The course at Mangilao Golf Club was created by the Nelson and Haworth design partnership in the early 1990s and – even though the area is prone to seasonal typhoons, high humidity and searing temperatures – the scenic splendour and lush natural beauty of the course make it one of the most popular golfing destinations in the Pacific.
Mangilao was constructed over difficult terrain, with fairways laid out on a barren stretch of coral that required the installation of an irrigation scheme created through a number of brackish wells.
The “Out-course” front nine are very open (allowing for the strong trade winds that often blow) and three of these holes have small lakes incorporated into the design. The “In-course” back nine drop some 400 feet down to the ocean with a wonderful set of coastline holes laid out from 11 to 14.
The much-photographed par three 12th invites a brave tee shot across a small bay to a putting surface perched on top of a rocky outcrop. The exposed green has had to be rebuilt several times over the years due to typhoon winds and waves that occasionally devastate the island. Such is the degree of difficulty at this spectacular hole, the club awards a special certificate for tee shots that find the green first time!
Course architect Robin Nelson wrote the following article: "Guam is home to one of the greatest ocean par threes in the world: the 12th at Mangilao, which measures 188 yards from the tips and 99 yards from the forward tees. Its beauty is only surpassed by its story.
The peninsula upon which the 12th green rests was very difficult to discover, even with the best topographic maps. The terrain was so rough that even crawling through the vegetation was impossible. It was only after helicopter reconnaissance that we found it, but once the hole was identified, the rest of the course was designed around it.
During the grow-in later that year, Typhoon Yuri hit and wiped out everything, including cart paths, irrigation lines, trees and concrete thrust blocks. The decision was made to rebuild the green, knowing that these storms could hit every ten years or so. The green’s infrastructure was rebuilt in reinforced concrete, and a par three 19th hole was built out of harms way so that its sod could easily be used to rebuild the 12th green quickly.
Less than one year after that, Typhoon Omar hit and totally destroyed the green, but because of the planning, the concrete infrastructure, and the 19th hole, we were able to get the green back into place and playable in three weeks."
Tom Doak visited Guam in 2017 and commented as follows: "I really wanted to like the course because I met Robin Nelson at our Archipalooza event in 2001, and his story of twice having to rebuild the par-3 12th over an ocean cove after typhoons scoured it clean will always stay with me. The hole he worked so hard to complete has now outlived him … it’s a bit reminiscent of the 3rd at Mauna Kea, but shorter and prettier, with its green sticking out a bit further onto a point."
Mangilao is owned by the Japanese Onward group and is a high-end resort-style course on Guam's east coast about 15 mins from the main tourist area of Tumon.
The front nine is pure resort course confection, looping around a lake and with only one real standout hole: the par 3 4th looking at the ocean with cliffs behind. Definitely don't overclub on the approach to this hole as your ball will disappear 100m down the cliff into the ocean. The conditioning is excellent on this nine, but the design is nothing special. The front nine exists just to deliver you to the 10th where the real interesting golf begins.
The back nine is so much better; they are like different courses. Many of the holes run along the coast or with views of it, or through stands of jungle and it's in this nine that the signature par 3 12th can be found. The single shot needs to carry over a cove to a coral shelf green. As the course was quite quiet when I was playing, I hit my tee shot onto the left fringe of the green and then decided to have a few more goes. Lovely coastal location, challenging shot, and no time pressure: why not. So after launching all 11 balls I had with me, it was time to take photos and go and do some putting!
The 13th also has a tee on a rock outcrop jutting into the ocean and offers the golfer the temptation of how close to the water to drive the ball to the oblique fairway. The 16th is also interesting as a short par 4 with a sharp dogleg right requiring precise shotmaking. Unfortunately the 17th and 18th are up and back holes much like the front nine and are a little disappointing finish to the round.
Other points to note: the green fee is USD250 which seems far too expensive for this kind of resort course, but Guam is a tourist island and therefore you have to pay tourist prices. Fortunately the compulsory cart and a small cool box with drinks is included in the rate.
Very nicely kept course, facilities and a spectacular signature hole, but I don't think I'll go back.