The golf culture around Asia is just as unique and interesting as the lifestyle and cultural differences you'll find when visiting the Far East.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games shine a spotlight on golf in Asia. The 60 male golfers who qualified will tee off first from July 29-Aug. 1 with four days of stroke play on the East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club, a private club 31 miles northwest of Tokyo. The 60 women qualifiers will follow, competing from Aug. 4-7. | View full Olympic Golf Schedule.
It's too bad that whenever foreign pros like Rory McIlroy, Nelly Korda and Collin Morikawa tee off in professional tournaments anywhere in Asia, they don't get to experience its golf traditions like other visitors do. I had no idea what was in store during a weeklong trip to Seoul, South Korea, in 2015. It was eye-opening how different the game is over there ... the female caddies, the driverless golf carts, the night golf and the hour-long lunch stop at the turn. You get to learn the language by communicating with your caddie and enjoy a few local delicacies off the lunch menu. I still dream of the black noodles served at one club.
Most Americans don't have Asia on their radar for a golf trip. The links golf destinations - Scotland, Ireland, Australia, etc. - seem to take precedence. That's understandable, but I'd recommend giving Asia a try. It's slightly more affordable after the exchange rates, and you'll probably find courses less crowded and certainly with fewer American accents. The weather will certainly be warmer.
When we released our World Top 100 Golf Destinations earlier this year, more than a half-dozen Asian golf destinations made the cut. Any of them will provide a golf getaway like no other.
We gave Thailand the nod as Asia's No. 1 golf destination (ranking 45th in the world) based on the quality of its courses, along with the value, hospitality, seaside beaches and incredible historical sites. Courses to consider include Blue Canyon Country Club; Black Mountain and Pattayaat at Hua Hin, and Siam Country Club.
Malaysia boasts nearly 200 courses, many in varied settings from coastal mountains to tropical jungles. Golfers will enjoy the bargains and often speedy rounds on uncluttered courses. The 36-hole TPC Kuala Lumpur and The Mines, built upon the world's largest open-cast tin mine, should accompany a visit to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. The beaches and laid-back culture will win you over.
Bradley S. Klein/GolfPass
Japan has a rich golf culture with over 2,000 courses, but many are elite, private clubs. Tokyo is an incredible, sprawling modern city, but most of the courses, like Olympic host Kasumigaseki, are elite private clubs. The best stop for golfing tourists is Kawana Hotel’s two courses, including the historic oceanside Fuji Course that elicits comparisons to Pebble Beach. Other courses feature dramatic mountain scenery and some even play below majestic Mt. Fuji.
China is stuck in a love-hate relationship with the game. After experiencing a course boom with dozens under construction, the government came in and plowed many of them under. Don't let this deter you from visiting. China is still home to two of the largest golf resorts in the world - Mission Hills Haikou on Hainan Island and Mission Hills Shenzhen and Dongguan, home to 216 holes spread across 12 courses and two sites outside of Hong Kong. Hainan Island has become Hong Kong's "Hawaii" as a tropical island escape a simple 90-minute flight away. This Mission Hills resort "only" has 10 courses. Both resorts are stocked with amenities of nice restaurants, good accommodations, caddies, spas, tennis and more.
The LPGA Tour is evidence that South Korea's golf culture is as strong as anywhere in the world. Golf is so popular in Seoul that some courses like Taekwang Country Club offer massive driving ranges with multiple levels, lights for night play and two greens side by side to handle the sheer amount of play. I wonder if the driverless golf carts I rode in will ever go mainstream in the United States. I hope so. They mix the best reasons for riding (long stretches between holes) and walking (exercise and camaraderie).
Vietnam, which is blessed by hundreds of miles of sandy coastline perfect for golf, is in the midst of a golf boom that will eventually make it a player on the world golf tourism stage. The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip and Hoiana Shores are highly regarded courses with more competition currently under construction.
Have you played golf in Asia? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.