Despite some efforts to build in some Scottish mounding, the Masters Course at Laguna National Golf & Country Club in Singapore is a thoroughly modern, American style course. Four huge lakes define the topography and they influence play on twelve of the holes. Some of the threats are more to the background whilst at others, notably at the 11th, 12th and 17th, there is more of a clear and present danger.
You first encounter water behind and to the right of the green at the par five 2nd. It impinges on the approach to a sufficient degree that you do find yourself playing to the left side of the green, an adjustment that brings a row of flanking bunkers into play. The par three 3rd is a carry over water and sand that covers the extent of the hole. Most dangerous of this first trio of water holes is the 4th, a short par four where water runs along the right hand side of the hole. The 3rd and the 4th also introduce the first of a series of enormous sand areas. They cannot properly be called bunkers as they are too large and their influence on play is too tangential. At times, for example the area in front of the tee at the 4th, their impact is purely visual, a sandy counterpoint to the universal shade of tropical green. At others they act as a primary level of hazard that prevents the marginal golf shot from going into the water. This is the case at the 3rd and strikingly at the 18th where a shawl collar of sand runs all the way from the tee to the green 411 metres away and then wraps itself round the back of the green to provide succour to the skinned approach shot.
Where sand and water best combine though, is at a hole like the par three 8th. There is a direct line in course architecture between the MacKenzie and Jones designed "Golden Bell" 12th hole at Augusta National and this is a slightly longer hole. Water in front, sand behind. You must cover the water but play too long and you end up chipping from grass or blasting from sand back toward the water.
The 9th is, as it were, the mirror image of the 18th which is the other side of the same body of water. At the 9th, by contrast, there is no protecting bunker so that the outcome from the tee is binary.
For the larger part the back nine works its way around inside the loop of the front nine so the themes on both nines are the same. At the 11th you encounter the same set of problems posed by the 1st at Ria Bintan on the nearby island of Bintan. You are liable to aim left to avoid the water on the right but stray too far down the left and you will find yourself hitting a blind shot over another lake just to reach a safe landing area on this par five. The water might also play a role in the outcome of the third shot. The final par three on the course, the 17th, is a peninsula par three – as close as you can get to the Dye signature island green while retaining an isthmus of turf. The green is narrow enough to germinate a seed of doubt in most golfers minds.
The course is built on land reclaimed from the sea, explaining the effort to create drama and a diverse experience. The combined effect of the water and these massive sandy areas does add feature to the land. The Caltex Masters is played here and, for the most part, the professionals stroll around the course with nary a care. Most of the rest of us, especially if we are struggling from the tee, are likely to get our money's worth.
The above passage is an extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
The Masters course closed in 2015 and reopened in September 2017
following an extensive renovation. Fairways, tees and green surrounds were re-grassed
with Platinum Paspalum, approaches were reshaped and contoured and every hole
sand-capped with new drainage installed.