When the British arrived in the late 19th century so did golf, a sport that is now entrenched in Myanmar society as there about 130 courses, many of them quaint nine-holers, around the country. The first course was built in 1887 in Thayetmyo, about 360 kilometres north of Yangon, and still exists today. In Yangon, the first club, Rangoon Golf Club, was founded in 1893, but is long gone from its initial site at what is now the People’s Park. As it is, the city now offers about 10 clubs, nearly all with public access.
WHERE TO PLAY
Pun Hlaing Golf Club HHHH Much like his fantastic work on the original 36 holes at Kau Sai Chau, Pun Hlaing Golf Club is Gary Player at his best. Located to the west of the city in a luxury 263-hectare housing estate where US$400,000 can purchase a twostorey 317-square-metre residence overlooking the 18th tee (complete with golf membership), this resort-style course is as good as any in Asia. What stands out at this par-72, 7,012-yard layout is aesthetics, as the country’s top international course features an abundance of lush exotic flora and fauna. Adding to the experience is a view of the Shwedagon pagoda in the distance. With big greens, wide fairways and good undulation, this is a course where a player’s skill level needs to increase with each successive hole. The 452-yard, par-4 2nd is the top-rated hole. It requires a massive drive followed by a confident approach as a creek cuts across the fairway about 100 yards from the green. Making par on this difficult hole will build confidence for your round. The 174-yard 12th is the club’s signature. Player, a nine-time Major winner, said this par-3, which requires hitting over water to a hard-sloping, long green protected by four bunkers, reminded him of Augusta. The home hole, a 520-yard par-5, provides a fitting finish. With water up both sides of the fairway, the green is reachable in two for big hitters, but likely three shots for most. The approach is the key as a large body of water in front of the green must be successfully navigated to reach the long, narrow putting surface. Pun Hlaing has a strong Hong Kong connection as club owner, tycoon Serge Pun whose company is also behind the Gary Player-designed layout at Sand River Golf Club in Shenzhen, is locally based, while course superintendent Allen Percival previously served at Skycity Nine Eagles. Pun Hlaing Golf Estate Avenue, Hlaing, Tharyar, Yangon Contact: (95-1) 684-020; firstname.lastname@example.org Green fee: US$65
Rolling it in
Al Campbell gets the lowdown on golf in Myanmar’s largest city
isiting the former Myanmar capital today, in all its decaying glory, is like taking a trip back in time to the days of the British empire with the numerous magnificent colonial buildings, more than 200 in all, dotting the city’s often manic downtown core. Adding to the experience are the old cars. With the numerous sanctions levied on the former Burma by the international community for its human rights record, this place is the Cuba of the East with eccentric vehicles galore—Mazda Range Rover knockoffs, US cars from the 1950s and 1960s, and the best and the worst of the early Japanese imports—navigating the often-bumpy roads. Yet for all the criticisms of the country, the atmosphere in the former Rangoon is surprisingly relaxed and safe. Walking around the “Garden city of the East” is relatively easy with the city’s downtown area set up in a grid system along the Yangon River. 56
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At nearly every turn, visitors will find outstanding examples of Edwardian and Victorian architecture. Among the many highlights are the city’s main hospital on Bogyoke Aung San Road, Yangon City Hall next to Sule Pagoda, and the Supreme Court just to the east. The bar and restaurant in the nearby Strand Hotel, an establishment patronized by Somerset Maugham, Mick Jagger and Princess Margaret, among others, over the years, provides a welcome retreat for those looking to escape the heat. Further afield, the city’s suburbs are dotted with beautiful early 20th century mansions that formerly WWW.HKGA.COM
housed timber and mining barons and others who made their fortune in trading the country’s abundant resources worldwide. The Governor’s Residence, now a swank boutique hotel and restaurant, provides a good example as this near century-old preserved teak mansion is outstanding in its opulence and detail. Inevitably a visitor will be out in the suburbs to take in the Shwedagon Pagoda, a spectacular 99-metre-tall shrine that looms large over the city. Built more than 2,500 years ago, it was erected to house eight hairs of Indian Prince Siddhartha who had just attained Buddhahood and the relics of three previous Buddhas. WWW.HKGA.COM
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Sarazen, Peter Thomson and Paul Harney, its hosting of the Putra Cup and Myanmar Open on several occasions, a nd t he development of home-grown cha mpions Zaw Moe and Kyi Hla Han, the current Asian Tour chief executive. Danyingone, Insein Township, Yangon Contact (95-1) 635-617, 635-842; www. yangongolfclub.com; Green fee: US$20
Trip Planner Money Myanmar has no international banking system, currency exchange or ATMs. In addition, travellers cheques are virtually useless in the country, as are credit cards, although some big hotels may accept them. As it is, visitors need to be cashed up with US currency going in, preferably pristine unmarked US$100 and US$50 bills void of folds. Greenbacks can then be exchanged for kyats, the local currency, with street vendors (often a dodgy proposition for the exchange rate) or at hotels. Money traders at the Bogyoke Market on Bogyoke Aung San Road, the main market downtown, also seem to be fairly trustworthy. Be prepared to get stacks of 1,000-note kyats and spend them before leaving the country as they are worthless beyond the Myanmar border. While the exchange rate may be more, 1,000 kyat for US$1 is a good reference.
Myanmar Golf Club HHH T h is cit y cou rse says something about the colonial history of the country as it was set up in 1947 as a place where locals could get in the swing. With golf entrenched in the city in the first half of the 20th century, and locals initially not allowed to play such clubs as the then Rangoon Golf Club, the former Burma Golf Club was opened in reaction as a place for all to enjoy. Such a policy remains to this day. This natural and beautiful looking course follows the lay of the land with varying degrees of undulation ranging from gentle to extreme along the cowgrass fairways. The greens are largely elevated with the small bunkers protecting them filled with coarse, heavy sand. Highlights on this tree-lined layout include the 332-yard 7th, which features a semi-island green, and the longer 15th, a dramatic water-laced dogleg right hole that encourages long hitters to cut the corner with a booming drive. Ninth Mile, Pyay Road, Yangon Contact: (95-1) 661-702, 665-531 Green fee: US$22
Step back in time (clockwise from top): Pun Hlaing, Myanmar's highest rated course; Yangon street life; the colonial-era clubhouse at MGC; Gene Sarazen was one of the first professional golfers to visit the country. 58
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Yangon Golf Club HHH There’s never been a better time to visit this historic venue. One of the grand old clubs of the Asian landscape, YGC celebrates its centenary this year, barely 12 months since Cyclone Nargis registered a direct hit, which destroyed more than 40 percent of its tree-lined fairways. Since then, US$20,000 has been spent to clear the devastation on this roomy par-72, 7,010-yard layout and the club is back enjoying its status as one of the country’s finest. While the designer of the club is unknown, the layout appears very Alister MacKenzie-like in its traits with a simplistic design that follows the lay of the gentle-rolling landscape, abundance of water (coming into play in some form on 15 holes) and tiny greens. Adding to the challenge are t he cowgrass-turfed fairways where balls sit down Time for a tune-up on the thick-bladed grass and hard earth. If you are looking to improve your game, Myanmar A mong t he nu merous boasts some of the cheapest golf lessons in the region. standout holes are the 414-yard, At the Han Golf Masters Academy (Kyauk Yae Twin par-4 7th, which features a St, Yangon; 651-797, 651-374), a school billed as “the blind drive, and the 186-yard, home of future champions”, lessons with a pro run as cheap as US$6 for a 30 minute session. A package of par-3 15th with the Yangon 12 one-hour lessons costs US$150. The modern school, suburbs to the back of the which was started by the Han brothers — Chan, Kyi Hla tee and a pond in front of the and Aung Hla — features 45 artificial and natural grass heavily-bunkered green. bays, and features an extensive short game area to work The open-air colonial-style on putting, chipping and sand play. The academy, which clubhouse is a virtual museum to runs adjacent to the Myanmar Golf Club, is the training the club’s history, documenting ground for the country’s national team. visits by such greats as Gene
Visas Visitors will also need to arrange a visa in advance before arriving in the country. The procedures and an application can be downloaded from http://myanmar. e-consulate.org or picked up from the local consulate (24/F, Sun Hung Kai Centre, 30 Harbour Rd, Wan Chai). A one-entry visa, good for a 30-day visit, costs HK$150. Getting There At the time of press no airline flies direct between Hong Kong and Yangon. By far the easiest transit point is Bangkok. Thai International, Air Asia and Bangkok Airways serve Yangon International Airport daily. Another option is China Southern Airlines, which flies twice-weekly direct from Guangzhou. Climate December and January are the best months for golf in Yangon, when the days are dry and the temperature averages about 20 degrees Celsius. During March and April, the hottest months, the mercury can reach 37 degrees. Golf during the summer months can be a hit and miss affair; while temperatures are more bearable there’s always the risk of a thnderstorm.
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