Story & photo by Mike Besa
If you’ve been a golfer for any length of time, Luisita Golf and Country Club was almost akin to a unicorn—everyone knew and respected the golf course, but few had ever played it. The golf course was the private playground of the Cojuanco family and, unless you were with a member, the chances of you playing it were slim to none.
I first played it in 2006 and was instantly blown away. It was an absolute joy to walk the fairways designed by legendary architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., and play the golf course of his design. It gives you a sense of the greatness of the man, his knowledge or golf architecture and his savvy for the game of golf.
It was, therefore, a shame that we had such a great golf course in the Philippines and that so few ever got a chance to walk its fairways. That changed three years ago when Martin Lorenzo, in a landmark business deal, purchased Luisita from the Cojuanco family.
For those that are unfamiliar with Lorenzo, he is a quiet, almost introverted man that loves the game with a passion. His handicap is in the low single digits and two of his sons are on the verge of becoming professional golfers. When Lorenzo acquired Luisita, he made it his mission to bring the golf course back to its former glory.
To that end he enlisted the help of Jeric Hechanova, who later brought in course superintendent Ray Patricio to oversee the health and well-being of the golf course. Ray is a horticulturist and possesses a wealth of experience in the game. They consulted with the architect’s son, Robert Trent Jones Jr., who accompanied his father when they first came to Luisita in the 1960s.
Previous boards had planted trees along the sides of the many lakes on the golf course. This, unfortunately, obstructed the view of the water and by blocking the wind, changed the playability of Luisita. Jones Jr. told Hechanova and Patricio that a good part of Luisita’s charm was that you could stand on the veranda and see deep into the golf course; almost clear to the other end of the property.
So, they went to work, cutting down trees and revealing the lakes that define the golf course. The result is stunning. The Luisita of old was back.
Their work goes beyond aesthetics. The greens, which were mediocre at best when Lorenzo and his group took over, now regularly roll at 9 and roll true. We’ve had the pleasure of playing at Luisita quite regularly since they took over and we have never seen the greens this good. Hechanova intimated that he and Patricio like to keep the golf course in this condition because of its distance from the city. Pity the poor golfer that makes the drive here to find the greens heavily aerated and sanded.
Then there’s the golf course itself—what a golf course it is.
The course was thoughtfully laid out so that the wind hits each hole from a different angle. With water in play on 11 holes, this is something that the golfer needs to consider when preparing for his shot.
Many golf courses today favor a fade since the great majority of golfers slice the ball. At Luisita, you’ll need to move the ball both ways to play well and the holes turn in both directions. Luisita demands a complete game from each of us.
The element that golfers will have to deal with is water. There’s water almost everywhere; it’s in play on 11 of the 18 holes and you’ll have to deal with it on all the par threes. On two of the holes (14 and 17), there are two water hazards with which to contend. So unless you’re out to challenge yourself, most golfers would do well to play the correct set of tees. It will add enjoyment to your round and lessen the number of golf balls you donate to the hazards. The second hole helps drive that home. It’s a 192-yard par 3 (165-yards from the blue tees) with very little between you and the green but water. Unlike its feared sibling (the 17th), there’s nowhere to lay up. You’re going to have to strike the ball well to score here.
There are so many memorable holes here that it’s virtually impossible to pick a favorite. The par 3s are all gorgeous, the second perhaps the most so. The seventh hole is a layup and a wedge if done properly but when the water in the hazard is high, those in the know will skip golf balls across the lake and onto the green.
The ninth hole is a monster. 623-yards from the tips makes this a par 5 to be reckoned with. The severely elevated green makes the approach shot very difficult to judge. As this is the 1-handicap hole, bogey is a good score here.
It is the closing stretch that is the most memorable. 14 is a great hole. The tee shot must cross two bodies of water. The hole doglegs to the left and water remains in play with the approach, as well. The green is shallow and difficult to hold. It’s just a great golf hole. But as good as it is, 15 is up there with it. This sweeping dogleg to the left is a bit shorter but no less difficult. An array of bunkers guard the ideal landing area off the tee. A miss to the right will result in a long shot into a green that slopes away in the back.
Then there’s the 17th. 214-yards from the tips and just 20-yards shorter from the next set of tees, this is the most difficult of the par 3s. There is scant area on which to miss but shorter hitters will be gratified to know that they can lay up to an island where the forward tees are located. The hole is much more manageable from there.
There is so much to love about Luisita. The magnificent clubhouse takes you back to the time of the grand hacienda. It is a window in time to a genteel time in history and a taste of what golf and life were like back in the day. The golf course is in great shape today,
and Hechanova and Patricio are working to make it even better in the future.
It is, therefore, no surprise that Luisita Golf and Country Club is our traditional golf course of 2017. Congratulations to Martin Lorenzo and his crew not only for resurrecting one of the great golf courses in the Philippines but also for making it more accessible to us all.