Have you ever noticed how you have an affection for certain things that is difficult to explain? Deep-fried pickles. Bacon dipped in dark chocolate. Dark chocolate with chili. That sums up how I feel about the Calatagan Golf and Country Club.
Driving into Calatagan for the 15th Kalachuchi Cup, I tried to put my finger on just what it is that has so completely seduced me. Beyond my emotional attachment to the area where I spent many a summer, it is something else that draws me back.
It’s certainly not the golf course’s condition. The driveway into the Zobel estate from the National Highway is barely paved and will test your car’s suspension. The course remains in generally good condition. The playing areas are good enough but the rough areas, particularly the ones lined with the densest trees, are a crapshoot. Losing your ball in an area through the green is a real possibility.
The rest of the property has seen better days and remains operable solely to service out-of-town members and guests but there are no frills. So just what it is that keeps me coming back?
It’s the golf. And, why not? The Robert Trent Jones Jr. design is one of his best works in the country. If you told me that I could only play one golf course for the rest of my life, Calatagan wouldn’t be a bad choice. The course demands your ability to play shots and navigate the 18 magnificently sculpted holes, giving the course its due, to record a good score.
Set well within the sprawling Zobel estate of Hacienda Biga-a, Calatagan Golf Club is a good five-minute drive from the main road on a part of the property closer to Balayan Bay. The road is lined with kalachuchi (plumeria) trees that erupt into bloom in late April through May, calling to mind the true meaning of the phrase, Flores de Mayo. It has also become my favorite time to golf Calatagan.
The course is in its best shape in May, owing to the running of the Kalachuchi Cup—the club’s premiere tournament. The week before and after the tournament, the course is superb. The greens are shaved down and rolled, making them roll fast and true. The fairways are trimmed and the rough well in control. The kalachuchi, bougainvilleas and African tulips are in full bloom and add color to that already very lush foliage. It is then that I choose to make my pilgrimage here.
But back to the golf. I play a lot of golf courses—the ones that demand the most interesting shots are the ones that keep your attention. This is where Calatagan shines. Calatagan is a shotmaker’s course; a balanced mix that will entertain, challenge and, yes, punish you if you stray from its tree-lined fairways. The root buttresses of the some of the larger varieties result in very penal lies; consider your options carefully when you find yourself among them. You can make birdies in bunches. You could lose your ball on every hole. What a playground!
I’ve long been a fan of a good short par-4; it takes guile and subtlety to build a really good one. Calatagan is blessed with several. The trees, elevation changes and firm, fast fairways, cause these holes to play much harder than the length of the hole lets on. It’s very possible to hit the fairway only to have your ball roll right through it into the tree-lined border. Many of the shorter holes dogleg one way or the other and tempt you into taking a direct line to the green. Good shots are rewarded, bad ones severely punished.
Just the way it should be. The greens are small but will receive a well-struck ball. They’ve got slope in them and are slightly grainy, so an experienced caddie’s input is invaluable.
I love every single hole and the challenges they present. It’s hard to pick out a favorite but the closing stretches on both sides are simply awesome. Both finishing holes are tremendous, but really, there isn’t a bad one in the bunch.
I come back to continually measure myself against the course. It is the ultimate test of the more accomplished golfer. Unlike some other courses, Calatagan does not favor one shot shape over the other; you will find the need to both draw and fade the ball for optimum position on the winding fairways. Moving to Tagaytay was the smartest thing I’ve done in a while. I’m now an hour away from my spiritual golf home.
It was a pleasure playing in the 15th running of the Kalachuchi Cup. The course bears the scars of recent typhoons but it bears them well. The golf course retains its character and in instances the changes were changes for the better. The playing surfaces remain in great shape and reaction of ball and turf remains predictable even in this, the driest of weather.
Sixty teams came out to measure themselves against the golf course in a best-ball format using a modified version of the Stableford scoring system. Conditions were tough. The course was playing hard and fast, and the club had double cut the greens.
The teams of Hubert Lim and Joel Ong, and Enrique Moras and Henry Hagedorn proved more than up to the task, taking the gross and net championships, respectively. It’s certainly been gratifying to see the Kalachuchi Cup move forward and prosper. This could not have been possible without the continuing support of AirAsia Zest and the rest of the tournament sponsors.
Since I’ve been coming to play golf here I’ve grown ever more attached to Calatagan. I’ve fostered strong friendships with some of the locals and have been spending increasingly more time here in beautiful venues with marvelous food. What is fascinating is how Calatagan has somehow managed to keep its character and rural charm over the years. Its constancy has been a balm for my golf soul and made Calatagan Golf Club one of my favorite golf courses in the country. Add all this to a long-standing history of great memories in the area and there are no excuses for not coming down more frequently.
If you have not yet played Calatagan Golf Club, then you’re missing out. Big time. Because of the golf, because of its beauty and ambiance, because…Calatagan.