Yes, the hallowed crests and vales of St. Andrews in Scotland are still the holiest grail. Yes, the 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.
Black Mountain Golf Club, Hua Hin, Thailand
Golfers are confronted with a surfeit of golf courses in Hua Hin—as many as ten championship layouts—but most make a beeline for the top-rated Black Mountain Golf Club, designed by Australian Phil Ryan and 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 into 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.
Daily flights from all major Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai to Bangkok. Hua Hin is a five-six hour drive from the Thai Capital. Visa-on-arrival is available for Indian citizens. Hang your hat at the two-bedroom villa, or a three-bedroom villa if you’re travelling with your fourball. Pay and stay packages start from roughly 017,000 per person (three rounds; 2 nights) and 032,000 approx (six rounds; six nights).
Classic Golf & Country Club (ITC Grand Bharat), Gurugram, 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 designs’ 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—it often requires a completely different strategy.
The hotel arranges transfers for its guests from Delhi airport (a one-hour drive). Stay-and-play packages begin from 028,000 (one round; one night). www.itchotels.in/hotels/gurgaon/itcgrandbharat
Bali National Golf Club, Bali, Indonesia
Everyone understands that you’re likely to be hung-over 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 re-opened 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 on the other. It’s the best of both worlds.
Most airlines fly to Bali via Singapore; for golfers it’s a good idea, time permitting, to consider a stopover in Bangkok instead to catch a few rounds of golf before heading to Bali. Indian citizens don’t need a visa for a 30-day stay in Bali. Bali National has a selection of two-bedroom (roughly 043,000 per day) and three-bedroom villas (055,000 approx) for guests, all with private pools and personal butler service. Stay-and-play packages begin from 056,000 for two rounds and a night stay. The Club is situated in Nusa Dua, literally within walking distance of a number of five-star properties. Golf in Bali is not cheap: one round at Bali National will set you back by about 010,500. 012,000 is an acceptable caddy tip.
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 152m 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.
There are direct flights to Mauritius, but the connections via Abu Dhabi are much more reasonable. With more of an emphasis on fun, entertainment and food (rather than solitude), the sprawling Belle Mare Plage, replete with five pools, two spas (including a dedicated Shisiedo spa) sits right across the road from the Legend Golf Course. The hotel has a wide range of meticulously appointed lodgings and the golf is free for guests.
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 side-lines 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.
Multiple flights from major Indian cities to Kuala Lumpur and onward connections to Langkawi (40 minutes flying time from KL). Indian citizens need to acquire a Malaysian visa before embarking to the country. The Rainforest Course is accompanied by two luxury resorts; The Datai and The Andaman that offer a smorgasbord of lodging options for itinerant golfers. Stay-and-Play packages begin from 077,000 (one round; three days and two nights at The Andaman)
Black Mountain Golf Club
27 holes; Par 72 + 36; 7,548 yards (championship layout)
Designed by Phil Ryan
Bali National Golf Club
18 holes; Par 72; 7,166 yards
Designed by Robin Nelson, Neil Haworth
ITC Classic Golf & Country Club
27 holes; Par 72 + 36; 7,114 yards (championship layout)
Designed by Jack Nicklaus
18 holes; Par 72; 6,588 yards
Designed by Hugh Balocchi
18 holes; Par 71; 6,500 yards
Designed by Peter Alliss & Rodney Wright
The Els Club Teluk Datai
18 holes; Par 72; 6,750 yards
Designed by Ernie Els