Hitting the Links, Sand Traps and all, in the Shadow of Angkor

Siem Reap – Prime Minister Hun Sen beat me in golf last month. On Dec 22, Hun Sen shot an eagle on the eighth hole at Angkor Golf Resort in Siem Reap province. That’s two swings of a golf club.

Playing the same hole on Jan 5, two weeks after the prime minister, my tee-off landed in a pond and a second shot rolled into a bunker. Unlike the prime minister, I faced triple-bogey on the eighth-which meant seven swings and counting.

Welcome to Cambodia’s newest golf course, indeed.

The 6,616-meter Angkor course distinguishes itself among Cambodia’s golf courses with its design by championship golfer Nick Faldo, whose other fairways include Mission Hills Golf Club in Hong Kong and Wildfire Golf Club in Arizona.

Holes 2 and 13 are the course’s signatures, and when I golfed here in January, a month after the first nine holes opened to the public, Faldo’s style showed in the sweeping bunkers and clever approaches to the green-two reasons why construction of the course required four years work.

I arrived at Angkor’s clubhouse in the late afternoon where several dozen female caddies, dressed in long-sleeve green shirts and wide-rimmed caps, awaited golfers.

I teed off with my $15 rental set of King Cobra clubs. All was well until hole 2, a short par 4 dogleg to the right. From the tee, the flag is invisible due to a large grove of pre-existing trees, where my ball landed. My South African golfing partner teed off too strong, then faced a difficult shot to the green, which is hedged by a deep, sloping bunker.

Faldo gave fair warning in his hole-by-hole description of the Angkor course, advising a carefully placed tee shot at hole 2 “to avoid the large cross bunkers and gain access to the tightly guarded green, one of the smallest on the course.”

“It tests the golfer,” said Angkor course Manager Adam Robertson, a native of Scotland who has also worked at courses in Thailand and China.

Robertson pointed out hole 13, the course’s other signature hole, highlighting the bunkers that flank most of the 419-meter fairway. He also noted the long, curving rock wall that lines the pond and catches the light of the rising sun.

Such are the details that Faldo often adds to his courses, Robertson said, like at Ocean Dunes Golf Club in Vietnam, which Asian Golf Monthly named as one of the top-10 courses in all of Asia.

“We want to be the benchmark,” Robertson said, adding that Faldo visited Angkor Golf Resort in 2003, 2005 and 2007 to oversee construction on what was previously rice paddy.

Flooding, which is required to irrigate a rice paddy, ruins a golf course. Building an extensive drainage system at Angkor dragged completion of the course 18 months past deadline.

But Robertson said the course has been worth the wait, and I agreed-despite my final score.

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