A Pearl in the Rough
I had never been to Asia before so was very excited when the opportunity arose. Waiting in the international departure lounge for the Malaysia Airlines flight to whisk us away to paradise, I was eager to get there and find out what Malaysia had to offer, especially considering how the reputation of some of the neighbouring areas seem to dominate it as preferred holiday destinations.
We were invited to attend the last qualifying round before the grand final of the World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship at the Kelab Golf Sultan Adbul Aziz Shah (KGSAAS) course in Selangor Province, about an hour outside of Kuala Lumpur.
The tournament was created to advocate Malaysia as a holiday spot, to create awareness and promote Malaysia as a golf destination, and to help bolster Malaysian golf clubs.
It is a well-used concept that tourism officials have employed for ages, creating a golf tournament for amateurs to attract foreign golfers to their shores, but this one has a very interesting twist.
It works the same as most golf getaways; you book and pay, and everything is laid on for you. The fee includes welcome drinks at the hotel when you arrive in the country, five nights accommodation, daily breakfast, four rounds of golf (including greenfees and carts), transport, a goodie bag and a prizegiving dinner.
Pretty standard holiday package.
Where it gets interesting is the prize for first place in each qualifying round, which is an invitation back to Malaysia to play in the grand final – completely paid for by the tournament organiser, Tourism Malaysia. Now that’s a prize.
The tournament is open to all amateur golfers in teams of three or four players with valid USGA, national handicapping system or club-verified handicaps of 18 and under for men or 24 and below for ladies.
The course at KGSAAS is beautiful, lush and very green, but the greens are a little slow. And the drainage system is very impressive, which we found out first-hand during the media round of the tournament.
About six holes into the round a few thunderclaps were heard and we were called off the course as the sirens sounded. By the time we reached the clubhouse it was raining sheets.
I have never seen rain so strong or thick; it looked like a solid wall of water, like you would need a hammer and chisel to break a hole through it if you wanted to brave a walk outside.
And when someone was brave or stupid enough to venture past the safety of a roof, they left a silhouette as they strode through the water wall.
About an hour and a half after it had started, it was over, just like that, no slow down to a drizzle before stopping, the clouds just ran out of water all at once and it was over. Thunder could still be heard off in the distance, but it was judged to be far enough away that it was safe for us to play again.
But how were we going to play – the entire area had been practically underwater for close to 90 minutes? The rain was so bad that a few of the American journalists had actually gone back to the hotel before the storm had passed, not believing there was much chance of any more golf.
But this is where the drainage I was talking about earlier came into play: within 20 minutes we were able to get back out on the course again. Obviously the greens were even slower, and if you missed the fairway you pretty much had to pick up your ball. As long as you kept the ball where it was supposed to be, you could play some golf.
I ended up ruining a pair of slacks and golf shoes as punishment for straying from the fairways too much, but it was still a very fun day.
But the trip wasn’t just about the World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship, it was also about Malaysia and what the country had to offer, so I had the opportunity to travel around a bit and see a few of the sights.
The great thing about this tournament as a potential holiday is how much Malaysia has to offer as a destination for the entire family. Businessmen don’t need to make up excuses about executive travels to get away for the tournament; they can just take their families with them.
It would take quite a lot of effort not to enjoy yourself in Kuala Lumpur – you can barely walk down the street from your hotel without running into something interesting.
One venue that is a must-visit for anyone and their family is the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, which can be found in the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens, only 10 minutes drive away from the city centre.
The park itself is over two acres big and is home to more than 3 000 birds of approximately 200 different species – some weird, some wonderful.
Despite the sheer size of the place, what really makes it special is the layout of it. It is an open-air aviary, where a netted roof keeps the birds inside, but in the majority of the park the birds are free to fly around and breed naturally. For the most part the birds aren’t separated into different cages, but are left to enjoy the space.
There are no nets separating the birds from the walking areas either, so ambling through the park has a distinct natural jungle feel about it. It gives the sense that you are visiting the birds’ home, not a zoo.
The birds of prey and more aggressive species are kept separately, but for the most part the chances of getting bird poo on you is a lot higher than your average bird park.
The next must-see, and you’ll probably be as surprised reading this as I was visiting it, is the Royal Selangor Pewter factory.
It has been making goods out of pewter in the same spot since 1885 and there is a fascinating museum that takes you through the evolution of the place. The tour guides are knowledgeable and helpful, but you really need to go and see it for yourself.
No amount of creative writing can do it justice – when I saw it as a destination on the itinerary my heart sank and when I tried to read the literature about it I fell asleep in the car, but when I visited the place, I was absolutely blown away.
For the more culturally inclined there is the Islamic Arts Museum, the National Palace, national monuments, the rest of the Lake Gardens and the Dataran Merdeka – where the Union flag was lowered and the Malayan flag hoisted for the first time in 1957.
For the teenagers and the more commercially inclined, the Gardens Shopping Mall is a huge shopping centre where you can find and buy just about anything you can think of, but to be honest it’s no different from Canal Walk or Fourways.
If you are interested in buying a few things, but aren’t willing to pay shopping-centre prices, the night market in China Town is a very interesting place to shop – but don’t be surprised if your brand-new Rolex stops ticking before you make it back to your hotel!
From Kuala Lumpur we were taken up the West Coast to the Swiss Garden Golf Resort in the Perak Province, which is a very private hotel resort that overlooks the Straits of Malacca and Pangkor Island. On the way we made a few stops and got to see a lot more of Malaysia than just the big city.
Kuala Lumpur and the other big cities are great, they are big, they are impressive, but there is a lot more to Malaysia than modern cities.
If you get hungry on a road trip, stopping at one of the many small villages outside Kuala Lumpur and around Selangor is highly recommended, especially if you are looking to try some authentic local food.
It was the first meal we had that wasn’t fancy hotel or restaurant cuisine. I was excited, but my stomach wasn’t as sure. I had a couple of beef dumplings and a traditional ayam percik, which is basically grilled chicken served with a spicy sauce and rice. It was delicious.
On a trip up the West Coast of Malaysia, one port of call that cannot be missed is Pangkor Island.
Historically, Pangkor was a refuge for local fishermen, merchants and pirates and has a fort built by the Dutch in the 17th century in an attempt to control the tin trade.
The island is only eight square kilometres in size and has a population of 25 000 people and quite a big fishing industry.
If you enjoy fish-based products, you will love this part of the island, but if you have a weak stomach, stay well clear.
For lunch we stopped at a local Chinese restaurant on the island called Restoran Pangkor Fook Kee, and if for no other reason, visit Pangkor Island for this place.
You can get any type of Chinese food you are after, but the seafood is out of this world.
The nice thing about Pangkor is that the accommodation on the island ranges from budget backpackers to five-star resorts; it is small and out of the way so you can enjoy a quiet getaway, but it is close enough to the mainland that if you want to get involved in the hustle and bustle, it’s a short ferry or even shorter plane (yes it even has a small airport) trip away.
Transport around the island is achieved in one of three ways: on one of about a thousand bright pink minibus taxis, on a scooter – which isn’t advisable because of the taxis –or on a bicycle – also not recommended because of the taxis and the island has some serious hills.
After a long day, the quiet and serene atmosphere at the Swiss Garden Golf Resort was a welcome reprieve and the trip to the Samsara Spa at the resort almost felt like a necessity.
Swiss Garden is another great place for the whole family – golf course for dad, spa for mom and a bunch of activities for the kids, including the beach, swimming pool, tennis courts, watersports, playground, saunas, jacuzzi and child-care centre.
But we were only interested in the golf course. Just to give you an idea of how beautiful it is, the entire course was named the best resort course in Malaysia in 2006, the signature 15th (which was parred by yours truly) was voted the second-most scenic hole in the country by readers of Golf Malaysia and the course itself was among the top three most scenic courses in the country in the same poll.
But, like most courses in Malaysia it seems, the greens were very slow and very difficult to get used to.
The moment of my round was driving the green on the par-four 9th over the lake and sinking the putt, but unfortunately it was still only worth par as my first attempt went swimming.
Swiss Garden is a must-visit if you are heading up the West Coast of Malaysia with your golf clubs.
On the way back to Kuala Lumpur we made a couple of brief, but awesome, stops that really made me wish we had more time in the country.
Lost World of Tambun
The first was the Lost World of Tambun, which at first glance is just a gaudy tourist attraction, but there was a lot more to it. For instance the five tigers in attendance.
If you are looking for a bit of pampering and a bit more luxury, the five-star Banjaran Hot Spring Retreat, which is exactly what it says on the box, luxurious and decadent, is a good place to start.
It is a tad unremarkable as five-star hot-spring resorts go, until you see the wine cellar. It is the only place at the resort that you can get alcohol and indulge in a bit of karaoke, but if that isn’t enough, the entire bar has been built into a cave in the mountain. It truly is a sight to behold.
The Sungai Klah Hot Spring is more of a family location, a moderately priced resort built around a hot spring with lots of activities to keep everyone busy. It’s a perfect destination for a family holiday and a favourite of Kuala Lumpur residents for weekend getaways.
The historic train station at Ipoh and the Kek Lok Temple are also interesting stops.
The temple was very interesting, as I initially assumed it was ancient and was astounded by how they had managed to build it so long ago – to get to it you need to climb through a cave – but our guide later told us it was built in the 1970s, which took a bit of the wonder away.
There were a few things that we missed because of time constraints. Even after a great holiday there is nothing like hitting the hay in your own bed again, but I couldn’t help but feel a little sad leaving Malaysia as we had barely scratched the surface of what the country has to offer.
For a start we only played two out of nearly 200 golf courses in the country. The next step is just to convince the editor to send me back.
WORLD AMATEUR INTER-TEAM GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP
Upcoming events in 2011
- Round 2: 18–21 April Venue: Sabah, Sutera Harbour Golf Club and Dalit Bay Golf Club
- Round 3: 9–12 May Venue: Selangor, Glenmarie Golf Club and Impian Golf Club
- Round 4: 13–16 June Venue: Sarawak, Sarawak Golf Club
- Round 5: 18–21 July Venue: Johor, Ponderosa Golf Club and Horizon Hills Golf Club
- Round 6: 26–29 September Venue: Kuala Lumpur, Kelab Golf Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah and Kota Permal Golf Club
- Grand final: 8–10 November Venue: Melaka, Melaka Golf Club
- Open to all amateurs with an official handicap. Men, handicap of 18 or less; women, handicap of 24 or less.
- Format: Stableford. Teams of three or four players each with the three best scores from each team to count. Shotgun start.
- Registration fee: (US)$2 300 – R 16 753.90 (at time of printing) per team
SAYING IT IN MALAY
Welcome Selamat datang
Good morning Selamat pagi
Good afternoon Selamat tengah hari
Good evening Selamat petang
Thank you Terima kasih
How much is this? Berapa harga ini?
How are you? Apa kabar?
Goodbye Selamat tinggal
Bon voyage Selamat Jalan
- Note: The Malay dialect has a very similar phonetic pronunciation to English, so just say it how you spell it.
The federation of Malaysia comprises Peninsular Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
Situated north of the equator line, Peninsular Malaysia is separated from Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea. The northern part of Peninsular Malaysia includes Thailand, and in the south, neighbouring Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by Indonesia, while Sarawak also shares borders with Brunei.
329 758 square km
Malays comprise 57 percent of the population, while Chinese and Indians make up the bulk of the rest of the population.
Islam is the official religion of the country, but other religions are widely practised.
Malaysia follows the bicameral legislative system, adopting a democratic parliamentary. The head of the country is the King or the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, a position that is changed every five years among the Malay Sultans. The head of the government is the prime minister.
The country experiences tropical weather year-round. Temperatures are from 21ºC to 32ºC. Higher elevations are much colder with temperatures between 15ºC and 25ºC. Annual rainfall varies from 2 000mm to 2 500mm.
New Year, Hari Raya Aidiladha, Federal Territory Day, Chinese New Year, Awal Muharam, Maulidur Rasul, Labour Day, Wesak, King’s Birthday, National Day Deepavali, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Christmas.
The monetary unit of the country is the ringgit Malaysia and is written as RM. The exchange rate at the time of writing was R1 = RM0.43.
Eight hours ahead of GMT, which makes Malaysia six hours ahead of South Africa.
The iconic Petronas Twin Towers are one of Kuala Lumpur’s most recognisable landmarks.
Aim straight and long to thread the needle on the 15th at Swiss Garden Golf Resort.
Fishing boats at Pangkor Island bring in the goods.
Try fresh seafood for an authentic culinary experience.
The Royal Selangor Pewter factory was an unexpectedly intriguing stop.
The ferry to Pangkor winds through rural Malaysia.
The Lost World of Tambun has a lot for tourists.
The Swiss Garden Golf Resort is a great spot to chill after a round of golf.
The train station at Ipoh is another historic stop worth checking out.