Sentosa the first venue to host the resuscitated Singapore Open in 2005, is gifted in terms of its location and views. A combination of existing and reclaimed land perched on the city facing side of Sentosa Island it makes the most of its location. The one thing it does have in common with Tanah Merah C.C. and Laguna National G. &.C.C is that all three have privileged views of key local infrastructure – Changi Airport in the case of the first two and the Port of Singapore in Sentosa's case.
The Serapong course, one of two here, was designed by Ronald Fream and completed in 1982. He has returned more recently to complete a revamp.
The first nine is an intimate exchange of holes and starts out with two good short par fours. The 3rd, a par five, breaks down the hill toward the sea and, provided you avoid the trees both sides of the fairway from the tee, rewards the strong hitter. A solid sequence of holes follows, led by the long par four 4th which strokes 3 on the card's index but is the most difficult hole on the course. It always seems to play longer than its announced length which is 385 metres from the back tees perhaps because it is often played into a breeze. The lake on the right and the pronounced bottleneck at driver length suggests a shorter club to be played from the tee. The safer the tee shot, though, the more ground the second has to cover. Indeed, some golfers play so safe from the tee here as to bring water into play on the second shot.
The nine ends with a 9th and 18th combination that is somewhat similar to the closing holes of the two nines at Laguna. Here at the Serapong course, there is a bit more natural contour to play with for the closing holes of the nines. At the par five 9th you choose your line across the water from the tee. Play too safe and you risk mingling with the trees on the right. Its cousin across the water, the 18th, is a par four which is made by the pronounced slope from the hill down toward the lake.
The back nine, the bulk of which is made up of holes routed on reclaimed land, is of a more open character. As with the front nine, though, you begin up the hill somewhat in the woods. The 10th is a foxy two shotter where the second is played uphill and blind. The 11th is a good par three where you play from a raised tee to a raised green with the city and the cranes of the port looming behind the green.
Then the nine opens up somewhat with a dramatic sequence of holes that more or less make the course. The 12th pays dividends to the golfer who can play boldly to the tree line on the left so as to catch the steep downhill slope. The 13th, which Ron Fream has nominated as the signature hole, is a par five that sweeps along a lake – chock-full of drama. The tiger line is left of a series of palm trees on the fairway that serves to segregate the landing areas. The second is then played across water to a narrow, raised green protected by bunkers or alternatively to a safe approach area to the right from which it is no given that the third will find the green.
The clever feature of this hole is that the safe options are not cut off by bunkering or any other spurious hazard. Rather, an overly safe shot tends to store up problems for later by ensuring the third shot is played to the narrow, raised green.
The 411-metre par four 14th is often into a prevailing breeze and therefore can play one or even two clubs longer than the card suggests. The landing area from the tee is wide enough but well bunkered. The fairway has been formed into mounds and the approach shot is confounded by the local breezes and difficulty in measuring the task by eye as the backdrop to the green is formed by the adjacent Port of Singapore and the city centre itself. The optical trick is to foreshorten the flag against a background of giant Meccano-like gantries. The 15th is played at the water's edge and the second requires a shot to be angled over a rock and around a corner.
The par five that follows often causes palpitations due to the extreme narrowing of fairway near the green. Beware not to be too conservative, as from 150 yards out or more you are liable to experience butterflies. Fickle breezes further confound the golfer and it is not unusual to see a third ballooning into the water or hooked into the bank.
The Serapong Course on Sentosa Island fulfills Donald Ross' pithy edict: "Make each hole present a different problem. So arrange it that every stroke must be made with full concentration and attention necessary to good golf."
Course architect Ron Fream provided us with the following exclusive comments:
The future land for the Serapong course was primarily seawater when I first visited by ferry and small motor launch in early 1978. The Tanjong course had been on Sentosa Island for some years. The club management, led by Mr Dennis Lee, wanted more golf to accommodate growing Singapore wealth. The challenge was to find a place for an 18-hole championship course, that would be decidedly contrasting in appearance and play from Tanjong.
There was not much excess land to be had. The port authority engineers told me they would give me all the sand I needed from ongoing shipping channel dredging. I really did not see the full implications of “all the sand” early on. I did help produce a golf hole layout concept literally taking “all the sand” to design impulse. Where hole 5 green (originally hole 14) sits was seawater 10 to 12 meters deep. That green is 450 or so meters from the original shore edge. It took some guts and salesmanship to convince engineers and board members we really could reclaim more than half of the golf course from the sea and reclaim more still from the mangrove swamps.
More than three million cubic meters of sand was pumped and dredged from shipping channels to raise golf from sea and swamp. This reclamation was not a sheet fill, but formed the individual hole shapes. The setting, now with the world’s largest container ships passing by and spectacular downtown skyline along side, is a truly unique visual effect.
That the course continues to challenge, and test the top pros, and now attract tourist visitors, since member only play was discontinued, brings the spectacular setting and memorable golf to many more. Too few remain who know the origins of Serapong. This course is unquestionably one of a kind.