Ranking The World: Asia/Oceania

In the third installment of our four-part series ranking the world’s golf countries (outside of the U.S.), we turn to the diverse landscape of Asia/Oceania

By Darius Oliver

 

Golf Ranking Asia
Australia’s Royal Melbourne (East) 18th Hole (photo by Gary Lisbon)

 

The Asia/Oceania region is one of great contrasts. It is more densely populated than anywhere in the world, but home to some of the smallest countries and most sparsely populated regions. There are rich countries and poor, and golf is spread prominently across both developed and developing nations. While there is great value in the region, there are also some of the most expensive green fees anywhere outside America.

Although Australia finishes comfortably on top of these regional rankings, there is much interest across the various categories. A few short years ago, there was little attention given to Vietnam as a golf hotspot, but development there has been swift and the golf generally designed to a higher standard than in places like China and Thailand. By the numbers, Thailand is actually one of the world’s most popular golf destinations, but it trails Vietnam in superior value, quality, and the fact that very few of its leading courses are public.

Wedged between these Southeast Asian nations is Malaysia, an underrated country with a long golf history and some surprisingly good courses. The Els Club on Langkawi Island, for example, is one of the best bunkerless courses in the world and a beautiful side trip for those visiting the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Golf Ranking Asia
New Zealand’s Tara Iti 17th Hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

 

Toward the top of the list, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan separate themselves from the rest of the field and stand out as having the region’s finest courses. New Zealand outperformed Japan in two key criteria: golf per capita and accessibility. New Zealand’s best golf is very expensive, but none of its Bucket List courses are off limits to visitors, which is unfortunately not the case in Japan. As any well-connected golfer who has played the likes of Hirono, Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, Ono, Abiko, Naruo, Yokohama, and Koga can attest, if you are able to get onto these courses, Japan is an incredible destination.

Golf Ranking Asia
Japan’s Kawana 7th Hole (photo by Gary Lisbon)

 

HOW WE SCORED THEM

NUMBER OF COURSES:

10 pts. = 5,000+; 9 = 2,000 to 5,000; 8 = 1,000 to 2,000; 7 = 500 to 1,000; 6 = 300 to 500; 5 = 100 to 300; 4 = 50 to 100; 3 = 25 to 50; 2 = 10 to 25; 1 = fewer than 10

POPULATION PER COURSE:

10 pts. = less than 10,000; 9 = less than 15,000; 8 = less than 20,000; 7 = less than 25,000; 6 = less than 30,000; 5 = less than 50,000; 4 = less than 80,000; 3 = less than 100,000; 2 = more than 100,000

BEST 5/15 COURSES

As an indication of the quality available in this region, the best 5 or 15 courses in Australia are the equal of Scotland’s, while Japan’s are the equal of Ireland’s. The 15th, or even 20th, best course in Australia would most certainly rank in the Top 100 of the UK and Ireland, probably nearer the middle of the list than the bottom. The other standout performers here are New Zealand, Vietnam, and China, which rate higher than Malaysia and South Korea because of a larger number of Grade-A courses and a less noticeable drop between the best 5 and 15.

BEST AND TOP 100

Ranked Golf Courses, Country by Country

AUSTRALIA: Royal Melbourne (West/East), Kingston Heath, Cape Wickham, Barnbougle Dunes, Barnbougle Lost Farm, NSW, Royal Adelaide, Victoria, Metropolitan, Ellerston, The Dunes, St. Andrews Beach, The National (Moonah/Old/Gunnamatta), Woodlands, Peninsula Kingswood (North), Thirteenth Beach, Commonwealth, Yarra Yarra.

JAPAN: Hirono, Kawana (Fuji), Yokohama CC, Naruo, Kasumigaseki (East/West), Tokyo GC, Abiko, Ono, Oarai, Koga, Nikko, Tokyo Classic, Ryugasaki, Ibaraki, Bonari Kogen, Hakone, Karuizawa, Hokkaido Classic, Phoenix.

CHINA: Shanqin Bay, Spring City (Lake/Mountain), Mission Hills (Blackstone/Lava Fields/Olazabal/World Cup), Yangtze Dunes, Shenzhou Peninsula (West/East), Sheshan, Tiger Beach, Lion Lake, Genzon.

NEW ZEALAND: Tara Iti, Paraparaumu Beach, Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs, Jack’s Point, The Hills (Hills/Farm), Kinloch, Titirangi, Arrowtown, Wairakei, Millbrook, Royal Wellington, Muriwai, Windross Farm, Gulf Harbour.

S. KOREA: South Cape, Nine Bridges, Whistling Rock, Haesley Nine Bridges, Jade Palace, Jack Nicklaus GCK, Anyang, Woo Jeong Hills, Pine Beach, Pinx.

VIETNAM: Hoiana Shores, Bluffs Ho Tram, Danang, FLC Quy Nhon (Mountain/Ocean), Laguna Lang, FLC Quang Binh (Forest Dunes/Ocean Dunes), KN Golf Links Cam Ranh, Dalat Palace, Stone Valley, Ba Na Hills, Montgomerie Links.

THAILAND: Ayodhya Links, Ban Rakat, Gulf National, Alpine GC, Blue Canyon, Amata Spring, Siam CC (Old/Plantation), Thai CC, Black Mountain, Banyan GC.

MALAYSIA: Royal Selangor, Els Club Teluk Detai, TPC Kuala Lumpur (West/East), Horizon Hills, Kota Permai, Els Club Desaru (Ocean/Valley), Forest City, Saujana, The Mines, The Legends.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong GC (Old/New), Shek O, Clearwater, Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau.

FIJI: Natadola Bay, Laucala, Denarau.

INDIA: DLF, Delhi GC.

PHILIPPINES: CC Philippines, Wack Wack, Anvaya Cove, Sta Elena.

TAIWAN : Ta Shee, Taiwan GCC.

INDONESIA: Ria Bintan, Taman Dayu, Damai Indah, Royale Jakarta.

SINGAPORE: Sentosa (Tanjong/Serapong), Singapore Island (Bukit/New), Tanah Merah, Laguna National (Classic/Masters).

SRI LANKA: Victoria.

MYANMAR: Myotha National.

AVERAGE GREEN FEES & VALUE

For these criteria we considered courses that have featured prominently on ranking lists produced by magazines in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. We also looked at Top 10 courses featured on the country ranking lists published by Golf Digest (U.S.).Note: Several countries don’t have Top 100-caliber courses, so green fees for their best courses were considered. All costs have been converted to U.S. dollars from the native currency, but like everything else during the coronavirus pandemic, the currency market has been volatile, so please consider these estimates.

SUMMARY:

NEW ZEALAND – $385

SINGAPORE – $296

JAPAN – $290

CHINA – $245

S. KOREA – $198

AUSTRALIA – $190

HONG KONG – $190

THAILAND – $155

VIETNAM – $142

INDONESIA – $110

MALAYSIA – $101

AVERAGE GREEN FEE

Top 100-Caliber Courses10 pts. = < $80; 9 = < $100; 8 = < $120; 7 = < $150; 6 = < $180; 5 = < $220; 4 = < $260; 3 = < $300; 2 = over $300.

GOLF TRIPS

While the well-connected are able to enjoy an incredible (Bucket List) golf itinerary in New Zealand or Japan, for those on a budget the pick of this region is clearly Australia. You will need to largely forgo the world-famous Sandbelt courses, but for under U.S. $150 you can play the wonderful Woodlands in Melbourne along with terrific links and links-like gems such as Cape Wickham, Barnbougle, Lost Farm, The Dunes, St. Andrews Beach, Thirteenth Beach (Beach), Barwon Heads, Portsea, Newcastle, and Ocean Dunes.The most interesting developing destination is Vietnam, chiefly because its best golf is mostly coastal, sandy, superior to its neighbors, and available to international golfers at reasonable prices. It can be tricky to organize, but with the exception of Bluffs Ho Tram, each of Vietnam’s best 10 courses can be played for under U.S. $150 in peak season.

Fiji’s Natadola 15th Hole (photo by Gary Lisbon)

 

BUCKET LIST

“Money No Object” Golf Itinerary

AUSTRALIA: Royal Melbourne (West/East), Kingston Heath, Cape Wickham, Barnbougle Dunes, Barnbougle Lost Farm, NSW, Royal Adelaide, Ellerston, Victoria, Metropolitan, The National (Moonah).

NEW ZEALAND: Tara Iti, Paraparaumu Beach, Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs, Jack’s Point, The Hills (Hills/Farm), Kinloch, Titirangi, Arrowtown, Wairakei, Millbrook, Royal Wellington, Gulf Harbour.

JAPAN: Hirono, Kawana (Fuji), Yokohama CC, Naruo, Kasumigaseki (East/West), Tokyo GC, Abiko, Ono, Oarai, Koga, Nikko, Tokyo Classic.

CHINA: Shanqin Bay, Spring City (Lake/Mountain), Mission Hills (Blackstone/Lava Fields), Lanhai Yangtze Dunes, Shenzhou Peninsula (West/East), Sheshan, Tiger Beach, Lion Lake, Genzon.

VIETNAM: Hoiana Shores, Danang, Bluffs Ho Tram, FLC Quy Nhon (Mountain/Ocean), Laguna Lang, FLC Quang Binh (Forest/Ocean), KN Cam Ranh, Stone Valley, Ba Na Hills, Montgomerie Links, Dalat Palace.

S. KOREA: South Cape, Nine Bridges, Whistling Rock, Haesley Nine Bridges, Jade Palace, Jack Nicklaus GCK, Anyang, Woo Jeong Hills, Pine Beach, Trinity.

MALAYSIA: Royal Selangor, Els Club Teluk Detai, Forest City, TPC Kuala Lumpur (West/East), Horizon Hills, Kota Permai, Els Club Desaru (Ocean/Valley), Saujana, The Mines.

THAILAND: Ayodhya Links, Ban Rakat, Gulf National, Alpine GC, Blue Canyon, Amata Spring, Siam CC (Old/Plantation), Thai CC, Black Mountain, Banyan Hua Hin.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong GC (Old/New), Shek O, Clearwater, Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau.

INDONESIA: Ria Bintan, Taman Dayu, Damai Indah, Royale Jakarta.

SINGAPORE: Sentosa (Tanjong/Serapong), Singapore Island (Bukit/New), Tanah Merah, Laguna National, (Masters/Classic).

FIJI: Natadola Bay, Laucala, Denarau.

INDIA: DLF, Delhi GC.

PHILIPPINES: CC Philippines, Wack Wack, Anvaya Cove, Sta Elena.

TAIWAN : Ta Shee, Taiwan GCC.

SRI LANKA: Victoria.

VALUE ITINERARY

Best golf under USD $150 (peak rate) per round

AUSTRALIA

Cape Wickham, Barnbougle Dunes, Barnbougle Lost Farm, Woodlands, St. Andrews Beach, The Dunes, Thirteenth Beach (Beach), Newcastle, Barwon Heads, Portsea, Ocean Dunes, Kennedy Bay.

NEW ZEALAND

Paraparaumu Beach, Titirangi, Arrowtown, Wairakei, Millbrook, Royal Wellington, Muriwai, Windross Farm, Christchurch, Gulf Harbour, Ahipara.

VIETNAM

Hoiana Shores, Danang, FLC Quy Nhon (Mountain/Ocean), Laguna Lang, FLC Quang Binh (Forest/Ocean), KN Golf Links Cam Ranh, Stone Valley, Ba Na Hills, Montgomerie Links, Dalat Palace.

THAILAND

Siam CC (Old/Plantation), Black Mountain, Chee Chan, Gassan Legacy, Chiangmai Highlands, Banyan Hua Hin, Laem Chabang, Santiburi Samui.

JAPAN

Koga, Kawana (Oshima), Bonari Kogen, Hakone.

MALAYSIA

Forest City, TPC Kuala Lumpur (West/East), Horizon Hills, Kota Permai, Els Club Desaru.

CHINA

Meadow Links.

ACCESS/TRAVEL

AUSTRALIA – With the exception of ultra-private Ellerston, all key Australian courses are accessible to the visiting golfer, although often with restricted tee times. Travel is relatively straightforward here, but the best golf is more widely spread than somewhere like New Zealand or in the UK.

NEW ZEALAND – New Zealand is a beautiful, compact country with easy-to-drive roads and even its most exclusive clubs, Tara Iti and The Hills, welcome international visitors—albeit with a steep fee.

JAPAN – Japan has a great golf culture and a terrific set of old courses. Although self-travel with golf clubs is difficult, the rail and taxi systems are excellent. Were the best courses here more open to international visitors, it would be an incredible golf destination.

CHINA – Shanqin Bay and places like Sheshan and Genzon are difficult to access, but much of China’s best golf is public access and travel between cities is manageable with some forward planning and a little help from a travel agent or the destination courses.

VIETNAM – While self-driving is not really an option, golf in Vietnam is surprisingly straightforward to navigate and much easier to plan than most imagine. The hardest part of planning is done before you arrive, e.g., organizing visas and communicating with courses via email. A hop-on, hop-off type tour along the Vietnamese coastline is recommended for the golf as well as for the cultural experience, the diversity of coastal sites, the food, the fun, and the affordability. The hotels are also generally first-class.

S. KOREA – With the exception, perhaps, of the U.S., no country’s most celebrated golf clubs are more “off limits” than those in Korea. Even golfers with sufficient connections to get onto Club at Nine Bridges, Haesley Nine Bridges, Jack Nicklaus GCK, Whistling Rock, Jade Palace, and so on are still at the mercy of a local guide to figure travel and logistics.

Malaysia’s Desaru (Valley) 11th Hole (photo by Kevin Murray)

 

THAILAND – Thailand is famous for tourist hotspots like Pattaya, Phuket, Hua Hin, and Chiang Mai, each with plenty of accessible golf courses set up to welcome tourists from abroad. Sadly, many of the best courses here are private and hard to access.

MALAYSIA – The best golf in Malaysia tends to be located in clusters, mostly around Kuala Lumpur and down south in Johor. Driving is possible for the adventurous traveler, and most of the private clubs will accept international visitors with a letter of introduction.

HISTORY / HYPE

AUSTRALIA – A rich history, low Australian dollar, and the lingering effects of hosting the Presidents Cup in 2019 has kept Australia at the forefront as a destination.

NEW ZEALAND – Pricey but perfectly set up for the inbound golf tourist, NZ remains one of the hottest “Bucket List”-type destinations in world golf.

JAPAN – Host of the Olympic Games next year, Japan has also attracted interest thanks to recent restorations of important courses by Coore & Crenshaw, Gil Hanse, Tom Fazio, and Mackenzie & Ebert, as well as a wonderful history dating back over 100 years.

VIETNAM – Vietnamese developers have made some of the same mistakes as their counterparts in China, namely breakneck design and prioritizing housing over golf, but the standard here is generally good and the locales are attractive for both golf and general tourism. Expect to hear more in the years ahead.

THAILAND – Almost a million golfers visit Thailand each year, making the “Land of a Thousand Smiles” one of the world’s top two or three golf destinations. Visitors who love Thai golf tend to return regularly.

MALAYSIA – Malaysia is more low-key but has a long history and stronger old-school golf culture than some of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

CHINA – Though the game boomed in the early 2000s here, the Chinese government’s recent closure of 100-plus courses, including many good ones, has slammed the brakes on golf and development.

S. KOREA – Elite Korean clubs do plenty to stay in the spotlight, and the nation has produced a staggering number of champion players, but it’s a difficult country to access and for many years has trailed neighbors like Japan and China for critical acclaim.