IN the Philippines the growth of the game has not kept up with that of our Southeast Asian neighbors. Thailand boasts over 400 golf courses and is building even more. Current estimates put the number of courses in the Philippines at just over a quarter of that of Thailand. So when a new golf course opens, it’s cause for celebration. When it’s an upscale public course in an almost ideal location, we should be shouting its virtues from the treetops!
Ayala South Links is in the rolling Ayala Southvale subdivision, right on Daang Hari behind Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila. It is an ideal location, smack dab at the gateway to the Cavite golf clubs. It is an inland links design and succeeds in bringing the spirit of the links game to the Philippines. It’s a great design that will appeal to all golfers.
The fact that it is a public golf course built to modern standards by the most prestigious real-property developer in the country means that South Links (and Anvaya Cove) represents the future of golf-course design and construction today. Golf in the green era means so much more than just the color of the fairways.
Today’s golf course needs to be sustainable. It needs to keep costs under control to stand a good chance of turning a profit and it needs to have a minimal impact on the environment. Then it has to entertain and challenge the golfer without punishing them unduly. It is no mean feat that South Links has managed to get a firm grip on the complexity of the task at hand.
For starters, consider that the standard golf course sits 27 to 35 hectares on average. South Links occupies just 19 hectares. The golf course is planted with zoysia—a native Bermuda grass on the fairways and a micro Bermuda, mini verde, on the greens. The bunkers have been designed like funnels with wide openings but narrow centers.
The smaller footprint and native turf grassed fairways mean the course will require precious little inputs to maintain playing quality. The bunker design means using less of that expensive bunker sand, adding to the savings from using local turf grass. Using a micro Bermuda like mini verde on the greens completes the playing experience, which rightly or wrongly often hinges on the condition of the greens.
South Links excels from a design standpoint. Ayala Corp. was wise to retain Kevin Ramsey and his company, Golf Plan, and further apply the lessons they learned from building Anvaya Cove at South Links. It is a heck of a track.
The key to unlocking the puzzle that is South Links is the tee shot. Standing on the tee, it is difficult to zero in on a target. Landing areas are hidden and landing areas slope from one side to the other, placing a premium on knowledge of the golf course. Hitting fairways is the key to a good score here. Not the least because the scrub area that lines the golf course is marked as patches of environmentally sensitive areas, which forbid the golfer and his caddie from entering them to locate wayward golf balls. So if you hit one into the deep rough, you’ve pretty much lost the ball and will have to take a penalty drop. But the more you play the golf course and grow to understand it, the fewer golf balls you will lose. Consider the lost balls tuition while you learn the course.
When you find the fairway, the holes open up in front of you. Longer hitters will find themselves with a lot of short irons and wedges to the greens here, but you will have to factor the wind into your preshot calculations. It will play a significant role in the trajectory of your golf ball.
The greens are still young and growing in. This means that they typically do not receive an approach shot into the green but they will be fine after they’ve had a chance to grow in and develop a bit of thatch in them. They do have a fair share of undulation in them and, with the bunkering around them, present very small targets from the fairway in some areas, placing a premium on iron play.
A round at South Links starts with a par 5; a great starting hole in my book; one that forgives you one mediocre shot and still allows you to make par. Those more endowed off the tee might consider going for the green in two but fail and the penalty could be severe. It is just as easy to pick up a birdie with an accurate wedge and putter and that’s the real beauty of South Links; it doesn’t force you to play it any one way. You can play most holes here a couple of different ways and walk off with a good score. This is the mark of a great golf course.
Things start getting interesting when you hit the midpoint of the front nine. The stretch of holes from 5 to 9 are the prettiest on the golf course and some of the hardest. Five is a medium-length par 4 at 399 yards from the tips. You really don’t need a driver on this tee; a driving iron or 3-wood is perfectly sufficient, as the fairway narrows where most will land their drivers. The approach shot to the green requires pinpoint accuracy as water guards the right side of the green.
Six is a delightful short par 4. A good tee shot will leave you a flip wedge to one of the most complicated greens on the property but finding the fairway off the tee is more challenging than it might seem. The wind coming off the left brings the hazard on the right into play and the area where most will land their drivers is the narrowest part of the hole.
Another beautiful short par 4 is No. 8. This is a forced dogleg to the right; you need to hit your tee shot past the scub in the hazard on the right to gain sight of the green. Again, the prevailing wind coming from the left plays havoc with the tee ball, so precision here is key.
Contrast that with the ninth. This is the resident monster; 465 yards from the tips and the 1-handicap hole. You’ll need a killer drive and will still be left with a hybrid or fairway wood to a very small green surrounded by bunkers. From the fairway, it looks like the pin is coming out of one of the bunkers.
If the course has a weakness, I’d have to say it is the par 3s. They aren’t very long at all; two require mid-long irons and the other two are short iron/wedge shots. If this is the one compromise that has to be made for a golf course of this quality, then just shut up and take my money.
Ayala Corp. has built us a gem of a golf course that has been designed to be green, sustainable and will challenge golfers of all ability levels. It is accessible to all without an extravagant membership fee. Just line up and tee off. I hope this becomes the model of golf-course design and development in the country. Well done. Very well done.