I first set foot at Mt. Malarayat Golf & Country Club in 2005 and was just blown away by everything about the golf club. The setting, the golf, the facilities, food, service and people all blend together to give the golfer one of the most pleasurable golfing experiences in the country. I’ve been back many times since and I still get that giddy feeling I did five years ago.
The club is nestled in the buxom of the mountain range for which it is named. Situated some 1,200 feet above sea level the weather is appreciably cooler than lower locales and provides the ideal climate for golf. Architect Antonio Turalba, chair of the Active Group, knew he had a special piece of property and spared no expense to develop it. The course was laid out by Bob Moore of the JMP Design Group who designed an almost surreal 27-hole golf course to challenge and entertain those that come to play it.
The three nines are named after all named for peaks in the Malarayat range, Mt.Makulot, Mt.Lobo and Mt.Malipunyo. Interestingly, the first tees of each of the nines point you directly at the mountain for which the nine is named. Even more interesting is that this was achieved by luck and only noticed after the nines had been laid out.
The course is a beautifully landscaped and immaculately manicured garden. Laid out between remnants of the old growth coconut forest that once dominated the landscape, Malarayat offers the golfer complete escape from his milieu. It offers a serenity that is only manifest when you are truly at one with the game. It’s relatively short by modern championship standards; the Malipunyo is the longest of the nines measuring 3,533 yards from the tips. This means the course plays to less than 6,400 yards for the average hack and right around 6,900 yards for the player. When a course is vulnerable to the long ball, it looks to other means to defend itself. In Malarayat’s case, it’s deep rough and severely contoured greens.
The course is planted with Tifton 419 fairways and Tifdwarf greens, the de facto standard in this country. The fairways play true and roll fast in the summer and the rough is penal. General manager Mike Carr likes to keep the rough at 2” most days and will bring it up to 3” for bigger tournaments. This means that if your ball finds a spot other than the fairway, you’d best be advised to lower your expectations for the next shot. You’ll be hard pressed just to find your ball, much less pull off a shot. But not only is the rough penal, the greens can be absolute monsters.
These are not your traditional kidney shaped greens inclined just so to receive the incoming approach shot. They’re huge and appear to be three or four small greens melded together. These large multi-tiered affairs are real pieces of work; some of them look like they have an elephant buried underneath. Four-putting is a real hazard for those that miss the correct quadrant of green and when the greens speed up past 10 on the stimpmeter, talk sometimes turns to FIVE-putting! Mercifully, the greens are kept at 8 or 9, allowing a measure of playability for the regulars and their guests.
Malarayat is a classic risk-reward course where length and accuracy off the tee is rewarded by a wedge or short iron to the green. Each hole presents the golfer with several ways to play it. At least one par five on each nine is reachable in two. Mt.Lobo’s 7th hole is a drivable par four. There are a number of holes which feature split fairways and greens that are open at the front that allow a running approach. The variety will hold your attention throughout the round. Malarayat Golf & Country Club hosted the Philippine Open in 2005. The course confounded the pros that failed to show it respect. It’s a track that stands up to the best.
Two holes that stand out are par-5s; the number 7 on the Makulot and number 9 on the Lobo. The seventh on the Makulot was voted one of the top 100 holes in the world (outside the United States). The long hitter is challenged off the tee by bunkers at the crook of the dogleg; clearing them leaves a shot of 200-yards and in at the green. Defended by yet more bunkers and water short and right of the green, one needs to consider the risks before taking on the green in two. The ninth hole on the Lobo provides the signature look of the club. A long drive over the bunker that guards the dogleg sets you up to attack the green with a long iron or hybrid. The green sits pushed up guarded on all sides by huge boulders and bunkers perched just above the lakeshore. A unique experience on this hole is driving the golf cart over the top of the man-made falls to get to the green. It’s a glorious hole that provides a great opportunity to score.
Another memorable hole is the eighth hole on the Makulot; a gorgeous 185-yard par 3. The elevated tee shot takes you over the lake shared with the ninth hole to a green that sits facing you at an angle, framed by a lush stand of mango trees. The first hole on the Malipunyo is almost otherworldly in the early morning light, the humps and hollows of the fairway recalling a links course in Scotland. The Malipunyo’s ninth is a strong par-4; at 450-yards from the tips you’ll need two mighty blows to get home in two. The fairway winds around the lake on the right with the clubhouse in the background. The green sits adjacent to the ninth green of the Lobo and is heavily fortified. Par is a good very good score on this hole.
The majestic Malarayat range frames your shot best on the approach shot to the ninth green of the Makulot course. The ball seems to float towards the green with the mountains in the background. Malarayat is a beautiful golf course, one of the most picturesque in the country.
All this beauty isn’t just skin-deep. Mike Carr, the director of golf, brags that the course has never banned carts from the fairways, not even during the most severe storms. Any part of the course found wanting is immediately brought back up to par. We experienced this first hand during a tournament a couple of years ago. A storm descended on us and we played on. Not even when the greens had water running down them were we asked to keep the carts on the paths. They did not cut any corners building this course.
The food at the clubhouse would serve well in a fine hotel. Servings are generous and prices are what you’d expect. Cups of coffee are bottomless, befitting the province’s heritage with the bean. The club has a luxury 30-room hotel adjacent to the golf course and other lodging is available at the nearby townhouse complex. Some of the best views on the property are from its balcony. Another facility, The Inns at Malarayat provides lodging for larger groups and is an ideal location for seminars and private parties.
An exclusive community surrounds the course, one which is high on my list of places to retire. The hospitable nature of the people has much to do with that. Indeed, at Malarayat it is the Batangueño hospitality that you will remember most. The staff is helpful and friendly almost to a fault, making you sorry to leave. Everyone, from the general manager to the caddies, will look after you in the kindest, most solicitous manner. The quality of the people at Malarayat is a perfect match to the splendour of the golf course and serves to make it the perfect golf get-away.