Golf Course Reviews

Penang Golf Resort: A New Dawn

Story by Jonathan Ponniah / Photos by Masuti

Less is certainly more in many instances … and especially so in the case of Penang Golf Resort.

As one of the members, an old friend of mine Chen Chong Peng, noted when we played there in mid-November: “I’d much rather have a good 18-hole course than play 36 mediocre holes.”

And what a superb golf course it is, or rather will be, when the fully-revamped 18 opens for play in late December. Located on the fringe of the Bertam township in Kepala Batas on mainland Penang, the rejuvenated golf course consists of a mix of the previous two 18s, the East Course and the West Course – scaled down to an excellent 18-holer which envelops the acreage freed up for property development.

While the East Nine is a new and improved version of the back nine of the East Course, the West Nine is a mix of remodelled holes from the West Course and also boasts a brand new creation in the par-three fifth.

The club’s general manager, M. Johan Abdullah, noted that the financial, intellectual and physical investment over the last two years or so is on the verge of paying off handsomely.

“We started work on April 4, 2018 and the new West Nine opened for play in July this year. All the tees, greens and bunkers were totally redone with some of the greens relocated to suit the new flow and add variety to play. It’s been an extremely gratifying endeavour and our members are very happy with the result,” said Johan, who joined Penang Golf Resort five years ago and has seen the project through from the drawing broad to its imminent full fruition.

Hole 13, Par 4, East Nine

Lush treeline bordering the 4th green of the West Nine

“We are targeting to launch the full 18 on December 29 along with a special promotional membership scheme, priced at RM10,000 with a 20% downpayment and the balance in instalments over a one-year period. There will also be a term membership at RM2,000 per annum,” he added.

Those who are familiar with the original 36, completed way back in 1994 and designed by Graham Marsh, will probably recognise the shape and surrounds of some holes … but in all other respects this is a brand new golf course. Crafted by KL-based Australian architect Nigel B. Douglas, the new and improved layout tests golfers with length, tree-lined Zoysia fairways, flashed-up bunkers, lakes and huge, elevated Tifdwarf greens laced with some of the most diabolical undulations north of the Klang Valley.

At 6,532 metres from the black tees, the course is long and demanding – especially the West Nine which accounts for 3,355 metres of the total length. Driving-wise, it’s relatively open but Douglas has crafted greensites that place a premium on accurate approach play. Miss the putting surfaces on the wrong sides and you will be left with near-impossible par-saves due to the elevated putting surfaces and closely-mown run-offs … which could feed the ball back to your feet!

Being quite new, the greens were probably rolling around 8.5 when we played, which was just as well as that made it easier to stop the ball. There was a fair amount of bite when hitting in from 100 yards or less, which is really pretty impressive considering the relative youth of the turf.

Johan noted that they can get the greens rolling at 10-plus on the Stimpmeter but will maintain speeds at a more manageable 9 to 9.5 for normal play. “The greens are elevated and tricky, so there is no need to make them too fast,” he stressed.

Many of the trees from the old course have been retained while new specimens have been planted, creating a sense of serenity and rural-like feel during a round – despite being situated in the middle of a commercial and residential development.

Each and every hole on the West Nine is memorable, but if we had to pick a few standouts they would be the long and demanding par-five second, the pretty yet tricky par-three seventh and the risk-reward par-five ninth.

Hole 7, Par 3, West Nine

Hole 9, Par 5, West Nine

Number 2 is a ball-striker’s hole, weighing in at a hefty 565 metres from the tips. You’ll need a good drive and an even better second shot to get within range of the green, as a lake on the left about 100 metres short of the green and trees on the right bottleneck the approach. Bogey here feels like a par!

Hole 7, a par-three of 155 metres, has become Penang Golf Resort’s unofficial signature hole with a postcard-pretty view unfolding when you reach the tees. A nest of bunkers on the right and pond on the left frame the green, while to the right of the treeline beyond you can see – on a clear day – the majestic peak of Mount Jerai in the neighbouring state of Kedah.

The West Nine’s closing hole is a double dogleg par-five of 490 metres, bordered by a lake on the left most of the way. The fairway curves left initially, daring long hitters to cut across as much water as possible off the tees to bring the green within two-shot range. There’s ample bailout area on the right, so it’s wisest for average-length hitters to follow the flow of the hole and take three shots to get to the green, which is well-trapped by sand to the left and rear and water to the right.

Playing conditions on the West Nine were excellent, albeit still a tad rough around the edges … which is understandable considering that efforts were then focused on getting the East Nine up and running. Come the full 18’s opening, golfers can expect a top-notch experience … especially since the club has engaged TPC Kuala Lumpur’s elite maintenance team to look after its upkeep from January 2020.

With its excellent location just minutes from the Bertam exit of the North-South Highway, an excellent new 18-hole course and ambitious plans moving forward, it’s truly a new dawn for Penang Golf Resort.

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Story by Jonathan Ponniah / Photos by Masuti

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