It’s unusual for me to write about a golf course that I haven’t played but I’ve been victim to the unfortunate circumstance of having visited the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club on two occasions as a journalist covering a tournament there instead of as a competitor. I did manage to play the more intriguing back nine during the 2005 PAL Interclub and spent three days on the course as a rules official on the recently concluded ICTSI Negros Occidental Championship so I’m not totally unfamiliar with the golf course.
That disclaimer aside, my mother’s family has its roots in nearby Silay City and I later learned that my grandfather, Aguinaldo Severino Gamboa had quite a role in the development of golf in the province. My mother used to tell me stories of how my grandfather had three holes of golf built on their farm in Buenbanyo not far from the city proper; a par 3, a par 4 and a par 5 prior to the Second World War The house there became the hangout of his cousins and friends that cherished the game as much as he did. Later (I’m not sure of the dates involved), he built and 18-hole layout on his property outside of the City of Silay in a place called Guinhalaran, which ran parallel to the beach. I remember going to the golf club with him in the early 60’s playing on the beach catching crabs while he and his friends played their afternoon round of golf. The great Larry Montes was a frequent visitor and stayed at my grandfather’s Silay City residence when he would visit. Another golf great, Paterno Braza, got his start in the game in Guinhalaran as my grandfather’s caddy and later as the caretaker of the course.
Later still, Alfredo Montelibano, then the governor of Negros Occidental, convinced my grandfather to move the golf club to Bacolod City to the location that is now the Capitolville subdivision. The land was supposed to be granted to the club in perpetuity, but somewhere along the line, things changed and the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club moved to its current location in Bata Subdivision, just on the outskirts of Bacolod City. It is commonly known to all that come to play it as Marapara after the mountain that casts its shadow on the golf course from the East.
Luis “Golem” Silverio, another Negrense and the most celebrated amateur in all of Philippine golf, designed the golf course in 1962 and though on the short side, Marapara is not lacking when played from the tips by even the most skilful of golfers. Silverio places a number of water hazards strategically throughout the property. These streams and ponds figure significantly in the course’s resistance to scoring and add to the risk reward factor on many of the golf holes. The fairways are lined by mature pine and eucalyptus trees for the most part with Philippine mahogany and other varieties in less abundance. Find the wrong fairway with your tee shot and you’ll have your work cut out just getting the ball back in play. The greens are generous but difficult to read. The grain plays a huge role here and will cause many to under-read the speed and break of each putt. Whatever you see, you’d be wise to find a good caddy and heed his advice.
The course’s current routing is unusual to say the least; the front nine circles the perimeter while the back nine fills the center of the property. The outward nine while the easier of the two is by no means a pushover. Many of the holes are narrow and out-of-bounds guard the entire right side of the nine. But scoring opportunities abound here if care is taken and the ball is placed in the correct positions on the course. Of course, the golfer will have to deal with the ever-present wind, which holds a place of legend in Philippine golf lore. This puts a premium on accuracy off the tees to put one in striking distance of the generous but tricky greens.
The back nine will give many golfers heartaches. While OB is no longer a concern, this is where most of the water hazards lie in wait. The holes twist and turn one way then the next favoring neither draw or fade; Silverio was the consummate shotmaker and this course makes the same demands of us all. Twelve is a deceptively simple hole; short off the tee at just 335-yards from the tips, a small lake lurks almost unseen off the tee. The prudent will lay up short of the hazard and leave themselves a short iron to the green. Those with good length with their tee shots may opt to carry the hazard, but the perils outweigh the benefits of such a decision. The last three holes are the most difficult on the golf course and add drama to any major tournament played at Marapara. The par 3 sixteenth measures 179-yards from the tips to a green with a pronounced slope from back to front. A small stream lurks just behind the green and missing to the left of right is almost a sure bogey. Seventeen is the longest of the par 4’s; a 426-yard tester with a severe dogleg to the left. The average golfer has his work cut out for him to find the green in regulation. The last is a superb finishing hole. It’s one of the longest par 5’s in the country at 618-yards. You’ll have to lay up short of a water hazard off the tee then put everything you’ve got into the second shot to get as close to the green as you can. Whatever happens, you’ll still be left with a healthy distance to the green for approach shot.
A testament to Marapara’s resistance to scoring is the fact that the winner of the last year’s ICTSI Negros Occidental Classic, a leg of the Philippine Golf Tour, only managed a three-day total of 5-under par while at the ICTSI Orchard Championship held on the club’s Palmer Course – site of the Johnny Walker Invitational, the winner there finished with a three-day aggregate score of 12-under par. The difficulty of this golf course transcends its length. It is not one to be underestimated or trifled with and yet provides a most pleasurable round for the recreational golfer. This is a neat little golf course.
I might have not gotten a full round of golf in at the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club to this day, but this is something I fully intend to rectify in the future. I have more than just a passing connection to the club and golf course and I wish to renew these bonds post haste.