Located just off the southeast coast of South Korea, Namhae Island is the setting for the spectacular new South Cape Owners Club, where businessman and entrepreneur Jae Bong Chung first welcomed members to his luxury resort development in the autumn of 2013. The course is a Kyle Phillips design, set out on a dramatic cliff top property, with ocean views available from all eighteen golf holes.
Tees and fairways have been seeded with bluegrass, the rough contains a mix of fine fescues and putting surfaces have all been carpeted in bentgrass. Granite outcrops fringe many of the fairways. The most memorable stretch of holes on the card begins with the downhill par five 11th and carries on for half a dozen holes, highlighted by a stunning pair of waterside par threes at the 135-metre 14th and the 204-metre 16th holes.
“When you come to South Cape, you know you have arrived at a special place,” the owner, Mr. Chung, said at the official course opening. “It is a pure pleasure for the senses, with the sights, the smells and sounds of the sea all around you. There is not a golf experience anywhere that will surpass the quality of South Cape.”
South Cape is one of our Top 100 Golf Resorts of the World.
South Cape is a scenic seaside course situated along a dramatic cliff. Although the total length of this course is quite short, the combination of the difference in topography and numerous obstacles such as the steep cliffs makes this course quite a challenge for any player.
A special mention should be given to the two par threes on the 14th and 16th holes that are signature holes of the course. In addition, the two par fives on the 5th and 18th holes as these holes strategically adopted a risk/reward approach. The cobalt blue sea, especially on a sunny day, are so beautiful that players can feel as if they’re playing in utopia.
The par 3 136-yard 14th is a short, downhill, great hole (see the picture). The green is deep, and is surrounded by cliffs and the sea. Another par 3 204-yard 16th is superb and players will enjoy the view of a natural island green that is surrounded by cliffs. The green slopes to left and protected by four bunkers.
The par 5 533-yard 5th is downhill with a double dogleg that first bends to the right before turning left (see the picture). On the second shot, players are forced to choose whether to hit directly the green or layup safely. Hitting the green is quite a challenge as players must negotiate with a cliff and the sea in front of the green. When players decide to lay up, the third shot is uphill. The green, sloping from back to front, is surrounded by four bunkers, with big rocks scattered on both the left and right.
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A couple weeks ago during a whirlwind golf tour of the top courses in Asia not far from Sacheon, South Korea I had the wonderful experience of playing South Cape Owners Club, which would turn out to be the most pleasant surprise of my entire journey. A rather wealthy Korean fashion magnet and golf lover, Mr. J.B. Chung invested hundreds of millions of his own money, brought in a top American golf course architect in Kyle Phillips and bought a chunk of land that appropriately visualized his dream to one up Pebble Beach with a spectacular golf resort and spa.
The best part about the entire set up is that in a country full of private courses closed to the public South Cape breaks the mold, it’s completely public and readily accessible by anyone that stays at the resort. Rounds run around 350-400 US (approximately). I was even told that for people that don’t want to stay in the incredibly fancy resort they had another small basic hotel where the staff also resides that people that were purely interested in golf could stay in. I doubt, however, this would change the price of a round of golf.
From the moment you arrive at South Cape you realize no expense was spared in this highly artistic and modern facility. The clubhouse clearly doubles as a space ship for the owner to escape in case of alien invasion. The accommodations are ultra high-end art deco all with view of the sea. The spa, pool area, wine bar, music library and restaurant are at least as good as any 6 star resort all with amazing views. On top of that everything, down to the smallest details have been carefully chosen by Mr. & Mrs. Chung. Please don’t forget they are artist types having built up an empire in fashion. Ultra modern with an aim towards peaceful tranquillity and relaxation of the senses is the theme and were they ever successful in achieving this!
South Cape is one of those rare properties and courses where water is in view from every single hole. The property is on the end of a large peninsula and the golf course wraps around the cliffs on this peninsula granting amazing views from every single hole. How often do you play a course that is constantly full of “wow” moments? That’s South Cape! Some have called it Pebble Beach on steroids, I think I would agree with that.
I’ll be curious if in the long run it’s recognized as Kyle Phillips best gift to the golf world. Given the relative quality of a course like Kingsbarns that would be quite a feat.
The course has no weak holes and as mentioned several spectacular, “wow” holes. 3 of the 4 par 3’s have cliffs and water involved. Two consisting of some of the most amazing cliff-top-to-cliff-top tee shots you will ever see. Imagine the 16th at Cypress Point only elevated another 80-100 feet. These two holes, #6 and #15 measure 212 meters and 208 meters respectively from the back tees but can be played up to as little as 120 meters from the front tees. Regardless of the tee used these holes offer thrilling all or nothing heroic shots. The short drop shot par 3, 14th hole plays to a smallish green protect by bunkers and 100ft cliff-top drop offs on 3 sides, accuracy being highly rewarded.
Several of the holes bring cliff drop offs into play on one side or the other and many play to a diagonal fairway that begs the decision to cut off as much as you dare. For the strong player South Cape can be full of heroic shots that challenge the senses and your judgment. For the weaker player there is almost always a safe route playing to a generous fairway.
The greens are very interesting and as diverse as the routing full of contours and challenging pin positions. Bunkering is very playable and aesthetically interesting yet challenging.
I’d highly recommend a visit to South Cape Owner’s Club if you are ever in South Korea and looking to play golf. In fact, it would be a great place to take a spa and golf vacation.
If there was one point I could be critical about and I’m being really critical here, it would be the maintenance of their fairway and green surround grass length. To be more specific here, South Cape enjoys fine grasses and fast and firm conditions allowing them to make excellent use of the ground game, however, they are keeping the grass both on the fairways and the aprons too long in order to utilize these tactics comfortably. The good news is that this is an easy fix, really easy and that would do a lot to further improve playability and options available for the ground game.
Here’s to hoping and praying they can strive for this one small improvement.
Based on Fergal’s review - and he knows his onions - this course should be higher in the global rankings. What’s holding it back?