Exploring Southern Asia's Golf Courses

Friday 14 April 2017

Paul Jansen, Golf Course Architect and founder of Jansen Golf Design & Construction.Paul Jansen, Golf Course Architect and founder of Jansen Golf Design & Construction, will next week begin a tour of Southern Asia’s most distinct and sustainable golf courses. Paul will use the opportunity to highlight the rich and diverse nature of the golf experiences across the region and the multitude of unique, interesting and sustainable golf courses that can be found in Southern Asia, whilst also promoting the benefits of sustainable practice.

From 19th April to 13th May Paul will visit courses in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore. GEO caught up with Paul before his trip to hear more about his plans.

First of all, where did the idea for such a great trip come from?

I see this trip as an opportunity to develop my own skill set first and foremost. Over time my personal travel has become tailored towards seeking out golf courses that are distinctive and characterful because it's these types of facilities that have influenced my development as a Course Architect the most over the years. Add to that I am always looking out for good examples of sustainable golf - partly because I am an advocate for sustainable and responsible practice myself, but also because I am of the opinion that the business of golf needs to do a better job of highlighting and indeed promoting the many wonderful examples of sustainable golf that are out there.

What is the reason for starting in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet - I don’t think many people know that. It is remarkable in that you can be on the beach near Galle in the morning and drinking tea at one of the tea garden stations in central Sri Lanka in the afternoon. Sri Lanka also has a bunch of really unique and fun and sustainable golf courses. You can count the number of golf courses on my one hand but each one is worth a visit. I think people will be wowed by the country and the golf.

Paul JansenThe courses that you are visiting are very wide ranging both in terms of style, scale and status. Looking at your schedule through a sustainability lens, what do you believe will be the most interesting challenges and scenarios that you will explore?

I am not sure many golf courses in Southern Asia started out with sustainability in mind but over time many have had to find ways to become more sustainable. Asians in general are very ingenious and resourceful so I am looking forward talking to the people at the clubs about how they are going about minimising input whilst still maintaining a fun and engaging golf. As I said this is going to be an education for me and I am excited by the potential knowledge sharing that comes with this trip. Add to that there is such a great variety of golf courses throughout the region and I bet there will be a great sustainability story to tell about each one of these golf courses regardless their style, scale and status.

Also in my view the business of golf design and maintenance has become very guideline and business driven today which I am not sure is great for the game / image of the game moving forward. I will use this trip to show examples of golf courses that don’t necessarily follow any formula and yet are fun and engaging. I will also be looking to show examples of sustainable practice from both a design and maintenance perspective.

We often see golf courses on the television presented in a certain style and to a certain standard, one that requires high levels of maintenance. Often these levels are not attainable for an ‘average golf course’. What do you think the international golf community might learn from some of the perhaps lesser known examples you will visit?

That you don’t have to spend millions of dollars to be a great golf course and attract golfers. In fact I think the minute you find you are having to spend a high sum of money to try and attract golfers - and also enhance the overall experience - you probably need to start to question the early planning and decision making coupled with the design and agronomics. Many of the lesser known golf courses are great places to play golf. They are fun and characterful and just a great walk in nature and that’s important. If a golf course holds a lot of interest you probably going to enjoy it and want to return. If your golf course carries a standard style and look then there is nothing unique about it and this leaves you with little to discover…why would you want to play it and why would you want to play it again.

Lastly, the social side of golf in the region will be an interesting area to explore. How clubs relate to their local communities? How popular the game in is different areas and how aware golf courses in the region are aware of their impact on local economies? What are your impressions having worked out there so much previously? 

This is a good question.

Certainly golf is very popular with tourists throughout Southern Asia which is understandable given that the golf experience is somewhat unique, the weather is typically always good (outside of the few monsoon months) and the food and accommodation is cheap and really good.

Having said that I would certainly like to see more locals take up the game but the cost to play in general is expensive. In many cases this is the product of the business of golf but more so the ridiculous sums of money being spent on the design, build and maintenance of many of these newer facilities which in turn influences the cost to play.  I will be doing my best to highlight all this + talk about what golf clubs are doing to attract golfers and mainly local golfers.

Of course golf in the region seems to keep growing. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia is certainly very developed with many golf clubs doing over 50 000 rounds per annum and much more. Vietnam is developing. In general the golf clubs employ a high sum of people including caddies which is very popular. I am looking forward to reporting on all of this and more as I travel the region. Be sure to follow me on my blog www.jansengolfdesign.com/blog/ for constant updates.

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