World Class – Anvaya Cove Golf and Sports Club Revisited

The term “world class” ought to be used with a bit more caution these days. Over-eager marketing and public relations people use it in a somewhat cavalier fashion these days to describe products that over promise and under deliver. This is clearly not the case when the conversation turns to Ayala Land Premier’s magnificent golf course at Anvaya Cove. This is a property that absolutely lives up to that lofty billing.

The 7030-yard course, designed by Golfplan partner Kevin Ramsey, opened for play on Dec. 7 and the universal reaction of the international media and guests present that day could be summed up in one word – wow!
Perched on the hills of Morong, Bataan just outside Subic Bay, the layout meanders in and around the hills about the West Philippine Sea, through verdant rain forests and the surf below. In a stunning move that seems to run counter to a property developer’s interest, Ayala Land Premier dedicated some of the best land on the property to the golf course making it the centrepiece of the 470-hectare development.

Ramsey’s firm Golf Plan is responsible for over 200 golf courses in 75 countries including The Club at Nine Bridges, in South Korea, one of only two modern Asian courses ranked on GOLF Magazine’s World Top 100. Ramsey believes that his latest creation belongs in this class. After having played Anvaya a couple of times, I don’t disagree.

Even more impressive is that the Ayala Group prioritized the course’s sustainability and harmony with the environment. This was achieved by minimizing earth movement, saving mature trees and landscaping with endemic flora while routing the tees and fairways to give the impression that the golf course has always been there. It always was but it took a great architect and a developer with a vision to uncover.

We had the opportunity to play our first round at Avaya with Ramsey and he impressed on us just how serious the Ayala Group was about the concept. Removal of any tree on the property required much deliberation before action was taken. Zoysia or Philippine Bermuda was chosen for the fairways because it is endemic and thrives naturally in this environment.

To further drive home the point, each hole on the golf course was named after a value that we would be well advised to carry with us both on and off the greens. This is a tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside and we’re glad to see Ayala Land Premier bring it back at Anvaya Cove.

The best news is that the golf experience was not compromised in the least. The greens are planted with mini verde; a micro-Bermuda hybrid that does well in the Philippine setting. They are fast and roll true and are a pleasure to play. The course has a bit of everything. It is beautiful and challenging all at once. This is a shotmaker’s golf course. You will be asked to employ every shot at your disposal and manage yourself around the extreme variety the course provides. It isn’t overly difficult or penal but it’s no pushover either. Dare I say it? It strikes the almost perfect balance for a golf course.

Ramsey told us that “Truly great golf courses can exist in a single environment, but I prefer those that play through a diversity of environments. The terrain here — the elevation change, the vegetation and Ayala Land Premier’s overall land-planning acumen — allowed us to create an uninterrupted string of really strong golf holes that play through five distinct environments, never repeat themselves, and never fail to elicit a strong emotional response.”

That response is a one of unanimous astonishment. Take holes 11-13 for example. Named Wisdom, Intensity and Reflection respectively, they are Anvaya’s own Amen Corner but run by the sea. This run of holes is sure to be among the most photographed anywhere in Asia. They are absolutely stunning and a delight to play and sum up the course’s character succinctly.

However do not let the beauty of the seaside holes detract from your experience on the inland holes. They are far from being let-downs. Some of them are the most difficult on the property and the most interesting to play. Five is an excellent example. Appropriately named Fortitude, five measures 438 from the tips. You have to thread your tee shot between the trees with a little draw to get into position to attack the multi-tiered green. Big hitters can carry the corner but attempt it at their peril. It’s a great golf hole.

Nine (Resilience) is a stunning par five and a perfect way to end the nine. The elevated tee offers a wonderful view of the clubhouse in the distance. The tee shot must be accurate as the fairway is surrounded by the rain forest. No course would be complete without one hole that will absolutely bamboozle the golfer. At Anvaya that would be number 15. A monstrous 613-yard, double dogleg par 5 that plays into the prevailing wind; this is a hole that will leave golfers muttering to themselves in disgust. The hole is named Strength and you’ll need plenty of it to just get to the green. Get it right and par is within your grasp. Get it wrong and a very big number awaits.
From the tips, this is a golf course that will challenge the professional but will not detract from the experience of that amateur playing from one of the forward tees the course provides. Ramsey was given the latitude to make the fairways wide and as forgiving as possible. Juxtaposed with the fact that precious few of the homes are visible from the fairway makes this almost anomalous in the context of real estate development. This is a real treat for the golfer.

We are enthralled with everything about Anvaya Cove. If there’s one golf course you need to play this year or any other, Anvaya is it. The sheer beauty of not just the golf course but the 5-star amenities as well, the respect given to the land and environment and the quality of the golf on tap make Anvaya Cove and Sports Club truly world class.

Breaking it down: The 11th hole at Anvaya Cove – Wisdom

The essence of Anvaya is really the short par 4. Contrary to popular perception, it takes much more thought to design a great short hole than a long one. A good short hole is a temptress; it tempts you with the reward of an eagle or at the very least, an easy birdie but will punish the errant shot with a double or worse.

A relative rarity in years past, today, no world-class layout is built without one, as they have proven both exciting and versatile. There’s nothing more thrilling than pulling driver and attempting to knock the ball onto the green of a par-4. In fact it’s a thrill just to watch someone in your foursome give it a rip. In the same vein a good short par 4 also provides the opportunity to play it in a more conventional fashion, leaving you with a manageable approach shot to the green and a chance make a birdie in that fashion.

Number 11 at Anvaya Cove is just such a hole. It plays east to west along a natural ridge, high above and just north of Anvaya Cove itself. The ridge falls off steeply on either side with the West Philippine Sea and the mountains of Bataan present you with a stunning, 270-degree backdrop. Don’t let that distract you as errant drives in either direction are lost.

Then 50 yards short of the green, there is a massive, multi-tiered bunker complex that guards the entire left side of the putting surface. The bunker was placed there to prevent errant shots from funnelling into the hazard. But get in there and your chances for a par diminish greatly.

The hole plays subtly downhill and the fairway’s contours are designed to guide a long accurate drive onto the green. At the same time those less endowed off the tee will find themselves with a very short approach to the 2-tiered green. The hole is aptly named “Wisdom” as knowledge of your skills as a golfer is key to a good score here. Play to your strengths and you will be rewarded. That is wisdom incarnate.

Image Credits: Mike Besa