Golf Courses in Sabah, Malaysia
Course-by-Course Introduction to Golf in-&-around Kota Kinabalu in the East Malaysian State of Sabah
Sabah, the bear head-shaped state at the northern-most tip of the huge Borneo Island, is one of the two states of East Malaysia. For long, it has for one reason or another been a place for contention: From the Sultanate of Sulu to the British and Americans, to the Japanese and the Filipinos, to the Indonesians and the Australians, to Malaya and Malaysia and according to some, it was once a ‘Dynasty’ of sort ruled by a Hakka named Lo.
Today, with a relatively well-developed infra-structure and the famed Mount Kinabalu as the backdrop, it challenges to be one of the top golf destinations in region. Despite the relative isolation, it boasts of a number of top class golf courses come complete with luxurious housing development set amongst some of the most scenic and unique tropical surroundings. Admittedly, getting there is always an additional short flight away thereby making the golf rounds costing a little more than in other places, but getting the chance to play there can always become quite a rewarding experience. Proving this is perhaps the fact that it now attracts free-spending golfers from all over in search of the exotic, in particular from East Asia in recent times.
Frequent flights from major cities in the surrounding region land at the state capital city of Kota Kinabalu. More no-frill airlines from the ASEAN countries are also plying the route these days. For a few dollars more, what was once a hide-away and distant golf destination is now truely, quite easily accessible to anyone, free-spending or not!
Kota Kinabalu Area:
Sutera Harbour Golf & Country Club of Sabah – It’s been described as a piece of absolute luxury rising from the waters. The Sutera Harbour Resort & Spa Complex is a combination of two hotel wings – the deluxe Pacific Wing and the premium Magellan Wing, Sutera Convention & Exhibition Hall, the Sutera Harbour Marina, Golf & Country Club and luxurious residences all built on re-claimed land and fronting the South China Sea giving the entire complex a front-seat view of spectacular settings of the evening sun. Hailed as a masterpiece that combines nature with ingenious architecture, this Graham Marsh-designed course is made up of three 9-hole courses, namely the Lake (3,140m), Heritage (3,176m) and Garden (3,176m) Nines. The course features rolling terrain, waterways and strategically placed bunkers. The fairways are covered with Bermuda 419 and the greens, Bermuda Tidwarf. The Signature Hole is the Par-4 Hole#24 of the Garden Nine with the ocean coming perilously close to the undulating green. Night golf is also available here.
Borneo Golf & Country Club of Beaufort, Sabah – If old world charm and the dream of a nostalgic ride on an old railway car are part of your game, this is it…ah well, almost! Driving to the Borneo Golf & Country Club on the road running alongside the old railway track to Beaufort will inevitably remind of steam engines, perhaps of old Vulcan, chugging along; whistles blowing while passengers perched on wooden seats eating lunch out of tiffin boxes.
Spreading over 200 acres, this Jack Niclaus-designed Par-72 6,500m course features the nearby lagoon, water hazards, wasteland and bunkers. Together they provide a strong character to the course that some suspect it may be too similar to that of the designer himself and hence fondly call it the ‘Goldern Bear’ Course. The signature Hole is the Par-3 172m Index-8 Hole#14 which entails a daunting tee shot across a cove of overhead crosswinds of up to 60 mph from the South China Sea
Sabah Golf & Country Club of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – One of the oldest in Sabah, this golf course sits right in the center of Kota Kinabalu and is ‘within minutes’ from anywhere in the city. Originally designed by Robert Muir Graves in 1976, it was re-designed by Nelson & Haworth in 2004. Despite its city surrounding, this 6,335-meter Par-72 course enjoys a reputation for being a tough course. The main features are the dense trees on undulating terrain and numerous water holes.
One of the interesting holes is the Par-4 342-meter Hole#9 which is a dog-leg right over water. The open fairway before the turn towards the water and the green is deceptive and lures the unsuspecting into a trap of either a steep-sloping terrain or a lone tree that blocks the rest of the world from an otherwise easy second landing shot. At 565-meter, the Par-5 Hole#14 is the longest on the course and is one that’s equally interesting not only for its length. It tees-off over large water hazards and the fairway lies straight ahead but uphill before the dog-leg right at the last quarter distance. The trees on both sides of the fairway determine the ‘line of best convenience’ for laying up the 3rd. (2nd. for Tiger) landing shot on a green which has the front and the right-side on water edge and the other well guarded by bunkers.
Mount Kinabalu Golf Club of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – About an hour’s drive out of KK you will get to one of Malaysia’s most beautiful and interesting places, the Kinabalu Park where Mount Kinabalu stands. At 4,095m it is the highest mountain in South East Asia and draws visitors like a magnet. Gazetted as a World Heritage Site, a Malaysia’s first, the Kinabalu Park covers a staggering 754 sq km, an area larger than the island of Singapore! Owing to the wide temperature range it has an amazingly diverse flora collection. Sabah’s largest ethnic community, the Kadazandusun live in this area and consider themselves the guardian of the sacred mountain.
Here at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu at Kundasang, 1,500 metres above sea level, is Mount Kinabalu Golf Club, the highest golf course in Sabah. It was designed by Robert Muir Graves and characterised by scenic farmlands, deep ravines and valleys and cool temperature. Playing 6,319m from the back tees, golfers will find this 18-hole course physically as well as mentally challenging. High winds, steep slopes and rolling mists will test you to the limit. Thick fog often gives a false sense of playing up among the clouds!
A huge rock sits in the middle of the fairway of the Par-4 370m Hole#10. You can attempt to carry over or bail out to a slope on the right side as the left, thick with natural vegetation hazards, is OB. The Signature Hole however is the Par-3 142m Hole#14 featuring a gushing Mesilau East River at the bottom of a deep ravine. You will need an accurate shot from the elevated tee to cross the river and land on a miniscule green perched on the edge of a cliff.
Dalit Bay Golf Club & Spa of Tuaran, Sabah – Dalit Bay Golf and Country Club, situated amongst idyllic kampungs (villages) in Tuaran District of Sabah, is often described as a perfect sanctuary with its own nature and wildlife reserve as well as private beaches. This Ted Parslow-designed Par-72 6,310m course consists of two 9-hole courses, The Mengkabong Nine and The Tambalang Nine. The striking feature is that the design retains much of the original natural landscape: the mangrove swamp. It is bordered by the Tambalang and Mengkabong Rivers with the former emptying into the South China Sea. In fact, its Signature Hole the Par-3 Hole#11 stretches 158m across the river mouth and requires you to land your ball on a gently sloping green bunkered on both sides. On your lucky day you just might find a spectator or two up the trees where only orangutans frequent. The fairways are covered with Greenlees Park and the greens, Tifdwarf. For a scenic backdrop, Mount Kinabalu can be seen in the distance.
“..the Par-4 326-meter Hole#3 (the Award Hole) is a must play..the fairway ends almost immediately after the elevated tee-box to be followed by a deep ravine overgrown with natural forest vegetation before it reappears somewhere further front but on a much lower level (pic)…OB’s are as natural a part of the thick and dense tropical jungle setting.”
“..the Par-4 279-meter Hole#10 is similar in the elevated tee-box and the fairway runs down low. An accurate placement tee-shot is however necessary to position for a good second shot across a pond and landing onto an elevated green..”
“..the longest hole is the Par-5 584-meter Hole#8..”
“..and, there’s really a natural hot spring somewhere and it’s not far from the course..you’ll be taken there as soon as you’ve finished your last putt! Guaranteed!”
Shan Shui Golf & Country Club of Tawau, Sabah – Tawau is situated on the east coast of Sabah and about 45 minutes plane ride from the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. A quiet and unassuming town, it is noted for its agricultural products like cocoa and palm oil more than anything else. The Tawau Hills Park is also home to Borneo’s largest wildcat, the clouded leopard. But now more people are becoming aware of its latest hidden treasure, the Shan-Shui Golf and Country Club, just outside town.
This 18-hole Par-72 6,600m course was designed by world-renowned golf architects Nelson and Harworth. It covers over 365 acres and the fairways weave through rubber, cocoa and coconut plantations featuring streams and lakes and ravines and hills. The picturesque fairways and greens belie the toughness of the course for which it has been described as ‘definitely not for the faint-hearted’. Every hole has been given a name. The Signature Hole is the Par-5 531-meter Hole#5 aptly named the Sulu Split and Hole#15 which was voted one of the Best 500 Holes & Top 250 Par-4 in the world by US Golf Magazine, is called The Creek. On the lighter side, sightings of ‘local spectators’ like crocodiles, hornbills, kingfishers and even eagles of the feathered kind are not uncommon.