Is Sherwood Hills Golf Club the Best Golf Course in the Philippines?

It is the question that I am asked the most. “What is the best golf course in the country?”

It is also one for which I always have a ready diplomatic answer but make no mistake, Sherwood Hills Golf Club is very high on my list; easily in my top three.

Sherwood Hills is one of three Jack Nicklaus signature golf courses in the country and it is the Golden Bear’s favorite. He has said so himself on a number of occasions to different people.

That Jack did Sherwood Hills at all was happenstance. Nicklaus was in the country doing a site inspection of the construction of the two golf courses at Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club (both Nicklaus signatures) when Freddy Campos invited him out to Trece Martires, Cavite to check out another property they in the midst of developing.

The golf course was to be a 27-hole design with one nine by each of golf’s big three, Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. But after a tour of what was to become Sherwood Hills Golf Club on the back of a flatbed truck, the Bear made Campos an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Let me do the whole golf course,” Nicklaus said, “and I’ll cut my fee in half.” It was an offer too good to refuse and so it was that arguably the greatest golfer that’s ever lived got to do Sherwood Hills.

Sherwood Hills Golf Club is one of the great layouts of Philippine golf and Nicklaus knew it. He could see the course flow naturally from one hole to the next. It was right there in front of him. All he had to do was to shape the fairways and design the bunker and green complexes. Mother Nature had already done the rest.

The resulting golf course is sheer genius.

What makes the Sherwood experience so pleasurable is the fact that the course doesn’t demand you play it one particular way; there are usually several solutions to the problems it poses. It’s set up to allow the bump and run and putting from off the green. High ball hitters will feel at home here too; the greens are receptive as long as the wind isn’t blowing too hard. The aesthetics are simple but stunning.

The golf course at Sherwood Hills strikes the most delicate balance for a golf course. That is the balance of keeping the game interesting for golfers of all ability levels. Beyond the layout of the golf holes, the way that Nickluas set the holes up for play is the real genius here.

Nothing is artificial or contrived. It feels like all they did to build the golf course was cut the grass. It was as if the golf course was just lying there beneath the surface, waiting for someone to come along and unearth it.

There isn’t a weak hole in the bunch. I play a lot of golf courses that are compromised because of a golf hole built to fit into a particular part of the property to fill out the eighteen. There is no such hole at Sherwood Hills. Each is an adventure in its own right, presenting its own unique challenge to the golfer. The variety on offer is tremendous.

It’s not just about driving and ball-striking; the greens at Sherwood Hills are among the best in the country. They’re always firm and fast and roll as true as you like. They’re not the easiest things to read and that’s what keeps things interesting. The greens are a major reason that Sherwood Hills always figures prominently in any discussion about Philippine golf courses.

Do not expect to be coddled on this golf course. The opening corner is among the most difficult in Philippine golf. Get through here unscathed and you’ve done very well. Stroke average for the corner is just under double-bogey.

Nicklaus was nothing if not a superb ball striker. This is evident at Sherwood hills. Of the par fours, just two are under 400-yards. From the blue tees, that number grows to just four. Factor in the stiff Cavite breeze and you could be in for a long day if you don’t play the appropriate set of tees. Interestingly, two of the hardest holes on the golf course are the finishing holes on either nine. Make par at either and you’ve picked up at least a stroke on your friends.

Nine is just a beast. It’s a full 462-yards from the tips (444-yards from the blue tees) with water in play on both off the tee and into the green. The hole plays into the prevailing green and slightly uphill; both factors complicate club selection coming into the green. Best play for bogie here; the hole’s stroke average is 5.9.

At 462-yards (428 from the blues), eighteen is not much shorter. It does give you a bit more latitude with the tee shot but the lake fronting the green is definitely in play with the pin in the right or middle sections of the green.

The par fives soften the blow somewhat by offering legitimate birdie opportunities. Eight and fifteen offer the best opportunities for birdie. At 525-yards, eight is the shortest of the par fives and offers the best chance to score. Fifteen is just a hair longer but there’s more pressure on the approach shot here.

The par threes are a fair test and a good mix. The long 221-yard second hole will challenge the shorter hitter but the others all have generous greens and are of manageable length. Well struck tee shots result in good scoring chances.

Sixteen is the signature hole; a picturesque 192-yard par-3 that plays around ten yards uphill. The tee shot plays over a ravine and must negotiate two tiers of bunkers lying short and left. Stands of wild bamboo frame all this creating quite a picture.

Choosing favorite holes here is, well, difficult. They’re all good. The short holes, seven and ten, are among my favorites. They’re superb risk-reward holes that are dangerous if taken lightly. The 388-yard seventh doglegs to the left around a hazard. The fat part of the landing area is guarded by a huge bunker. The more endowed off the tee can cut the corner of just blow it over the bunker. Fail at either and bogey will be a good score.

The 366-yard tenth has water in play off the tee and into the green. You can gamble and attempt to drive the green by carrying the bunker complex on the right. Fairways and greens makes much more sense on this hole.

Seventeen is another really strong hole. The 447-yard par four sweeps left then right again into the green. The hole can be shortened considerably by driving the fairway bunker guarding the meat of the dogleg. A great golf hole but then the same could be said about all of them.

Currently there are a few issues with the course’s condition. The bunkers are being rehabilitated but that will take time. A few are back to where they need to be but the others are hard with little sand in them. The greens while still quick and very entertaining have become patchy and a bit bumpy in places. At this time the thirteenth green is being redone and work continues on the others. But the takeaway here is that the golf course is not being neglected and should continue to improve over time.

What makes the Sherwood experience so pleasurable is the fact that the course doesn’t demand you play it one particular way; there are usually several solutions to the problems it poses. It’s set up to allow the bump and run and putting from off the green. High ball hitters will feel at home here too; the greens are receptive as long as the wind isn’t blowing too hard. The aesthetics are simple but stunning.

So is Sherwood Hills the best golf course in the country? At this point, probably not. The courses current condition is poor enough to dampen the golf experience and that’s a shame since everything else about it is so good. But then if the club remains diligent about the care and feeding of the golf course, then this situation will change quickly for the better.

In spite of its current condition, Sherwood Hills remains a golf course worthy of the signature of the greatest golfer of all time.