Wedged between Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, the country of Myanmar – one of the least known countries in Southeast Asia – is unlike any of its neighbors. Those venturing into this enigmatic land will find a nation that has chosen its own path forward.
Plan your itinerary to include the must-see quartet of Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Yangon. These popular destinations also sport a leaderboard of memorable golf getaways. Some are as modern as today while others cling to their colonial past.
The Yangon Golf Club (www.yangongolfclub.com) (YGC) is the oldest of seven courses sprinkled around Yangon, a six million-strong metropolis still commonly called Rangoon.
Established in 1909 during British times, the YGC – at its green prime from October to January when temperatures are also somewhat moderate – has undergone a total transformation over the years. The course has been brought up to international standards with a renewal program that involved the replanting of greens with Japonica grass, constructing new water reservoirs, lengthening selected fairways to extend the course to 7260 yards, landscaping and supplemental tree planting and adding a modern clubhouse complex.
Take a taxi 19 km north of the city for a friendly game under mature mango trees. Watch out for the over-the-water tee off and a creek in the middle of the fairway on the par 5 609 yard, 12th hole, however.
The Yangon Golf Club is widely known as the “Premier Golf Club of Myanmar” whereas the Pun Hlaing Golf Club is often heralded as the “best golf course in the Union of Myanmar”. Gary Player can take full credit for this championship challenge set over 637 acres on a commanding peninsula between the Pun and Hlaing rivers.
Located just 15-minutes west of Yangon’s international airport, the par 72 7102 yard retreat is the sporting centrepiece for a master planned residential golf estate that opened in 1999. Over the intervening decade, the prestige of the palm-flocked course has skyrocketed with the successful staging of the Myanmar Masters and the Myanmar Open.
Time your meander through Myanmar to coincide with a Pro-Am tournament or pay around US$60 for a solo sortie around the testing holes of Pan Hlaing. The two most memorable and water-ridden holes on the course are the 11th and the 18th. The former tees off across water and finishes at an almost island green. The final hole finishes with a true island green.
Don’t spend all your time in Yangon as more enticing diversions await upcountry. Mandalay, 585 km north, can claim more than just an evocative name. The spiritual centre of Myanmar also boasts three golf courses.
The 18-hole course at the Shwe Man Taung Golf Club – also known as the Mandalay Hill Golf Course – has been brought up to standard in recent years. Fortunately, much tropical foliage has been left intact to shield players from the hot sun which only abates briefly for a few months. At least there are refreshing views of shimmering temples on Mandalay Hill to compensate for the heat.
Over at Mandalay’s Yetagun Taung Golf course, the sweeping Shan Mountain Range is a true scene-stealer. Also known as the Waterfall Golf Course, this new resort-like 7020-yard playground was built in a valley overlooking the forested range. Narrow fairways and small fast greens ensure that your scorecard will be filled with the occasional bogey or three.
Bagan is my favorite destination in Myanmar because the ruins of over 5000 pagodas grace the landscape of the peaceful old city. The 18-hole course at the Bagan Golf Club wanders around a few of these ancient pagodas.
Bagan is just over an hour’s flight from Yangon so a golfing day trip is not out of the question. Or linger a few days alternating between traipsing around the town’s only course and cruising the Irrawaddy River.
There are also splendid mountain-encircled water views at the famed Inle Lake, one of the country’s top scenic draws. It’s just over an hour’s flight from Yangon to the regional He Ho Airport. A one-hour drive away is the Aye Tharya Golf Club where panoramic mountain scenery is enhanced with cooler conditions.
Thaunggyi, the old British hill station nearby, is over 1200 meters in elevation. That’s high enough to create a pleasing climate for golfers teeing off on the 15-year-old, 7380-yard course. Players selecting an early morning round will likely have misty vistas of the Shan Mountain Range. In winter, however, you might want to wait until the sun warms the air as the night time temperature can drop to a chilly 4°C in otherwise very tropical Myanmar.
Thomas E. King is a professional golf and travel writer based in Sydney, Australia. He is the Executive Editor of Media East Pty Ltd, a 35-year established editorial agency supplying features on cultural destinations and golf/spa resorts in the Asia/Pacific region to publications around the world.