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Johor Bahru: Southeast Asia's Golfing Gem

By Erica Stokes, Contributor

In the mid-1800s, Sultan Abu Bakar founded a small, fishing village near modern-day Singapore. Over time, this settlement blossomed into Malaysia's second-largest city and state capital. Asian and Arabian influences have melted together in a land rich in traditions, culture and yes, even golf. The bustling metropolitan area now known as Johor Bahru, attracts vacationing golfers with its distinctive courses.

Native languages for, as the locals refer to their hometown, JB, include Mandarin Chinese, Tamil (a form of Indian), Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) and English. This highly industrialized city is set among some of the most exquisite natural surroundings on Earth. Easy access to the Straits of Melaka and the South China Sea, national parks, lush landscapes and diverse architecture make this area one of Malaysia's masterpieces.

The greens of Johor Bahru

Tee off in Johor's first golf club that was honored in 1983 when the Sultan of Johor granted royalty status to the facility, making it the Royal Johor Country Club. This local landmark was upgraded in the early 1990s to include Bermuda Grass greens and more ponds and bunkers. With undulating grounds and a backdrop of native jungle-land, this is one stunning course. Long hitters will enjoy repeated success on these extensive fairways.

Travel southwest to find two courses that comprise the Kukup Golf Resort. With more than 312 acres dedicated to golfing, this resort appeals to those who like long, daring courses. Players who prefer water hazards may like the South Course while golfers who favor bunkers will enjoy the plentiful sand traps of the North Course that sits amongst rolling hills. Give the kids a chance to putt on the nine-hole miniature golf course located on-site.

Two golf courses await players at Austin Hills Country Club. The Austin and the Hills Courses, both par-72, offer elevated tees and an abundance of native vegetation. Access to the impressive clubhouse is another perk here as this structure overlooks the fairways and gives a complete panoramic view of most of the greens. Ravines require strong drives to reach the fairways and the lush setting can make off-target shots quite costly. Some visitors may wish to take a few practice shots on the driving range and putting green before confronting the 36 holes.

Just minutes away from downtown, the Ponderosa Golf and Country Club is nestled in a picturesque city suburb. Golfers of all skill levels can appreciate the different degrees of difficulty experienced in this intricate layout. The golf course and natural habitat mesh together in this ecologically sound resort. The par-72 course, designed by Max Wexler, sports tricky sand traps and water hazards with smooth greens to help level the playing field.

Golfers will revel in every inch of Palm Resort and Country Club's 800 acres set in former palm and rubber tree groves. Set aside at least two days for your visit so you can sample the resort's three championship layouts. This Malaysian golfing favorite is as attractive as it is challenging. Waterfalls, palm trees, streams and flowering plants adorn each course and water hazards, sand traps, bunkers and island greens are common as well.

If award-winning golf sounds tempting, then check out the Legends Golf and Country Resort - a pre-planned 54-hole facility that was rated Best Golf Course in Johor for 1998, 1999 and 2001 by Business Times and in 2000 by Asian Golf Monthly.

Perhaps honors came to this resort because of the men behind the courses: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Each of these golf legends designed a course and while some areas are still under construction, golfers presently have plenty of playing grounds to try out. Courses embrace the tropical theme with flourishing fauna and scenic waterways. Avoid overconfident attitudes on fairways that seem wide, for these deceptive areas call for skill in order to bypass the numerous hazards and bunkers.

The list goes on

Vacationers could spend weeks here and still not have time to play every single course in Johor Bahru. But that doesn't mean they won't have fun trying. The valleys, rolling hills and lakes compliment Tanjung Puteri Golf and Country Club's East and West Courses while appealing to both seasoned and novice players. Peter Dalkeith Scott and Robert Trent Jones Jr designed the two courses at the Pulai Springs Country Club. The Octville Golf and Country Club offers night golfing on nine of its holes. And the Palm Villa Golf Resort treats golfers to mountain views along the course.

Even more in Johor

While in town, take in some of the culture and sights found in Johor Bahru. Ornate mosques, temples and churches that dot the city are definite must-see. Make time to see one of the largest clocks in Southeast Asia, Dataran Bandaraya: this clock tower happens to be the official landmark for Johor Bahru. Forget about traditional take-out and indulge in the authentic cuisine from Malaysian, Arabic and various Asian restaurants or just snack on a homegrown delight, fresh pineapple.

Where to play

Austin Hills Country Club: 354-4300
Daiman 18: 07-351 6813/353 3100
Kukup Golf Resort: 07-696 0952/53/54/60
The Legends Golf and Country Resort: 07-652 4388
Octville Golf and Country Club: 607-387 3000
Palm Resort and Country Club: 07-599 6222
Palm Villa Golf Resort: 019-759 0101
Ponderosa Golf and Country Club: 07-354 9999
Poresia Country Club: 07-510 1810
Royal Johor Country Club: 07-223 3322/ 224 2098
Starhill Golf and Country Club: (607) 556-6325
Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort: 07-271 1888

Where to stay

Crystal Crown Hotel Johor Bahru: 07 333-4422
Eden Garden Hotel Johor Bahru: (607) 221-9999
Hotel Grand Continental Johor Bahru: 04 733 5817
The Legends Golf and Country Resort: 07-652 4388
Puteri Pan Pacific Hotel Johor Bahru: 07 223 3333
Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort: 07-271 1888

Erica Stokes, Contributor

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