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Kingdom of Cambodia, Historic Temples, Modern Golf

By: Anthony Langlois Posted: November-08-2011 in
Angkor Golf Resort - Click for more photos
Anthony Langlois

What does Cambodia conjure up in your mind? Magical temples or remote island beaches? Or maybe less attractive images, thankfully from a distant past, such as those portrayed in the Oscar winning film The Killing Fields?

A more accurate picture of present day Cambodia is a peaceful and welcoming country that has retained the style of its former French colony heritage and mixed it with indigenous cultural charm to completely redevelop itself and regain its proud title as 'The Pearl of Asia'. Indeed, the past decade has seen a flourishing tourist industry with some three million visitors per year enjoying a full range of cultural and luxury travel experiences. And golf is proving to be an increasingly important part of that package.

Sir Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and David McLay Kidd have all contributed in designing a range of courses to suit golfers of all abilities and budgets that are truly as beautiful to play as they are to see. Some of these courses are now open for play, whilst others are at the later stage of completion.

The catalyst of developments was the Phokeethra Country Club, which opened in Siem Reap in 2007 and soon became widely accepted as a world-class facility. Managed by the Sofitel Hotel Group - and home to the Asian PGA Tour’s Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open - this challenging course with sweeping fairways and water features on almost every hole created the benchmark for Cambodian golf.

Sir Nick Faldo maintained that level of quality with his Angkor Golf Resort development as reflected by its 2009 rating as one of the top three of new courses in Asia. The award was made by Asian Golf Monthly. The former World Number One Golfer is quoted as saying, "I am certain that this site and this golf course will become world renowned. We have designed and built a golf course that challenges all standards of golfers, from the casual weekender through to the seasoned professional. It is a golf course that will offer enjoyment to everyone and will hopefully have them coming back to be challenged by this strategic layout time after time". Further he adds, "Overall, I believe that we have created a course that offers great variety through all 18 holes and the fact that we have been working alongside such remarkable surroundings has been a real inspiration, the result is a strategically testing and very engaging round of golf. I also believe that our course at the Angkor Golf Resort will help to put this part of South East Asia firmly on the golfing map".

In 2010 a third international course, Angkor Lake Resort Golf Club (formerly named Siem Reap Lake Resort Golf Club), opened and added a new dimension in 'aprés golf’ with its opulent clubhouse and spa facilities. Similarly, Bellus Angkor Golf Club, scheduled to open in 2012, will include a water park and casino. Designed by David McLay Kidd, described by Golf World as the 'hottest architect in golf', you can certainly bet on the course being a winner too.

In the next five years it is anticipated that a further 10 new courses will be built in Cambodia. More developments at Siem Reap are expected and the beach resort of Sihanoukville (no courses at present) and the surrounding islands also have plans in place. The 36-hole layout at Bokor Mountain, an Arnold Palmer Design, is expected to be ready to play by 2013. In fact, hardly a month goes by without whispers of new and even more elaborate golf developments.

In contrast, golf has been played in Phnom Penh since 1996 when two facilities, the Cambodian Golf & Country Club and Royal Cambodia Phnom Penh Golf Club, were constructed to satisfy the needs of the local dignitaries. It is not unfair to say that they are not to the same standard (or fees) as the courses in Siem Reap but as demand for golf has increased in the locality the maintenance and presentation of these courses has steadily improved.

At the other end of the scale, Grand Phnom Penh, a Jack Nicklaus Design course opened recently, but it caters for members only with a current joining fee of $40,000. You will need to befriend a member to secure a game here. Thankfully, Vattanac Golf Resort, a new development to international standard, is expected to open within the next 12 months in Phnom Penh and available for play to the general public, and again, Sir Nick Faldo, is the driving force behind the 36-hole development. In the meantime City Golf Phnom Penh, a 9 hole par 3 course with driving range and practice greens, offers a low-budget alternative.

Whatever the course designers come up with in their quest to make Cambodia a sun-kissed haven of golf they will always be in the shadow of the main historic attraction, Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building. It was built for King Suryavanam II in the early 12th century and is the only one to have remained a signifcicant religious centre since its foundation, first Hindu then Buddhist.

Another famous attraction is the Tonlé Sap, which is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. The Tonlé Sap is unusual for two reasons, its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From October to April, Cambodia's dry season, the Tonlé Sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. However, when the year's heavy rains begin in June, the Tonlé Sap backs up to form an enormous lake.

For the more adventurous visitor there is so much more to see. Choices range from the relaxing city of Battambang to the bustling capital Phnom Penh and the quiet coastal towns of Kep and Kampot to the commanding Cardamom Mountains and the beach resort and islands of Sihanoukville.

Cambodia is certainly a mixed bag of delights and whatever its treasures you seek you will not be disappointed.

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