The tiny sultanate of Brunei is home to one of the most surprising and opulent courses in all of Asia. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in the late 1990s, the Empire course was the venue for the inaugural Brunei Open on the Asian Tour in 2005, signaling the Southeast Asian country’s bid to become the region’s “Sultanate of Swing.”
The two nines loop in opposite direction from the magnificent hotel complex, with lush fairways offering great views of the South China Sea from those holes located along the shore – and for golfers who are too busy during the day, all 18 holes can be floodlit for night golf!
One of the best holes on the front nine is the 360-yard, par four, 6th requiring a 200-yard carry over a gorge to a narrow fairway that seems twice as far as it really is from the tee box. The back nine holes fall down to the water’s edge at the par five 15th then the fairway of the 18th is routed along the coastline with dramatic cliffs bounding the left side of a tough, stroke index 1, home hole.
The Empire Hotel & Country Club is located along the coast and has moderate ups and downs. The course makes fantastic use of the natural terrain through the use of its tropical rainforest. Although the front 9 is not so difficult, the routing is very nice as each hole has been designed in a way that makes the course flow smoothly. The back 9 is a fascinating experience with an interesting and rich layout. Every hole on the back 9 has character.
Since there are only a limited number of blind holes, players will be able to properly plan their play. The course is quite long as it exceeds over 7,000 yards with a total of par 71. It can also offer a unique level of difficulty since hazards, such as bunkers and ponds, are all skillfully placed throughout the course. Occasionally strong sea winds provide players with extra challenge. Players will also be able to enjoy the panoramic view of the emerald green South China Sea on some holes.
The par 5 549-yard 15th is a signature hole and a relatively straight and long par five that runs parallel to the coastline. The tee shot will require players to negotiate the notorious Sandy Waste, a gigantic bunker that looks like a pond or a wasteland. In addition, players will face a narrow landing area from the tee and second shot, as the left side of the hole is engulfed by a wasteland and the right side with a forest. In order to score well, players will need to seriously consider the wind’s impact. The green is elevated and guarded by a deep bunker to its front. Since the green is shallow and not deep, players should do their best to spin the ball well on the approach in order to prevent the ball from rolling beyond the green.
The finishing hole is a straight and 476-yard long par four. The hole runs parallel to the coastline with its left side falling off towards the cliffs. Both accuracy and distance are needed to hit the green in regulation. The green is shared with the 9th and the combined green is very long. There are several bunkers that surround the green, offering players a final challenge. To read more about the course at The Empire Hotel & Country Club, click here to visit my website.