Today when one thinks of championship calibre golf courses, one thinks of Wack Wack’s East Course, Sta. Elena Golf and Country Club’s Makiling Course, Canlubang Golf and Country Club’s North Course, the Palmer Course at The Orchard Golf and Country Club, the Langer Course at the Riviera Golf and Country Club and The Masters at Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club.
Valley Golf Club is often forgotten in this esteemed company but has every right to be mentioned in the same breath as these esteemed golf courses but somehow it manages to miss out. After playing it over the Christmas holidays and again during the early part of January, I can definitively say that it has every right to be on this list.
The South Course at Valley Golf and Country Club was designed by an Australian course designer named Jas H. Scott. The course straddles the foothills of Antipolo in the municipality of Cainta and occupies some 90 acres of rolling terrain. The club was the established by Don Celso Tuason and his associates Ernest Kahn, Henry J. Belden, Aurelio Montinola, Sr, J. Antonio Araneta, Francisco Ortigas, Jr. and Jaime Velasquez and was the first golf club built East of Manila. The South Course measures 7,097 yards from the tips and is a match for the best golfers in the world. The course was the site of the Philippine Open in 1975, 1983 and 1991 and hosted the XVI South East Asian Games that same year.
The fairways are being converted over to paspalum and the greens remain zoysia or Philippine Bermuda. The greens are large and often difficult to read. Failure to find the correct quadrant with the approach shot will often lead to a 3-putt or worse. The grain is significant and must be taken into account for speed and break. The secondary rough is carabao grass which combined with the narrow tree lined fairways can make for a very, very tough round of golf if you can’t find the fairway. This makes the course record of 65 set by Jeff Lewis, an American touring professional in the Philippine Open of 1983 one of the best rounds of golf ever played on these fairways. The record stands to this day.
To score on the South Course you have to hit the ball long and straight and you must have the ability to move to golf ball to one side and the other as the situation demands. The fairways are extremely narrow in places and the mature trees that line the fairway often mean playing sideways to get a shot of the green after an errant drive. Sometimes hitting the fairway isn’t a guarantee that you can play at the green. Overhanging limbs will often stymie the golfer that finds the wrong side of the fairway.
The opening corner is a good (sometimes painful) introduction to the golf course. The first doglegs ever so slightly to the right. From the elevated tee, one must find the left side of a fairway just 15-yards wide to get a shot into the large, slightly elevated green. Find the right side of the fairway and the trees obscure your line into the green; driving the ball into the first cut of rough on the left yields the same result. Two is the handicap one; 453 yards to a very large undulating green. It’s absolutely essential to find the fairway with the tee shot to have any chance at a par on this hole. Three is what the members call the “cardiac” hole; the green doglegs to the right and so severely upwards that the infirm could suffer a heart attack on their way to the green. Good thing carts are readily available.
The par threes are formidable. The shortest is the 12th which measures 197-yards. 4 measures 202-yards from the tips but plays more like 185 because of the elevation change down to the green. 8 is the longest at 220 but 18 at 211-yards presents the most problems since the green is at least 40 feet above the tee box. The par fives present the best scoring chances but the tee shot must be precisely placed to get a good angle for the shot into the green. But as tough as with any true championship course, it is the par fours that will provide the ultimate test.
Beyond the opening corner, the ninth is the other one to look out for on the front side. It might be short on the card, but the 3-tiered green will make a mockery of any ball left above the pin. But it’s on the back nine that things really get interesting. After the two opening holes, numbers 13 through 16 are the toughest on the golf course. 13 is a 433-yard, dogleg to the left with out of bounds guarding the left side of the fairway. The ideal tee shot skirts the trees on the left side. The elevated green sits some thirty feet above the fairway making the approach shot longer than you step off.
Fourteen is somewhat shorter at 426-yards and plays downhill off the tee. The target landing area is very narrow so finding the fairway is imperative here. The green is large and plays quite slowly from front to back. Fifteen is a 401-yard dogleg to the right and plays back up the hill. Again the green is roughly twenty-five feet above the fairway so you’ll need to allow for that with your approach shot. There’s also a significant false front that will funnel approach shots left short off the green.
Sixteen is the toughest par four on the inward nine and has the greatest potential for disaster. The 420-yard par four doglegs sharply to the right with the largest water hazard on the golf course in play off the tee and again for the approach to the green. The ideal spot for the tee shot is as close to the water hazard as you can manage and there lies the problem. The green is reasonably flat but is problematic to read if you find the wrong side of the pin.
The par five seventeenth will give you a chance at redemption before tackling the long, uphill par three eighteenth. There aren’t many championship courses that end with a three par, but the one on the South Course is appropriate. Well placed bunkers rule out the lucky line drive that could find the large undulating green. It might be a par three but make no mistake; this is one tough finishing hole.
The interesting thing about Valley Golf and Country Club’s South Course is that even if it is a stern test of golf, it remains very playable. Unless you’re hitting it wildly sideways, you’re not going to lose too many golf balls and if you play the correct set of tees for your ability and come armed with the right attitude, you can have a lot of fun on this golf course. I must confess that I’m one of those that have overlooked the South Course in the past when looking for a course that poses a good test for the better golfer but I assure you that is no longer the case. The South Course deserves respect and it has certainly earned mine.