Public Golf Course of the Year 2017 – Ayala Southlinks Golf Club

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In this post and two more that will follow, we will recognize the golf courses that have given us the most pleasure and the best memories in 2017. For this year, we’re staying with awarding the best traditional and best modern golf courses, but we are adding a new category, that of the best public golf course.

Which makes perfect sense since the public golf courses are the entry points for most neophytes into the game. They are the gateways to our sport and it is only right that we acknowledge the golf courses that are the best at doing so.

Beyond this, public or not we will look at the golf course’s attributes and judge them as we would the other golf courses and that is by the quality of the golf that they provide. Never mind the food in the clubhouse of the amenities in the locker room – we’re only interested in the golf on offer.

For us, there really were only two choices. Sun Valley Golf Club in Cogeo, Antipolo (No, not the one in Clark) and Southlinks Golf Club located in Ayala Southvale along Daang Hari just beyond Ayala Alabang. Both are modern constructions which employ modern drainage technology and modern turf grasses on the greens. Where they differ in here is that while Sun Valley uses Tifton (a Bermuda hybrid) on their fairways, Southlinks uses an endemic grass, zoysia matrela, on theirs.

This is significant because as an endemic species, zoysia is more resistant to disease and weeds which leads to lower maintenance costs (and hopefully, lower green fees). The down side is that zoysia takes much longer to grow in than the modern, imported turf grasses. But once it does, it is incredibly hardy and a very nice surface on which to golf upon. It also requires less water and is much friendlier to the environment.

Now, both Sun Valley and Southlinks are pretty tough tracks from the proper set of tees. Southlinks is perhaps more accessible to a broader cross-section of golfers and is undoubtedly easier for juniors and the shorter hitters among us. Sun Valley is the tougher track for sure. The elevation changes and ever-present ravines will play havoc with those that aren’t at their best. But Southlinks is no pushover. It demands accuracy off the tee and into the green. The course may not be as long but given the proper setup, it can be just as difficult as Sun Valley.

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A big difference between the two is that while Southlinks is a good walking course, Sun Valley is not – a cart is required to play Sun Valley, unless you intend to use your round here as training for a climb up Mt. Pulag. Even then, the club won’t let you on without a golf cart. That’s not an ideal situation for a public golf course.

Aesthetically, the Sun Valley wins, hands down. This is a stunning piece of property with the elevation changes and the tee shots from the hilltops and down over lakes and such. Southlinks is linksy by design and that means a more minimalist approach aesthetically.

That isn’t to say Southlinks is ugly by comparison. Far from it. The fairways are lined with trees and scrub that serve to define the holes. The minimalist aesthetic has its own appeal, it’s just different from the parkland/mountain course construction at Sun Valley.

If anything, Southlinks can be very difficult because you are never quite sure where you should be aiming to into scoring position from the fairway. Golfers used to having trees and such to target from the tee box will be stymied by the lack thereof.

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Southlinks was built to be sustainable. This was key to keep costs under control to stand a good chance of turning a profit and to have a minimal impact on the environment. It is no mean feat that Southlinks has managed to get a firm grip on the complexity of the task at hand.

For starters consider that the standard golf course sits 27-35 hectares on average. Southlinks occupies just 19-hectares. The bunkers have been designed like funnels with wide openings but narrow centers. The smaller footprint and native turf grassed fairways mean the course will require precious few inputs to maintain playing quality. The bunker design means using less of that expensive bunker sand adding to the savings from using local turf grass. Using a micro Bermuda like mini verde on the greens completes the playing experience which hinges on the condition of the greens.

Southlinks excels from a design standpoint. The Ayala Corporation was wise to retain Kevin Ramsey and his company Golf Plan and further apply the lessons they learned from building Anvaya Cove at South Links. It is a heck of a track.

The 5th green

The key to unlocking the puzzle that is South Links is the tee shot. Standing on the tee, it is difficult to zero in on a target. Landing areas are hidden and landing areas slope from one side to the other placing a premium on knowledge of the golf course. Hitting fairways is the key to a good score here. Not the least because the scrub area that lines the golf course is marked as patches of environmentally sensitive areas which forbid the golfer and his caddy from entering them to locate wayward golf balls. So, if you hit one into the deep rough, you’ve pretty much lost the ball and will have to take a penalty drop. But the more you play the golf course and grow to understand it, the fewer golf balls you will lose. Consider the lost balls tuition while you learn the course.

When you find the fairway, the holes open up in front of you. Longer hitters will find themselves with a lot of short irons and wedges to the greens here, but you will have to factor the wind into your pre-shot calculations. It will play a significant role in the trajectory of your golf ball.

In the end, Southlinks wins out as our public golf course of 2017. It has a far greater appeal to a larger golfing demographic than does Sun Valley. The golf is challenging and quite good. The par threes could do with a little bit more length but that would compromise its appeal to such a broad swath of golfers. Proof of this are the numbers of junior golfers that can be seen regularly at the range, on the practice green and on Southlinks’ fairways. It is proof positive that the Ayala Corporation has hit on a very successful model for Philippine golf.

The 6th is a beautiful short par 4

All told, this makes Southlinks our choice for our public golf course of the year award, narrowly beating out Sun Valley. It is the perfect model for a public golf course in the Philippines and proof positive that if you build it they will come in their droves.

Our congratulations then to the Ayala Corporation for having the foresight and hutzpah to build Southlinks Golf Club. It’s a great golf course that’s accessible to all and a pleasure to play. It’s environmentally responsible and sustainable in our economic environment. For these reasons, Southlinks Golf Club is our public golf course of the year.

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