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Cowgrass and canings: Golf in Malaysia is worth the trip

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - "What the hell is this stuff?"

Golf Cart - Malaysia
Americans will see some unfamiliar sights on golf courses in Malaysia, a Muslim country.
Golf Cart - MalaysiaGlenmarie Golf and Country Club

It was a question I heard repeated often, usually by me. It was generally asked as I, either alone and cursing to myself, or accompanied by other playing partners, hiked alongside the fairway of one of Malaysia's 200 golf courses, in the abominable rough.

Nobody knew what the hell this stuff was. We knew only that it was an exotic grass with blades the width of ceiling fans and consistency like industrial cable.

It didn't so much swallow your ball as chew it up and digest it. I'd swear I could hear it burp with satisfaction. To hit your tee shot in Cowgrass is to say, "I think I'll just take a drop." Save yourself the trouble of looking for it in vain. If you find your ball, you get some sort of award.

We found out later it's called Cowgrass. I can see how cows would like this stuff. A single blade would give them a whole meal.

In fact, cows are the only known species that will eat Cowgrass. Then again, cows will eat license plates.

Most of the older golf courses in Malaysia use Cowgrass to some extent. It can withstand wet weather - which Malaysia has plenty of - fights off disease like the Prussian army, and you have to work hard to kill the stuff; flame-throwers or nitroglycerine might work.

I'm told they used to use Cowgrass in fairways. I'm glad I was nowhere near the country then. I'm glad I was in a different hemisphere.

The good news is that the newer courses in Malaysia have modernized their turf management and Cowgrass isn't in the playbook. The world is a safer place.

Actually, the stuff is kind of fun. It will certainly make you more accurate off the tee.

Cowgrass may be on its way to becoming obsolete as new courses spring up around the country. Malaysia is one of those Southeast Asian tigers throwing up golf courses as its economy booms.

Malaysia is no third-world country; it's more of a second-world nation. It has an extensive road system, except for some undeveloped areas, a good rail system, major seaports, a huge, modern capital and one of the most impressive airports in the world.

It's a Muslim country, but without the violence many in the West generally associate with Muslim countries. The only substantial violence occurred in the 1969 race riots, after an election that was divided along racial lines.

Malays are the dominant race, but the country also has big Chinese and Indian populations, most of whom are the descendants of immigrant laborers. Still, there is a degree of racial tension underlying the culture. You can see it in the newspapers and hear it from the people.

Malaysia has a complicated history, as many Southeast Asian countries do, involving Chinese gangsters, sultans, Communists and, of course, the British. Malays still have mixed feelings about the Japanese, ever since atrocities occurred during the Japanese occupation in World War II.

The Brits are long gone, officially, but sultans and kings still run around. You can see the changing of the guards at the king's palace, though he doesn't actually live there.

They have an elective monarchy, loosely based on the British model, but citizens from the age of 12 on have to carry a biometric smart chip ID card. They must produce it if asked by the cops.

To sum all this up, Americans may be asking the question: Is it safe to travel there and play golf? This is, after all, a Muslim country.

The answer is yes. Muslims may believe you're an infidel and give you dirty looks, but mostly they will ignore you. Many Muslim women wear chadors and veils - which is a strange sight in the ultra-modern shopping malls - but I couldn't get a rise out of them, no matter how often I winked.

The overall crime rate is low, and offenses against tourists and expatriates are relatively uncommon, usually involving purse-snatching and other minor thefts.

Don't commit a crime in Malaysia. They have some severe penalties. Drunk driving laws are strictly enforced, for example.

And for God's sake, do not deal drugs. Drug trafficking carries a mandatory death sentence.

And yes, they still cane people.

Which isn't as bad as the Cowgrass.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Cowgrass etc

    Bob Warters wrote on: Nov 20, 2007

    Hi Tim,
    Enjoyed your pieces on Malaysia - you will recall we played together at Glenmarie,Kuala Lumpur, where a ferocious electrical storm put a premature end to our round approaching the 18th green. One of the most delightful aspects of golf in Malaysia which you didn't mention were the young girl caddies in their pink and pal blue uniforms. They added an extra dimension to a round of golf, chasing hither and thither to find our golf balls (often in the Cowgrass), then dashing off to mark them on the greens and repair our pitchmarks. Thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm and hoispitality of the courses we visited and highly recommended them to my UK and European mostly) readers. Best wishes.


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