Top 40 Golf Courses of South Korea 2018
After extending our South Korean listings to a Top 30 when we last re-ranked this country, we’re now expanding the rankings even further by producing a Top 40, so our coverage across this golfing nation has doubled in just a couple of years. In this edition of our Korean standings, five courses remain in the same position as last time, seven move up, eighteen drop down and ten make a first-time appearance.
At number 1, holding onto the top spot, we have South Cape Owners Club, a Kyle Phillips masterpiece that has been operating for around five years now. The course appeared at number 3 in our newly established Asian Top 100 and it also holds down a place in our World Top 100 at number 90 so there’s absolutely no doubt about the quality of this fabulous layout. Located on Namhae Island, just off the southeast coast of South Korea, the course is accessible to stay and play golfers, albeit those who are prepared to pay a premium for the privilege.
Two of our well-travelled correspondents, David Davis and Fergal O’Leary, have played here and both were rather taken with what they found. David speculated that the course might be regarded as “Kyle Phillips’ best gift to the golf world” while Fergal thought: “what Kyle Phillips created at South Cape makes a lot of old classics shiver in their boots.” These two experienced critics don’t award 6-ball reviews lightly but they had no hesitation in doing so after visiting a dramatic coastal layout that’s been given the sobriquet of “Pebble Beach on steroids” by some commentators.
South Cape remains at #1 then but for how much longer we wonder as there are a couple of contenders fast closing in on the top ranked position, with the gap at the very pinnacle narrowing now.
The first of these challengers is The Club at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island – a former number 1 that now retains the runner-up position – which has just boosted its tournament-hosting credentials with the inauguration of the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges professional event in October last year, the first PGA Tour championship ever held in South Korea.
The other main protagonist in the fight for the number 1 slot is the 27-hole facility at Whistling Rock Country Club, where the Temple and Cocoon nines leap an impressive four places to number 3. Designed by Ted Robinson Jnr almost a decade ago, the course has recently been renovated by Eric Iverson of Renaissance Golf Design, with his work primarily focused on softening the green contours, though he also redesigned the last two holes on the Temple loop to become a short par four and all-or-nothing par three. The overall playability of the course has been improved, as has the strategic value and variety of the original layout.
Two other courses make significant upward moves within the Top 10 positions of our Korean listings. The first of these rising stars is David Dale of Golfplan’s design at Pine Beach Golf Links (up three to number 7) on the coastline of Haenam county, where the architect took every opportunity to expose the course to the edge of the cliffs. The second upwardly mobile track is the Griffin & Wyvern 18-hole configuration at the ultra-private Wellington Country Club near Icheon (up seven to number 10), which attracts the great and the good of Korean society, with a sprinkling of wealthy celebrities thrown into the mix to no doubt enhance the clubhouse ambience.
The highest of our ten new entries is the course at Trinity Club, located fifty kilometres southeast of the capital, which enters at a commendable number 9. Designed by Tom Fazio II, the course was built for the daughter of the man who founded Samsung, and it’s operated as an ultra-exclusive golf facility. Some might question why any layout built for a woman should come with a design brief of “construct a world-class, difficult, masculine course” but that’s just what the architect was asked to produce. Perhaps the attraction of hosting a prestigious professional tournament was part of the owner’s thought process, who knows? The finished article is certainly tough enough to do just that.
The biggest chart climber, the Old course at La Vie est Belle Country Club in the hills of Chuncheon, is something of a dark horse, rocketing an amazing thirteen places up to number 11. Opened for play in 2015, this 36-hole golf facility has separate clubhouses, built in traditional Hanok style for the Old course and a modern design for the Dunes course. Owned by the Kolon Group and designed by local developer Mun-hwan Ahn, the club and its facilities are set out in the style of an old-fashioned Korean paradise, with the Old course looking back towards the heyday of the Cho-sun Dynasty.
A little further down the table, two courses from American architects make significant progress with five-place moves in the right direction: The first is Robert Trent Jones Jnr’s 18-hole layout comprising the South and East nines at Rainbow Hills Country Club in North Chungcheong Province (now #20), and the second is the Jim Fazio II-designed layout at South Springs Country Club to the south of Icheon City (now #21), where the Lake and Mountain nines form the first-rate 18-hole course at a facility originally named Phoenix Springs Country Club.
|1||South Cape Owners Club||No change|
|2||Nine Bridges||No change|
|3||Whistling Rock (Temple & Cocoon)||Up 4|
|4||Woo Jeong Hills||No change|
|5||Jade Palace (West & East)||No change|
|6||Jack Nicklaus||Down 3|
|7||Pine Beach (Pine & Beach)||Up 3|
|9||Trinity Club||New entry|
|10||Wellington (Griffin & Wyvern)||Up 7|
|11||La Vie est Belle (Old)||Up 13|
|12||Yeosu Gyungdo (Geumo & Dolsan)||Down 3|
|13||Haesley Nine Bridges||Down 5|
|14||Pinx (East & West)||Up 2|
|15||Blackstone Icheon (North & West)||Down 4|
|16||Blackstone Jeju (East & South)||Down 3|
|17||Sky 72 (Ocean)||Down 5|
|18||Skyhill Jeju (Ocean & Sky)||Down 4|
|19||The Star Hue||New entry|
|20||Rainbow Hills (South & East)||Up 5|
|21||South Springs (Lake & Mountain)||Up 5|
|22||Gapyeong Benest (Maple & Pine)||Down 1|
|23||Seowon Valley (East & West)||No change|
|25||Blue Mountain (Dream & Vision)||Down 10|
|26||Blue One Sangju (East & West)||Down 8|
|27||Golden Beach (Salmon & Seaview)||New entry|
|29||Montvert (Printemps & Ete)||Down 7|
|31||Phoenix - Pyeongchang||Down 2|
|33||Hill de Loci||New entry|
|34||Blue Heron||Down 6|
|35||Bear Creek (Creek)||Down 8|
|36||Pine Ridge (Pine & Ridge)||Down 6|
|37||Ildong Lakes||New entry|
|38||Saint Four (Cielo & Bosco)||New entry|
|39||Sono Felice||New entry|
|40||Skyhill Jeju (Hill & Forest)||New entry|
To view further details of our South Korea Top 40 rankings click the link.
Hwa Young Nam
Top 100 Golf Courses