telaga Harbour Park Pantai Kok

The beachfront infinite pool at The Danna is enough on its own to make this 5-star resort a must for your Langkawi stopover. Sip on a refreshing cocktail or order some delicious food from the Pool Cafe and have it brought to your poolside chair while you look out over the beach and the surrounding islands. Located on Telaga Harbour and only 11km from the airport, the Danna features British-Malaysian inspired colonial architecture, as well as enjoyable ‘High English’ activities such as cocktails in The Verandah lounge or afternoon tea in the Straits & Co.

Tel : +604 959 3288
[email protected]