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The prestigious and much sought after Asian Golf Awards programme is now enshrined in its own dedicated web site. This virtual museum in cyberspace is devoted to recognising and honouring the best in the Asia Pacific Golf industry – men and women and clubs that collectively help deliver a world class experience for golf! It is widely regarded as the “Oscars” of the Asian golf club industry. The programme has just finished its 18th year and winners in over 50 award categories were recognized during the staging of the Asian Golf Awards in Da Nang, Vietnam.    

Els Club Desaru Coast

Where Tigers And Boars Once Roamed

I remember being transported on the broad shoulders of one of my father’s porters as he and his friends trudged through the underbrush of the rainforests on hunting expeditions in the southern state of Johor, the southernmost Malaysian state. I was about six years old and this was more than sixty years ago. The area in question was Desaru which runs along the coast of the south-eastern tip of the Malaysian state. During some of the expeditions, I used to be frightened right out of my skin by the deep, guttural roar of Malaysian tigers although I never saw one. Wild boar was plentiful and these beasts were the targets for the hunters on the expedition.

Least did I envision that someday in the future, the very land that I traversed straddled on the shoulders of porters would be transformed into world class golf courses. Well, time is such where the rich, verdant rainforest has had to give in to progress and share some of its acreage with the architectural works of two champion golfers, namely the easy going South African Ernie Els and the big hitting Fijian, Vijay Singh. For this special report the focus will be on the course that Vijay dreamt up, the Valley Course which is part of the sprawling spread known as the Els Club Desaru Coast. 

I had the opportunity of visiting the Valley Course when it was in its completion stage and Vijay was on hand to give me an insight into the design concept for the course. Vijay is no stranger to the Malaysian State of Johor having lived in the country for a number of years. The one-time world number one and a man worth many millions over, stood on one of the recently completed greens, dressed in a white polo and khaki shorts as he scanned the wide expanse of land and declared, “When completed, this course will rank amongst the great courses of the world.” He meant it because the terrain is spectacular and the natural landscape makes for a spell-binding vista that very few golf courses can claim to have. “What we have here is land and the varied elevations that we have to work with provides me with interesting challenges to work on so many routing opportunities – in fact, I believe that the finished product will be truly unique,” was Vijay’s predication.

And as forecast, the Valley Course is a tribute to Vijay’s vision to build a course that allows golfers of all skill levels to see how best they can take on and beat the challenges that each of the 18 holes presents.

When I revisited the completed project, it looked totally different to the images that I had stored in my recall. I was able to stand at the club-house and soak in a visual panorama that resembled an artist’s palette made up of varying shades of blue and green – a true representation of the lush and vibrant environment.

Although the view from the club-house is very pleasing to the eye, let this not lull you into a state of complacency. With its wide, rolling fairways punctuated by large bodies of water, the Valley Course is deceptive. A lot of thought had obviously gone in to its design and one gets the impression that Vijay studied every inch of the topography before he embarked on the design.

Recalling my site discussions with Vijay, I remember him explaining that the topography was such that it called for the layering  of bunkers at different elevation points and the Valley Course does live up to this statement because some holes have numerous bunkers. Again, it is apparent that Vijay wants to challenge golfers – playing his course really calls for good course management and strategy with regards to placement of shots.

I did not get a chance to play the course because the course was closed due to inclement weather. However, this did not stop me from driving the entire course. I stopped at every hole to conduct a visual scan of what it would be like playing from the different tee-boxes. From most of the white tee-boxes, I had a wide grin on my face, indicating that a player of my skill-set could handle the challenge. Moving back to the blue tee-boxes, the grin gave way to a sense of uneasiness - a very different course emerged from each of the blue tee-boxes that I found very foreboding for a 22-handicapper. What about the black tee-boxes? These were absolutely cruel as it was very obvious that Vijay was out to scare the living daylights out of those who dared to take on the challenge from the black tees. Even for professionals, most of the black tee positions would be a challenge and a club official who was with me said, “I have seen professionals breakdown and almost cry.”

It will be difficult to deny the fact that the Valley Course is without doubt a real tournament ready golf course. But by the same token, it can also be an experience for golfers of all skills and as Vijay puts it, “This course will reward golfers for good play but penalise wayward shots.” The master has spoken – what he and his buddy Ernie Els have achieved in Desaru is a package made up of one 27-hole course, known as the Ocean Course which has a very resorty feel about it and the 18-hole hole Valley Course.

Collectively, the 54-hole spread that meanders through lush rain forests and skirts the South China Sea, is a treat for golfers. Now, this is where it all gets very exciting – when I was at the golf course, I saw very few golfers and my natural query was, “Where are the golfers – you’ve got world class facilities here but the golfers are not here?”

I am glad that I asked because the Els Desaru Golf Courses are really part of a larger project – an alarmingly large development that runs into hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars and it is called the Desaru Coast Development undertaken by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the national sovereign wealth fund of the Malaysian Government.

The Desaru Coast Development includes a blend of globally renowned hotels and resorts such as The Westin Desaru Resort, a conference centre, a themed water park and a retail village. There will also be a new addition of Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast and resort lifestyle residences.The whole development which spans over 3,900 acres facing the South China Sea, will take approximately 15 to 20 years to complete.

In a nutshell, the giant Desaru Coast Development is being developed as a premium integrated development - it aims to provide a complete destination package, especially for discerning travellers in this region.

Well, now I can see the justification for a 54-hole golf spread. Given the size and scope of the Desaru Coast Development, the Els Club Desaru is set to become a major golf attraction and a money spinner. Before the crowds start arriving and if you have the time, go check out Vijay’s Valley course. You won’t be disappointed. There are no more tiger around though but the wild boars are still there!      

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