Note: I was informed by a contact in RSGC that the 1st Nine Old Course and the 2nd Nine New Course constitutes what is known as the ‘East Course’, while the 2nd Nine Old and 1st Nine New is the ‘West Course’, so for the ease of rememberance, this article will be on the 1O/2N, East Course of RSGC.
When Gilagolf started 4 years back, we started with a simple mission: To give readers honest reviews on the golf courses we play on, scrubbing away the prestige, the pre-conceived ideas of the course, the traditions, the marketing drivel and getting down to the facts: how hackers in their teens to 20s handicap play the course.
Through this journey, we’ve faced many disagreements from loyal members from courses such as KRTU, Bukit Unggul, TUDM etc, but these reviews remain mainly in the realm of personal opinion or experience; it’s by no means set in stone. If the courses suck, then at least there’s an imperative to improve. If you don’t agree, what the heck, it doesn’t really matter what a bunch of 20 plus handicappers who duffs, hacks and digs golf courses around Malaysia think, does it? Gilagolf provides what no other sites out there provided (which was the reason for the inception of this blog anyway), that is a look from the eyes of not-very-good golfers (hackers), which constitutes possibly 99% of the fearless joes who deign to pick up this blasted, cursedly addictive game of golf.
Through this journey, we have come upon courses we never thought we’d play on: Saujana, Glenmarie, Mines, Tropicana. Prestigious clubs like KGSAS, Bukit Jawi and Clearwater didn’t get too great a review while gems like Meru Valley, Staffield were uncovered. Our favourtie Bangi also makes it in the top-10 list.
And now for the 59th course to be reviewed, we’ve added Royal Selangor Golf Club, the country’s most prestigious golf club, and possibly a cultural institution forming the very backbone of the modern society in Malaysia. How will we approach such a reverent subject, as holy as the nation’s constitution itself?
Why, by hacking it of course.
Traveling to RSGC is a simple feat: every golfer in Malaysia probably knows where RSGC is: along Jalan Tun Razak, right behind RHB headquarters. From almost every sky scraper you’ll be able to find the former tin mine area designated eons ago by the government for one of the oldest golf course in Malaysia.
In case you’re still blur (and we have in one instance an intrepid fella in our group who mixed up RSGC and KGNS and went over to the latter, and who have since received such a resounding lecture on such criminal negligence of reasoning, that he no doubt will know where and what RSGC is for the remainder of his hopefully very long life), here’s the map.
But seriously, if you call yourself a golfer and have no idea where or what RSGC is, it’s probably time to explore another game like lawn bowl or curling, where you mop floors for a challenge.
We were brought in by a member – in fact, short of breaking in and climbing over the electric fence and illegally teeing off – you have no choice but to have a member bring you in. Thankfully, over the course of playing this game, we have made acquaintances that have been very useful. However, RSGC yields a hefty price even for the member guest. The green fees are over RM200 on a weekday (the website rates has probably not been updated since the last World War), and add in the caddy, and the tips, you’re looking at high RM200s to RM300 range. It’s still not as STUPID as some pricing like Mines or Datai, which can hit RM400 on a given day; and after all, RSGC has probably earned the right to charge these fees: we’re talking about the local Augusta, the national heritage; and we’re going to hack it up in our blasphemous interpretation of this divine game.
So really, it’s not too bad price to pay, just don’t expect hackers to play there often. For the novelty of 18 holes on the very course that Walter Hagen used to hack? Hey, a little premium for tradition doesn’t hurt.
We are going in without any knowledge or reverence to RSGC’s tradition. This might probably go down wrong with our purists readers (which is estimated to be 1% of readers to this hacker blog); but RSGC’s first impression is pretty flat. Literally flat. From the lounge, you can look outside across the practice green to the course and count the number of fluorescent yellow flag sticks (which to us is a smart idea) stuck all over the course. There’s not much elevation, or self contained holes; it plays like a traditional golf course: parallel fairways, bail out areas left and right and thankfully a healthy absence of the dreaded white OB stakes.
You can’t write about RSGC without first giving a little history lesson. Of course, in full knowledge that any history lesson would be the best way to tune off readers and put everyone to sleep, instead, I’ll direct you to a very good book called “An Informal History of The Royal Selangor Golf Club: A Royal Heritage”. You can probably buy it from the club or get it off a member. If not a condensed version is found in http://www.rsgc.com.my/history.htm. The website, however is sorely in need of restoration, since it somewhat resembles my first website project about my Westie Terrier back in 1996, but I doubt that’s their priority.
As for novelty, RSGC has on the record, as the second oldest golf club in Malaysia, with Taiping Golf Club pipping it as the oldest, when they were established as an 11 hole club in 1885. In fact, Taiping Golf Club is the oldest in Southeast asia. I heard that it has been shut down, unfortunately, and I can’t imagine which idiotic non-golfing descision maker would deem it anything less than a national crime to shutdown such a club. Anyways, RSGC has no problem on this, as this club is teeming with life. Even for a weekday, you will find many people on the grass only range (they deem range with mats for wimps and for golfers with as much self esteem as a piece of carrot), on the practice green and teeing up on the first…which kind of makes you wonder: don’t these flers have work? Until you realize that they are probably thinking the same thing about you.
Anyways, RSGC was established in 1893, a very interesting history ensued, surviving the war, restoration, relocation etc. It’s amazing to know that Lake Gardens also once had a 9 hole golf course and RSGC almost ended up taking that over. See, Malaysian history is so darn interesting when we don’t need to remember all the sultan’s similar names and whether the Bugis, Dutch, Portugese or Eskimoes came to colonise our beloved nation.
Except for the fact that you cannot use your phone in the main lounge (likely a Steve Williams look a like will dump your phone into the pond), the service is expectedly exampalary for a club with this much prestige. You really feel like you are part of history, sitting at the terrace or lounge, cross legged, wishing you had don on a pair of white Englishy pants and sipping some Englishy tea while chatting quietly in an Englishy way. Instead we were all in our oversized shirts and pants and looking like the chinamen we all were.
While the service was generally good, it is the caddy service that really take the cake. We usually don’t like caddies tagging along, one because there are actually very few good caddies in this world; and two, we suck at golf. With a gallery of caddies, it’s even worse. Especially if caddies are like those in KGNS, who are all single handicappers, who really pressure the dickens out of you and even at one point scolded me for messing up my shot…hey, thanks but no thanks.
But RSGC caddies are mainly senior guys who will lug your bag or manage your trolley for you, and give you excellent advice on course navigation. We all had A-grade caddies with us, and it makes a huge difference. I know my score still requires a calculator to add it all up and resembles an arithmetic nightmare, but think about it, it could have been a lot worse if not for some timely tips from my caddy, an old, wizened Yoda. His reading on the greens (and later you’ll find these greens devilishly fast, making Sri Selangor’s greens a walk in the park) was spot on; and you’re gonna need all the help you can get in this area.
Probably the best experience of caddies we’ve ever had. Plus, this caddy of mine has been with RSGC for 48 years. We spent a lot of time walking (no buggies here to desecrate the course) and talking and he told me long histories of the club, which I found very interesting: in fact, I wish he was my history teacher, I would have scored a lot better for my SPMs in form five.
Ah, where the rubber meets the road. We still need to tell it as it is, and as much as I would love to say RSGC has the most pristine fairways ever….it doesn’t. In fact, RSGC fairways seemed very very much mediocre for the price you are paying, resembling the much cheaper and much maligned Seri Selangor. I’m not a course expert and I wouldn’t know what sort of issues they are having, but it doesn’t look like this is actually what they desire to achieve. It might be work in progress, but the fairways were sparse in some areas, bald patches in others and even affected with what we laymen term as fairway acne, where cowgrass has started to grow in patches on the fairway. A quick look at their website describes the fairway as ‘Seashore Paspalum’ which could very well be Latin to me for my understanding. The rough remains as familiar cowgrass and the greens are Tiffeagle, similar to Beringin greens.
Back to the Papadom fairway, I asked Yoda why it was so, and what was RSGC trying to achieve, and he barked back at me, “Do or do not, there is no try!” while meditating in the Force. He did add that there was not enough sand on the fairway for the grass to grow in a more compact manner, and that the grass was only recently changed to this Papadom variety and they would need some time (and possible additional budget) to get it perfectly mat-like like those we find in Tropicana.
The plus point was that we were detained for 45 minutes on the 14th by rain after the rain, the fairways held up very well, with no sign of casual water. Still, bare patches gives this a disappointing minus on the course.
As disappointing as the fairways were, the greens were a joy to behold. Not to say we did extremely well on the greens and we were playing, likely at the speed of 10, which I am thinking has gotta be pretty fast, since in my home club we are playing at 8. The greens in RSGC are in perfect condition. The roll is perfect, it is fast; and most featured table top greens, meaning a bad approach (which I had A LOT) does not have any bail out areas. These raised greens are hellish to stick to, and even then even more crazy to putt on. Eventually, psychologically you are so weakened that you are basically panic putting, i.e you don’t dare to putt with confidence and you end up just molesting the ball with the putter and groan when you miss that one footer knee knocker. The rain helped stymied the speed a little, but by then we were so utterly confused that I actually managed to putt worse after the greens slowed down!
But this is where Master Yoda kicked in. Over the course of my back nine, after my game stabled out after an outward 50 on an otherwise ‘easier’ Old course, his breaks and reads were essential and led directly to Par on 11th and Par on 13th and saved bogey on 14th and 15th. I one-putted 5 out of 9 holes, at one point one-putting four in a row. And this included an off the green putt on 12th that stopped literally 1 cm from the cup. Easily would have been a blown out game if not for him.
The rough was cowgrass, and I found it quite fascinating that they are able to demark the cowgrass from their fairways so nicely. Cowgrass fairways were not unfamiliar for us, having hacked around KGNS and KRPM and for RSGC, there was a good balance between challenging and bail out roughs. The problem wasn’t so much of the grass, it was the number of trees in your way. And these trees are huge, mature ones, cropping out and blocking your shots and you need to play a variety of punches with your 5/6 irons or going over with your 8/9 irons. The bunkers were in good condition as well, after a heavy shower, not water clogged bunkers to be found.
RSGC will not the the prettiest course you laid your eyes on. It might carry a whole history of tradition, but at the end of the day, the flatness of the terrain makes very few elevated views of the course (at least on the ones we played on). We didn’t get to try the signature 17th hole on the Old Course, having played the first nine Old and second nine New, but the overall looks of the course wasn’t breath taking. A view of the Twin Tower and KL Tower could be seen on the first few holes of the 2nd Nine New Course, and the mature trees do cast some grand views of the course. The caddy mentioned some of these trees were donated by members; while others were as old as the course itself, carrying with it the entire history of the inception, the Japanese occupation and direlection and the restoration to modern day. I half expected him to touch the trees and connect himself to Ehwa and start chanting in Na’vi. Which he didn’t of course.
KL Skyline is definitely part of the course, and I am sure on a sunny day would have afforded some great camera shots. As it was, overcast skies didn’t inspire us too much, and as mentioned, there are many prettier courses out there, compared to this Malaysian Augusta.
Fun Factor (4/5)
Fun indeed. The greens were the primary driver of fun, because it’s truly great to see true roll for a change, after having played on nonsensical greens elsewhere. We’re not great putters by any stretch of imagination, but if you see your curling 10 footer go in not once, twice, but more times, you can be sure you’re enjoying it. As we were wagering a little, it was simply who putted better, and our groups were like boxers, trading blows by dropping good putts to square, to win. Never mind the double bogeys to win it. The course itself is an enjoyment. Now, even if the aesthetics isn’t much to shout at, the course set up is a different matter. I remembered looking around at the first tee (before knocking it OB to the driving range), and thinking, “This looks pretty flat. How difficult can this be?”
For some reason, it seems to play a little longer than it should. At about 6171m for the 1st Nine Old and 2nd Nine New, it seems to be average. Perhaps it’s the yardage that throws us out a bit, or the fact that we are so afraid of the greens we’re all hitting a club less; or the fact that a stray shot requires you to navigate through the mature, donated and the Ehwa trees, but with just two GIRs, it just means, it ain’t easy! Not because we suck, of course. How can that be?
But the fun was that OB stakes were rare and the course allowed all kinds of creative escapism. I was really funneling into a crap mode in my first five holes. OB hole 1. Three putt hole 2, Water in the pretty looking par 5; duffed chip in the nice par 3 4th and a topped drive to 50 m in the next hole. My caddy must have thought I was the dumbest golfer around, but I managed to right the boat a little and clear out my jitters eventually.
The 9th hole in the Old course was an awful one for a sliced drive and I deposited my third into the bunker and couldn’t get it up for bogey.
Making the turn to the new course, we teed up on a wide and inviting fairway on the 10th, under a humongous Ehwa tree. The second par 4 result was from my caddy’s wonderful and perfect read, missed my par on the 12th by 1cm, and parred the index 2 par 5 13th after wildly driving it so far left that I borrowed a fairway from the old course.
The closing 18th on the new course is worth mentioning because it’s a monster. A good drive still left me a 3 wood in and predicatably when all was at stake, I sliced it into water on the right and knocked my 4th into the fronting bunker, losing the wager. It’s a tough cookie to crack but it’s a very good ending hole, and I can just imagine the other drama that has unfolded here, especially ones involving larger winner purses than our RM4 per hole. There, we are playing in RSGC but we’re still cheapskates.
At the end of the day, RSGC definitely gave us the lion share of fun in our group.
It was indeed with some regret that we came to the end of our round with RSGC. Unlike other high expectation courses, RSGC didn’t disappoint overall. Fairways could use improvement, of course, but given the vicinity and accessibility in the heart of KL, and activity teeming around the club, and of course the rich history surrounding the club, it’s definitely a great experience to have a game here. Of course, it’s out of bounds usually to people like us hackers, unless you have a member friend. It doesn’t blow you away with looks, but the good design, character of holes and amazingly manicured greens make up for mediocre aesthetics and mediocre fairways. And of course, with Yoda beside us: fear not we do, confidence we have, putting we will be good in, also, big our tipping will be.
The good: Geographically one of the most accessible course we know; though socially it is locked-down like Alcatraz to only members; great service especially from Master Yoda; greens are probably the best we’ve experienced; flat aesthetics belies a challenging course design surrounded with mature Ehwa trees; historical heritage that anyone with an opportunity should definitely play on.
The bad: Fairways are really not up to par for a course with such a reputation; aesthetics are not mind blowing; pricing could be mighty steep for the member guest and hidden costs like caddy tips could very well have you taking a policy loan out from your kids’ insurance and eating peanuts for the week.
The skinny: 30 of 40 divots (75%). RSGC’s long history has its pros and cons; many modern clubs might surpass it in terms of looks and gimmicky holes, but this is the original, the Augusta, the hallowed history of our nation’s love for golf imbued into its very fairways and greens. Where the Haig has treaded, and Bobby Locke himself has played on, what more is there to ask for the golfing afficiando? For the course to withstand the test of time and still have so much activity around it is a testament to the course design, club management and club members. It’s a must play for all Malaysian golfers simply for the historical influence on the game and we can finally now say, Gilagolf has hacked RSGC.
RSGC East Course Score Card
Address: Jalan Kelab Golf, Off Jalan Tun Razak
55000 Kuala Lumpur