x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Value is par for the course

Malaysia is seeking to get on a par with the UAE through tailor-made golf package holidays and regards its lush Far Eastern fairways as a cooler and affordable alternative to this region during high summer.

Enthusiasts play way into the night at the driving range at Saujana Golf and Country Club which is one of the costliest in Kuala Lumpur and yet very reasonable compared to other cities in the world.
Enthusiasts play way into the night at the driving range at Saujana Golf and Country Club which is one of the costliest in Kuala Lumpur and yet very reasonable compared to other cities in the world.

Malaysia is seeking to get on a par with the UAE through tailor-made golf package holidays and regards its lush Far Eastern fairways as a cooler and affordable alternative to this region during high summer. Visitors to the courses in the Emirates have long been echoing the complaints of residents about the cost of pursuing their interest in the sport and other nations are battling to corner the market with cheaper options.

The Malaysian message has already got through to more than 10,000 enthusiasts who have taken part in the World Amateur Team Championship, which the fledgling golfing nation has proudly hosted for the last 16 years. The six qualifying rounds of this year's tournament, which concludes with a grand final in Johor Bahru from November 3-5, have been fully subscribed. A four-man team pay $2,100 (Dh7,700) to take part in the 72-hole event which is played over 14 courses during the year.

A quartet from Abu Dhabi reached the final in 2006 but since then there has been limited interest from the Emirates. Imsany Hasrat, the Tourism Malaysia representative in Dubai, is seeking to generate interest from his new location. "As far as value for money goes it is an excellent deal," said Hasrat. "I think the awareness in what we are doing is out there in places like the UAE. The aim now is to make as many people as possible take advantage of what we are providing."

I sampled Malaysia's hospitality during the week of the penultimate qualifying round held in Sarawak last month. The trip started in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur which will host the concluding qualifying round in early October at its Bukit Jalil and Saujana courses. We were treated to the delights of Saujana, which hosted this year's Malaysian Open, a professional tournament co-sanctioned by the European and Asian tours.

Saujana, where England's Lee Westwood spent two years as a touring professional, has been described as "the best course in Asia" by the trade press and takes great pride in being named the 69th best course in the world outside the United States. High praise indeed and qualities that general manager John Eu did not feel the need to enlarge upon. "The competition for green fees is fierce here because there are so many golf courses now in this country but we don't feel the need to get involved," he said.

"We took payment for over 100,000 rounds in each of the last two years - about 55,000 per year on our Palm championship course and the rest on our other Bunga Raya course - so we don't feel the need to give any special deals." Even at the top weekend walk-on rate of 200 ringgits (Dhs 225) Saujana still massively undercuts the best of the UAE courses, some of which charge treble that amount to casual visitors.

And Saujana rates are by a distance the highest in Kuala Lumpur, where more than 40 other courses are attracting mid-week customers for as little as 30 ringgits. We were welcomed by an army of young female caddies eager to share their knowledge of the 6,610 yards of testing, undulating terrain we were about to negotiate. Our caddie was the teenage Geela, who rode shotgun on the back of our buggy, swiftly ascertaining the rudiments of our game and handing the right club without being asked for it.

Still in her first year at Saujana, she even knew when it was about to rain and advised us to return to the clubhouse after only the first of our 18 holes. It proved a sensible decision as we sipped coffee under cover as a heavy downpour hit the verdant tree-lined fairways. Once the rain relented we resumed on the second hole. As well as Geela's accurate clubbing she raked all the bunkers, repaired all the pitch marks and marked the balls for us on every green.

We went straight from Saujana to the airport to fly to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, where the real business of the trip was about to take place - the deciding round of the fifth heat of the World Team Championship. The competitors went out before the corporate guests and our group of four followed in the early afternoon, again with the expert guidance of a resident caddie called Ain, to do battle with the demanding Kelab course.

The ageing Ain, a 15-handicapper, knew the 18 greens like the back of his hand and saved us a bundle of strokes by telling us which way an awkward putt was going to break. On returning to the clubhouse we discovered that the home-based team of Mama Mia had topped the charts, leading home the five quartets who had earned an all-expenses paid trip to compete again in the 30-team grand final. At the official prize-giving ceremony, we discovered how superbly the other teams had performed over their two rounds at Kelab and two at Damai.

Damai was not as difficult as the other two courses we played but it was just as pretty, especially the homeward stretch of four holes which follow the coastline of the South China Sea. wjohnson@thenational.ae