Luisita Revisited – A year on under the Lorenzo Group has revitalized the course

It’s been a year since we first visited with Luisita Golf and Country Club after its purchase by Martin Lorenzo and company and in that short span of time, so much has changed and for the better.

When I started in this game, I already had knowledge of Hacienda Luisita. My grandfather was a true golf fan and would make trips down from Negros to play here. I also knew that the club was very exclusive. It was so exclusive that most local golfers only dreamed of walking its fairways.

The club has opened its doors to the public with stay-and-play promotions together with the Microtel Luisita and play-all-you-can packages which give the golfer unlimited access to the golf course for whatever term he chooses. This unprecedented access was the start of the new management’s efforts to restore Luisita to its former glory.

Lorenzo brought in Jeric Hechanova to assist the current management with marketing and business development. Hechanova has had a long successful career in the industry and knowing that maintenance and conditioning were going to be key to the Luisita’s success, engaged golf course superintendent Ray Patricio to maintain the course.

Patricio, who hails from Bacolod City, is an old hand that knows how to make the most of what is available to him and despite the wealth of resources now at his command, he chose a slower, low key approach. After he evaluated the club’s practices prior to his arrival, he made a few tweaks to their system and with the acquisition of a few key pieces of equipment, the golf course is looking better than ever and by my reckoning will continue to improve under Patricio’s watchful eye and steady hand.

A note about the greens at Luisita Golf and Country Club – these are the original tifdwarf greens planted back in 1968 and have never been resod or replaced. This is remarkable. It’s amazing that this old strain of tifdwarf is as hardy and as healthy as it is. I know of tifdwarf greens at other clubs where the grass mutated back to one of its progenitors so to have tifdwarf greens this old being so stable is nothing short of a miracle. They’re rolling much better too. They were rolling at 9 on the stimpmeter when we were there. Patricio says he’ll have no trouble getting them up to pro speed when the time comes around.

With the issues surrounding the golf course addressed, Hechanova set out to kick-start public awareness of the storied club. Most golfers today were born after Luisita’s glory days. They were weaned on healthy doses of the new courses; Sta. Elena, Southwoods, The Orchard and the rest and were blissfully unaware of the gem just waiting for them a couple of hours drive North of Metro Manila.

He arranged “open house” days for followers of the Business Mirror Golf group on Facebook and other associations. The club played host to both men and ladies professional tours and most recently, hosted the best at the 2015 Philippine Open, a late event of the Asian Tour.

The feedback from the best golfers in the country and Asia? Mad respect and awe. Awe in the natural beauty and the challenge presented by the design. They all loved it.

Esteemed golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., who accompanied his father on his maiden visit to Luisita back in the sixties, was in attendance at the recently concluded Philippine Open and offered several suggestions to management that he felt would help make the course better than it already was.

Over the years, management had planted a number of trees around the lakes for aesthetic purposes. Jones opined that the lakes were a key feature of the golf course and that the bodies of water should be visible from as many vantage points as possible.

The club noting that the course played much shorter than originally intended, also wanted to lengthen the course where they could to better defend par against the onslaught of better and more athletic golfers armed with the best technology available on the market.

The club embraced Jones Jr.’s suggestions and work on them is currently underway. The initial results of the renovation have been subtle. The club has already begun clearing the trees that obscure the lake. Even frequent visitors are hard pressed to notice the changes. This is due, in no small measure, to the abundance of trees on the property. But today standing on the veranda looking out at the 10th tee, you immediately notice that you can not only see the lake beyond, but the line of sight extends clear to the fairway on the opposite side of the lake.

The club has already started to lengthen the golf course. For instance, there is a new tee box on the 11th hole that will lengthen the hole significantly when it matures and is pressed into play. The Black tees on the 9th hole were rendered unplayable by the canopies of the trees that line the left side of the hole block the line to the fairway. Those will be cut back and the hole will play to its full 623-yards from the tips. That tee box is about 50-yards behind the one that is currently in play. When the club is done, this hole is going to be a monster.

What truly matters is the experience on the golf course and I will hasten to add that this is a golf course like no other in the country. There are many great holes here but 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.

Jones, Sr.’s design is timeless. The way the holes turn in both directions requiring the accomplished golfer to be able to draw and fade the hole depending on the situation. The way the greens are presented to you from the fairway. The way that water is in play on every one of the par threes. That mature trees line the fairway adds urgency to finding the fairway off the tee. The magnificent clubhouse takes you back to the time of the grand hacienda. The overall feel and history of the place is inexplicable and wonderful all at once. It is a marvelous golfing experience.

Luisita Golf and Country Club is a real treasure and one of the truly great golf courses in the Philippines. So pack the golf bags and round up the rest of the gang. It’s time to take a road trip.