Just a five-minute drive across the bridge from the “Lion City” of Singapore, the bustling port is quickly left behind for the relative calm of Sentosa Island – quite appropriate really, as the Malay word Sentosa translates as “peace and tranquility.”
Sentosa Golf Club members are privileged to have two fantastic 18-hole layouts, Serapong and Tanjong, and the former course has hosted the Singapore Open since it moved to the venue in 2005.
The Tanjong may be slightly overshadowed by its sibling but there’s still no denying the quality of a layout that came off the drawing board of designer Frank Pennink back in 1974. Subsequently upgraded by Max Wexler and Chris Pitman, the Tanjong course is certainly fit for purpose in the modern era, especially after its 2016 renovation, which heralded a name change to "New Tanjong".
Sentosa General Manager, Director of Agronomy and course architect Andrew Johnson – who was in charge of the Serapong course upgrade a decade ago – was the person responsible for the startling course redesign of the Tanjong, along with long-term associate Matt Swanson, a long-term friend and former colleague at Gene Bates Design Group, where both men worked for a number of years.
When the new Tanjong course re-opened for play, General Manager and Director of Agronomy Andrew Johnston – who thinks “all golf course designers should run some of the courses they design to understand the day to day pressures of operations and agronomy” – kindly provided us with this lengthy, exclusive quote on 31st December 2016:
The new course has only been open for about a month and it has received a tremendous amount of attention. The one-year closure was a complete metamorphosis, no two holes or lakes are in the same place, everything was upgraded and redesigned.
The renovation was actually a redesign with a very creative new routing which allows the course to be longer, solves safety issues and addresses flooding problems which the old routing could not correct.
We will all be able to get a better glimpse of the changes on television as this year’s HSBC Women’s Championship has been moved to the New Tanjong, with the unprecedented decision to move the event made before it was event tested. On top of that, the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation selected it to host the 2018 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship while it was still under construction.
The construction timing broke all records for a project of its size. It took only eight months to build and four months of grow-in to produce a new golf course with a world-class driving range (grass teeing stations are centred at each end of the range), a creative short game area, three teaching studios and five practice putting greens.
We moved over 750,000 cubic metres of dirt, relocated 30 large ficus trees, 60 large hardwood trees and over 250 palm trees. The new state-of-the-art irrigation system is now single-head controlled, which will save up to 35% of water resources compared to the old system.
The greens are now much smaller, exhibiting some false fronts and true, traditional Redan styling with a modern flare. The old greens which Matt and I built ten years ago during the last upgrade were just too big - it seemed like a great idea at the time to make them big to handle traffic stress but we really didn’t consider how long it takes on average to mow 14-17,000 square feet of green.
The greens were so big we had the same surface area on 18 holes that other clubs have on 36 holes. Additionally, we made Serapong just as big as Tanjong when we redesigned the greens ten years ago so both sides had giant greens. The smaller greens now allow Tanjong to create its own identify as well as present a more environmentally responsible surface area.
For the past six years since I have been full time at Sentosa we have managed to exceed expectations with conditions that resemble tournament conditioning all year round. Green speeds average 10.5 on the stimpmeter and tee speeds average 8.5 so playing Sentosa is an experience that all will remember.
Bunkers are completely new and, with the new routing, they are in different locations. They’re now big, and truly have the feel of Kingston Heath, Metropolitan or Royal Melbourne but with our own shapes and style. Bunkers are super-close to greens, similar to these great clubs as well.
Greens are grassed with TifEagle, the same as before, tees are Platinum Paspalum (new), allowing us to maintain the tees at the same height as the greens on Serapong. Fairways are Zorro Zoysia (new), which looks and feels like bent, and this grass will permit us to present fairways at 6mm from next year.
The fairways of the old course had a one-metre sand cap. We removed this, re-shaped the course, added a drainage infrastructure (which is 500% over designed) and then put the sand cap back down. We also added subair to all greens,including wireless soil sensors and other high tech items. We plan to upgrade green mowers to the new rg3 precise path mowers next year.
All cart paths are new, made of concrete and 2.5 metre minimum width to handle the trucks and equipment needed to hold TV events.
The length from the black tees almost equals the Serapong course and the new vistas of the harbour, Central Business District, southern islands and South China Sea are spectacular. The direction of the old routing did not place you in areas where you could capitalize on the views and we also worked to open a view pockets that did not exist before.
This is the blueprint of the future for golf in Asia from a construction window and from a design strategy. The course is fun and fair from the white tees, more difficult from the Blue tees, and a true test of golf from the black. Anyone can make a tough course but to accommodate all areas is a great achievement.
Honestly, we expect the New Tanjong to give Serapong a run for its money. Next year, I would not be surprised for you to say it was now number 1 or just behind Serapong at number 2.
A very impressive entrance to the golf club is matched by the quality of the golf course on New Tanjong. The course is very playable with relatively wide fairways with lakes and bunkers providing the major hazards. We played nine games on a golf cruise around South East Asia and this was the best presented course. Monkeys stealing your balls is fun if you are a visitor.