Despite being adjacent to the very busy Changi Airport, the Garden Course at Tanah Merah Country Club has the air of a large tropical garden with its palms, bougainvilleas and tropical hardwoods. The conditioning of the course is the best in Singapore and deserves special mention. Artificial water plays a role here in the strategy of the course, albeit a little more restrained than at nearby Laguna National G.C. The Garden course is the product of a Thomson, Wolveridge, Fream initial design completed in 1984 and a Max Wexler redesign 10 years later. The Wexler revamp added the sloping and improved drainage and irrigation.
A good round of golf here is predicated on the ability to avoid the trees from the tees. At times this requires the golfer to shape his shots. Forbearance is also required - the driver is not always the club of choice on the par fours. The tone is set early on in the round. At 317 metres from the blue tees, the dogleg 1st is either a straight hit with an iron or a left to right shot with a wood. The 2nd hole sets the opposite question, the third calls for another fade. The second of the par fives on the front nine is a genuine three shotter. Here the bunkers and water beyond them are sufficiently intrusive to persuade most to play short and right, leaving a wedge or 9 iron to the green.
The back nine begins with the same motif as the 1st first, a dogleg that sets up for a faded tee shot. The par three 11th is played over a lotus pond exploding with vibrant plant life. The 13th is one of those wonderfully shaped par fives that lead the eye in with their natural shape. What is called for is a drive with a touch of left-right and a second with some right left and then a short iron. At 547 metres from the backs even the longer driving pros are probably working the third with an iron rather than their flat-stick. After the par three 14th the par four 15th seems simple enough - a flat 4 marked at 358 metres from the blue tees. The fairway bunker looks innocuous enough but is situated with skill. The 16th is a wonderful hole. Despite being only 316 metres long the landing area is less than 20 metres across and the second is to a shallow green well protected by bunkers. Four is a good score here.
The Garden course finishes with another dogleg where all the individual elements of the previous 17 holes are brought together in a coda. The best tee shot here is something up the right side with a little draw. If fortunate the golfer will skirt the bunkers on the right and catch some down-slope on the fairway which will project the ball into in a nice position in relation to the angled green. Approach shots here are going to vary tremendously in length and difficulty on account of both the shaping and slopes of the fairway. This is an ideal set up for the finishing hole.
The above passage is an extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
A great deal has happened at Tanah Merah Country Club since James published the above article. The Garden course is not quite what it once was, despite the fact that Phil Jacobs redesigned and extended the course in 2006 to 7,350 yards.
Phil Jacobs was called back in by the club to reconfigure the Garden course in 2015 due to 10 hectares of land having been requisitioned by the government for the expansion of Changi Airport. The course is still an enjoyable layout, but it’s now a par 70 and no longer fulfils the club’s championship aspirations, which have now turned to a Tampines reconstruction under Phil Jacobs’ guidance.