Forest Hills Golf and Country Club recently took the wraps off the newly completed Palmer Course. As most of you already know, the opening nine of the Palmer has been in operation for some time now. But the middle holes on the back took a while to complete. Much has been said about the delays but whatever caused it is now a moot point because Forest Hills has a gem of a golf course here.
The Arnold Palmer signature course sits on one of the hilliest parts of the vast Forest Hills property. It is not overly long at 6,808 yards from the tips and instead relies on clever design and diabolically fast greens to provide resistance to scoring. The fairways are narrow and precise placement of the golf ball off the tee is imperative for a good score. This is a golf course on which you’ll have to think your way around for the best results. The Palmer is a fitting counterpoint to the original course at Forest Hills; the Nicklaus which is long and offers generous landing areas better suited for those that can bomb it off the tee.
The Palmer Course isn’t one that lends itself to a good score on your first round. You have to get to know her first, learn her idiosyncrasies and the breaks of those devilish greens. Much like going out on a date with a beautiful woman, you need to woo her before she gives in to your whims. Make no mistake this is a very beautiful golf course. Her fairways seem to float just above the Antipolo hills and the elevation provides spectacular views of the Ortigas Center which is plainly visible on clear days.
The wind will play a huge role in your round particularly on the inward nine where the course is the most open. Consider it carefully not just when clubbing for your shot but more so when picking a target. On certain holes the wind can take an ill judged shot directly into one of the ever present ravines.
The first three holes are a gentle introduction to the rest of the course. Elevated tees, holes that play up and down the sides of the mountain and greens that have more slope in them than most in the country. The greens on the outward nine have matured very nicely and are hard and lightning quick. It is very easy to putt your ball straight off the green if you misjudge the pace. All three are excellent chances for birdie lulling you into a false sense of security as you tackle the rest of your round.
Four is the first real test. A long (194-yards from the tips and a slightly more reasonable 176-yards from the blues) uphill par 3, it plays much harder than the 11 handicap on the scorecard would have you believe. Palmer’s fondness for blind tee shots is plainly evident here. The only places to miss are short and right or long and left depending on where the pin is cut that day. Five is a short, potentially penal hole if misplayed. A mid iron off the tee will put you in the perfect spot to attack the small elevated severely sloped green. Longer hitters can probably reach the green off the tee but the penalty for missing is severe. The green has some severe breaks in it so keep the ball below the hole if you can.
If you’ve been chomping at the bit to hit your driver, six will give you some relief. It’s a decently long par 4 at 417 from the tips. Long, well placed tee shots will find the downslope and release towards the well bunkered green. Seven is a gorgeous little par 4 that like one plays up the hill from an elevated tee. The fairway is generous so take your driver out and let her rip. Eight is a short downhill par 3 that offers a final birdie chance before taking on the hardest hole on this side of the golf course.
Nine is the 1-handicap, measuring 602-yards from the gold tees. Three good shots are required to make par but the real key is placement of the second shot. The fairway is pinched on the right side by the hazard that guards the right side of the fairway. The ideal leave is on the left side of the fairway as close as you dare go before the hazard that guards the front of the green. Find the correct spot and the approach to the small potato chip-shaped green is straightforward. The green sits sideways to you and is guarded on heavily guarded on all sides.
Moving to the inward nine, one will have to adjust to the condition of the greens and the fairways of the middle holes. They are not quite where they need to be and play very differently from the outward nine. The first three holes are the easiest on the side so take advantage of the scoring opportunities they present.
Ten is a gorgeous golf hole and by my reckoning one of the most beautiful on the golf course. A sweeping dogleg to the left, the fairway winds around a good sized pond. The green plays up into the mountain and is severely sloped. It is a treacherous affair and is best missed long with the pin at the back and short with the pin in front. On eleven longer hitters will not require the driver as it brings every hazard on the hole into play. Twelve is a short par 3 that plays steeply downhill. It measures 160-yards from the tips but plays about 20-yards shorter because of the change in elevation. Finding the green well bunkered green is imperative.
Thirteen plays to an elevated fairway with a hazard that bisects the fairway just short of the green. Finding a level area to play from here is the key to a good approach to the green but it won’t be easy as the fairway slopes steeply up the hill. Fourteen is another long (610-yards from the tips) par 5. A long accurate drive is necessary if you want to clear the cross bunkers that sit in the middle of the fairway some 100-yards short of the green. Fifteen is a longish par 3 that presents few real threats to a well struck tee shot.
The closing holes will pose the biggest challenge to everyone that plays the Palmer Course. Sixteen and seventeen are the two most difficult holes on this side. Sixteen is a 564-yard par 5 with a pond and a large tree that guard the ideal landing area off the tee. A driver is unnecessary as the hazard takes it out of play. Sixteen is best played as a true three-shot par 5. The green sits some 60-feet above the fairway and the trick here is to miss it long and right if you miss at all. Sixteen might be the 2-handicap but for most seventeen will create the most trouble. This is a monster of a golf hole at 447 from the tips and is just four yards shorter from the blue tees. A good, long tee shot placed just to the right of the cart path and just short of the hazard that bisects the fairway will put you in the ideal spot to attack the very heavily defended green. Beware of the wind on this hole as a good gust will blow your ball into the hazard on the right. Aim further to the left than you might think if the wind is up.
Eighteen is a gem of a finishing hole. Playing from the elevated tee, the green sits to the right of the fairway, above a large pond. At just 376-yards a driver is unnecessary. The ideal tee shot will find the left side of the fairway and roll down towards the right leaving you in the ideal position to attack the severely sloped green. Target the right-center of the green no matter where the pin is set. This is the most forgiving approach and will make sure you find the green even if you misjudge the approach shot.
The Palmer Course is well thought out and is challenging and interesting to play. I’m not a big fan of blind tee shots but the ones on this course aren’t severe enough to detract from the overall experience. The greens (and some of the fairways) on the back nine still need growing time to fully mature and reach their true potential but other than those minor complaints I must say that I was very pleased by the overall layout. It is interesting to play and accessible to golfers of all skill levels. I suspect some will be put off by it at first but this is definitely a golf course that grows on you as you get to know it. The Palmer is the yin to the Nicklaus Course’s yang and a welcome addition to Philippine golf.