Sungai Long Golf and Country Club

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Introduction

There are two golf courses in peninsular Malaysia designed by Jack Nicklaus – Sungai Long and Legends in Johor. In the East, there is Borneo Golf and Country – but as it is, Gilagolf has never hacked in the east before, so I’ll just stick to West Malaysia golf courses in discussion.

Now, Legends was great. It’s a very nice course and we all had fun on it – the only problem there was that the buggy cost us RM174. And the fact that the people there didn’t tell us that promotion was going on and we could get a lot cheaper than what we paid for with a voucher – like RM2 cheaper. But it was the principle that mattered – and because of that Legends was given a 1 in service and a 1 in pricing and 0 in travel. The people running Legends were twits. But the course itself was really really good and highly recommended.

So what now for Sungai Long? As the first Jack Nicklaus course in Malaysia, where does it stand in the Gilameter?

Why did it take so long to play this, pun intended?  For one, for some time, it was considered a ‘private’ course, that means only by invitation and with a member or again, you will be shot on sight for trespassing. I suppose recently they have seen the fallacy of this concept, because they have opened it up to RHB card members like us. So let the hacking begin!

Travel (4/5)

I honestly think this portion of the review does not have any sense anymore. Now you need to understand this blog was started in 2007, when google maps were not really that great and the Waze founder was still in his mother’s womb. So, generally GPS was not publically available and we used this section to draw crude maps and give crude directions to the course – of course, now with the advent of GPS anywhere and everywhere, only a chimp with Alzheimer will get lost trying to locate a golf course anywhere on earth. This was apparently taken for granted because strangely two of our guys got lost. One guy – excusable, he was on his superbike, so it’s not like he can whip out his phone to check GPS (although I would imagine it’s mountable) – the other guy was a 40 plus fler whom when we ask, don’t you have waze?, looked at us with a general puzzlement you would expect from an Alzheimeric chimp, locked in a cave for 20 years and with a bare recognition that the item he is holding in his hand is more than a phone and not simply a Nokia 5110.

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To be fair, he got lost at the Fork of Bamboozlement. The Fork of Bamboozlement (or FOB) for short is this fork in the road when you are taking the Cheras highway to Kajang. It is existing there to simply cause distress and pain to non Cheras residents. Now Cheras is this great place to find food to eat, but it is also home to roughly 3.6 million people, or roughly 15% of the population in Malaysia. It is known as little Shanghai due to the sheer volume of humans gathered in one place.

Of course, the historical accuracy of what I just wrote is a little suspect, since I came up with that history primarily just by watching the cars stuck in traffic jam on the other side of the road going into KL. I swear, Cheras people are probably the most patient people in the entire world.

Anyway, back to the FOB. Once you go past Connaught, you will need to follow the road signs to Kajang/Semenyih. Go under the overpass as shown below:

After the overpass stay far right as you go up the hill as below:

When you come to the FOB, don’t panic, like my friend, who immediately swerve left and found himself inside Cheras and lost for another half hour navigating the traffic to get out. Escaping Cheras is like escaping from Alcatraz or Hotel California. You can check in but you can’t ever leave. Stay far right on the FOB and you will be ok, you should end up on the right highway leading to Impiana/Sungai Long.

From there, follow Waze based on traffic. It will either tell you to turn off at Sungai Long or earlier, depending.

Once you are in Sungai Long, the course is almost next to the entrance. Just turn right after entering the main arc or Sungai Long and you should see the course on the left. Easy peasy.

Price ( 2/5)

The price is this:

RM220 for green fee+RM71 miscellenous all in (caddy, insurance, buggy – assuming buggy fee is split). After the astronomical charges for buggies at Legends, we were really glad the buggy here is RM76. But still, you are paying a weekday rate of almost RM300.

Honestly, we wouldn’t be playing these courses (palm garden, Mines, Sungai Long) without our Infinite Cards, which waives the green fees for us. And once the green fee was waived, and we negotiated not to have a caddy, we paid a grand total of RM56 with a food voucher of RM10 per pax, so effectively it was RM46. The food voucher is forced upon you whether you like it or not.

Now, of course, I am assuming not everyone has the infinite cards, so going by the normal pricing, it’s still way too expensive for a course like this (as later you will find out). However, I am willing to concede a slightly higher score because of the thought they had in allowing us to not have a caddy, but then they offset that with a forced food voucher on you. But hey, RM56 for a Jack Nicklaus designed course? Nobody is complaining!

First thoughts

Standing at the verandah overlooking the course, I honestly can say the first impression was a little underwhelming. We were expecting the course, being private and designed by Jack Nicklaus to be some sort of wonderment to us – with fairy dust twinkling in the sunrise and an amazing spectacle of a course in her full array of beauty before us.

What we got was a rather flat looking course, with a LOT of workers.

I mean, the amount of Bangladeshi workers here was amazing. Even when you drive into the bag drop area, you will see around 8 – 10 bangladeshi lounging around just talking. I think they are caddies, but I am not sure. However, it’s slightly intimidating because you think you just went through a wormhole and came out on the other side of Dhaka instead of KL. Suggestion to Sungai Long – please build a nice area for your caddies to chill, and not have them congregate at the bag drop area.

On the course itself, while flat, we were willing to give the benefit of doubt that it would be a supreme course, and hopefully can get to the Died and Gone to Heaven status that NO COURSE has even come close to achieving. This is definitely a DAGTH candidate and we had such high hopes for Sungai Long.

Service (2/5)

The service and ameneties were not grand. To be honest, the changing room looks a little run-down. The lockers were oldish lockers that were half the lenght of normal lockers, so when you hang your shirt in there, it sort of crumples because there’s no space. No aircondition, which I suppose they purposely built it that way to harness the energy of nature. Compared to Mines, Sungai Long changing room was like comparing Scarlett Johansson to a rear end of a llama.

Anyway, just as we were going off to the course, the caddy master came and ask – would we like a FREE caddy who is a training caddy, accompanied by a normal grade caddy?

FREE??! Hell, yeah, as Malaysians, that four letter F word is our favourite word.

So we took up this young man, and he had an older mentor on the other buggy and off we went.

Note to all Gilagolfers: DO NOT TAKE UP THE TRAINEE CADDY. I know he’s free, but soon you will find that he had it a bargain to NOT pay US for caddying for us. And we ended up giving tips!

The trainee caddy, BY LIGHT YEARS, was the worst caddy we have ever encountered in our collective lives, and if we had past lives and future lives, it would also be in those past lives and future lives. On the first hole, when asked whether we were using yards or meters, he just looked at us blankly.

At first I thought he didn’t hear, but when repeated, I tried using Malay and English and elicited no response, but a blank stare. Great. He was dumb. As in not stupid dumb, but non-speaking dumb. I tried using sign language but then he uttered something non decipherable. Great! He speaks but does no speak our language. That’s a bummer.

So I told him, ok, just make sure you handle our clubs and pass clubs to us when we need it.

Through out the game, we had such a stressed out time teaching him about caddying:

  1. When we were all searching for balls, he would be sitting in the buggy staring into space and day dreaming of his life back in his hometown
  2. When we were on the green, we would be texting on his phone (this is the first time I’ve seen a caddy more busy in business than us)
  3. When our balls are on the green, he would be standing to the side, not bothering to clean our golf balls for us
  4. He constantly brought us the wrong clubs
  5. He could never find a ball – he would just wander around, following you looking at the exact place you are looking and when you ask him to scamper off, he would grin and just continued following you. I hate to demean a fellow human like this, but honestly, my pet terrier who is now dead, took better instructions that he did.

On the 9th hole, my friend flipped. His ball went right and missing and we all went to search including the other caddy. This trainee caddy took the buggy and drove all the way to the green while we were literally all searching for the first drive.

He confronted the caddy and said (in not so nice terms), that if he wasn’t interested in caddying or even learning, he could leave and go back to wherever he came from for the back 9 because he was an utter useless piece of crap.

He improved a little after that, but was still atrocious. He would step on our putting line, forget to remove the flag etc. There was once, I was lining up to hit a provision shot, he literally walked in front of me to search for my lost ball. I had to go Christian Bale on him. Then, when I was still pondering what irons to use, he would GRAB my irons to take it from me before I was done. I was shocked. It was as if he wanted to steal it but he was just trying to be initiated and clean my clubs, but still it was unnerving to be leaning on a club and then suddenly got it yanked away under you.

He also would clamp my clubs under his armpit as he carried them. And not at the shaft but at the GRIP. He would put my grips under his armpit and then once he removed them, there would be a line of sweat on my putter grip which just made me go, “ You know what, just give me the damn clubs and go back to the damn buggy.”

This guy is a legend. If you guys go over there, don’t fall for this free caddy nonsense – unless they are paying you. However, we generally talk a good game, but we are actually very compassionate inside. We ended up tipping him RM40 anyway because we didn’t have change, and because it was Ramadhan and we finally felt sorry for him.

I mean, if I were in a foreign land without my family or girlfriend (whom I am constantly texting while these chinamen putt on the green), and I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink and kept getting barked at by these chinamen in a language I didn’t understand – I would feel suicidal. Being a little generous despite sh*tty service was something we all could do to make things better for this guy.

Fairways (2/5)

Darn, that was a long detour from golf!

Anyway back to playing the course.

The fairways were disappointing. Really. For a course with a price range and expectation like Sungai Long, we expected at least Mines/Palm Garden sort of variety. Instead, we got something a little better than Seri Selangor/Bangi but no where close to the top tiered quality.

At first, I thought these were divots that other groups were playing that day. Until I realize we were the only ones on the course. The multiple sandy patches we experienced through the course were probably because that area of the fairway was bald or grass wasn’t growing. Nowhere close to our expectation at all.

Greens (3/5)

The greens were functional. It wasn’t as slow as the Mines and generally had a good roll, but it wasn’t amazing. It was well kept but something that you would expect in a course with this sort of prestige.

They also had a few shared greens, which makes them slightly interesting when you are faced with a putt that is like 60 feet long or something. The breaks are there, but not subtle like Saujana and generally, there wasn’t too much to complain or be in awe of. Functional being the key word.

Rough (3/5)

The rough was tough. Like Mines, any misses from the fairway and you are punishable by a broken wrist. It was devilish difficult to carve any sort of shot from the rough, let it be an iron, or hybrid or wood or anything. You could just pick the ball and throw it and you would probably get more distance. But that’s what a rough should be. So there are no complaints on it.

The bunkers (and there are a huge number of these suckers) were another challenge, and they littered the entire course. While you would think Sungai Long (Long River in English) would have water as its primary hazard, the bunkers were the ones that will befuddle you a little, making hitting the fairway a definite must in this course (unlike the friendly Palm Garden).

Aesthetics (2/5)

If you are looking for an awesome looking course – Sungai Long is not for you. Which is strange. Because Legends was an amazing looking course. Sungai Long looked like its ugly step brother. Then again, you’ll need to give credit to Jack by sticking to the name ‘Sungai Long’ (pronounced Soong-ai Long, not Sun-Guy Long, for our foreign readers). He could have named the course something like Everglade River Course or something but decided to stick with the not so glamorous name of the township. I think he learnt his lesson because Legends (which was designed later) wasn’t named Kampung Kulai Golf Course or something.

But the looks of Sungai Long was simply not amazing. The first tee was a flat looking par 4, and it doesn’t really improve after that. Again, this seems to be a limitation of a course built within a township – like what I wrote about Perak Golf Club etc, because the terrain there is limited, and basically we will need to depend on the designer to make it interesting.

Did Jack do a good job? Honestly I have no idea. We just played the course as we would play any other course and really had no appreciation that it was designed by Jack. It seemed to play normal except for some inordinately long par 4s and bizarrely difficult par 3s. Otherwise, it was normal – not too bad, not exceptionally great. I have a feeling this is a course that requires a few runs at it to have a better appreciation.

Fun Factor (3/5)

As long as we were playing in our normal group, we would probably still have fun playing a bombed out course in Afghanistan. The course itself offered its unique challenge. The first hole gave us hope, because it was fairly easy. The next hole is very long par 5 which would be amazing if you hit in 2. Hole 3,4 and 5 are the 3 headed hydras that completely monkeyed my game. I scored double/triple/double for an index 5-1-3 combo. The long par 3 at index 5 is one of the tough ones, but could be made easier if you bailed out to the fairway on the left. Since we were all neantherdal men who had not evolved too much in our brains, we declared to go for the tough pin position on the right and challenged the water. Obviously I failed miserably with my shot whirling into a wet grave. The index par 4 is actually navigatable. But because at 400 meters you think you need to whip an amazing drive, I ended up slicing it into water on the right (which technically should never come in play). OB left was more normal. The next par 5, at around 515m was a very long and tiring par 5, which I struggled to a double bogey again.

Strangely, Sungai Long is measured at around 6000 meters. That’s actually considered short based on many standards. I was for the first time carrying a slice which was very strange as my shot shape is usually a draw. So imagine the craziness in lining up right to left and your shot goes left to right, or simply a huge push right. I missed most of my fairways but still managed to recover a fair bit.

Another strange thing we had was the interpretation of ‘flower bed’. We get free drops on it, but when asked, the caddies had no idea about how flower bed was defined. So we generally took a liberal view of a flower bed – if it was a bunch of bushes that had flowers in it, it was a flower bed. Not that we hit a lot (I only hit into one flower bed once), but probably with a better caddy, we could understand the course a lot more. It’s actually a poor excuse, but it’s not like this review is going to make it to GolfDigest so who cares.

Hole 9 is a very pretty hole that I put my second near the green using my wood – I hit a terrific drive and still had 170 plus to go and maneuvering a river running across the fairway.

Hole 15 is actually a nice par 5 and like 9, with a river running through the fairway around 300 yards. I flared mine right again but still managed to get back on the fairway and messed up my sand wedge into the bunker. Stupid.

The fairways are slightly tight, so you need to hit them to score better. It’s really not a difficult course I think. Except for the 3 holes that are tough, the rest plays pretty straightforward, which begs the question on why we still cannot score.

The last 3 holes were played in blinding rain. There are no sirens or warnings apparently so we basically just make our own decisions on our lives. We decided to play in the rain and risk being struck by lighting, and our scores basically reflected that. We did take a temporary shelter when it got really, really bad – as in Hurricane Katrina bad — whereby our caddy decided to have a long chat with the course workers, adding to the suspicion that his previous vocation was probably plucking out flower beds on the same course before being promoted to a non-speaking, non-working caddy.

Conclusion

So how did Sungai Long fare?

Well, it’s functional, but unfortunately functional is not good enough for the price they are charging. The fairway has been taking a fair bit of hit, although the rough and greens are reasonably good. The course itself – and here’s where we give a mulligan – I believe we will need 2 or 3 more rounds here before we decide on whether the design is good. Just because it’s the course that Jack built doesn’t give it a free pass for hackers. Otherwise, the rumour on Sungai Long is that it will go down the road of Perangsang and Kajang Hill: the membership is being bought over by a property developer who will be tearing the golf course down in favour of an eco-development that will benefit the entire world and cure World Hunger. All property developers will generally market their products like that. And you can trust property developers as far as you can throw a cement truck. Of course, these rumours are unsubstantiated, but looking at how golf courses in Kajang area are being destroyed, I won’t be too surprised if this rumour turns out true. So I suppose we will put in a few more rounds in there.

The good: Travel is generally favourable and not too deep in the housing area if you can navigate the FOB properly; greens and rough are challenging, if not just slightly average; it’s a quiet course so you typically can blaze through your round pretty good and there’s always great food to eat around there or just down the road at Balakong area; it’s Jack Nicklaus designed.

The bad: Pricing is still too high, even if Jack had a hand in it; the free caddy is horrendous, and the regular caddy wasn’t that great either; the fairways are very underwhelming with a lot of sandy patches and probably a few grades lower than Tropicana or Palm Garden; aesthetically quite average and no real shout out loud holes to remember.

The skinny: 21 of 40 divots (52.5%).  Like all the over priced courses in Malaysia – IOI Palm, Mines etc, if you are going to fork out RM300 per pax for a weekday, its recommended to give it a miss unless you purposely want to set yourself up for a disappointing 4 hours. However, if you have some discounts or a free green fee like us, it’s a no-brainer and it’s a go. As for the caddy,  the only way I would recommend the free version is that you want to test your patience – for instance if you are going to have a child soon and you just want to see how it’s like; or you adopted a puppy and you want to train yourself to control your anger. Or, if you are feeling particularly evil, just go for the free caddy for comedic value. Send him to the other buggy and you will have barrels of laughter over their misfortune.

Sungai Long Golf and Country Club Scorecard

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