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My Favorite Golf Courses - Calatagan Golf Club

Summer in the Philippines is the time to go on vacation. As a young adult, going to the beach in the Matabunkay/Nasugbu stretch of Batangas was a favorite destination. It was relatively close to the city and the black sanded beaches presented a chance to kick back and enjoy the company of friends and family.

Today, several decades hence, I still make the long drive to this part of the Batangas coast on a regular basis but it is no longer the beach that beckons. Instead, it is the sleepy town of Calatagan and the magnificent golf course that was built there.

Calatagan Golf Club was built by Don Enrique Zobel and Robert Trent Jones, Jr about the same time as the Alabang Country Club. Calatagan is blessed with hilly topography and an abundance of trees; indeed, the course seems to have been carved out of a forest. 

The magnificent clubhouse sits on top of a hill, adjacent to the vast Zobel ranch, Hacienda Biga-a, with the course cascading down and around the hill and back up again. This topography allowed Jones to design some truly dramatic tee shots; many (myself included) feel this is his best work in the country to date. 

The drive up to the clubhouse is generally unpaved and lined with gnarled Kalachuchi trees and adds to the provincial feel of the property. Not quite the drive up Magnolia Lane at Augusta National, but it is not without its charm. The clubhouse is expansive with a large Veranda that makes the most of the stunning landscape. I’ve been coming here for golf for almost two decades and there’s something special about this place.

It feels like home.

Variety is something Calatagan GC has in spades. This is a hilly golf course – one that provides endless variety of shot both off the tee and into the green. None of the holes look or play the same way. The greens are small thus putting a premium on ball-striking. The bunkers are generally firm but play consistently, making recovery from them straightforward.

Calatagan is a shotmaker’s course; a balanced mix that will entertain, challenge and yes, punish you it you stray from its tree lined fairways. The root buttresses of the some of the larger varieties result in very penal lies; consider your options carefully when you find yourself among them.

The most interesting holes at Calatagan are the par-4s. They are a mix of very short and moderately long holes but because of the trees, elevation changes and firm, fast fairways, they play much harder than the length of the hole lets on. Good shots are rewarded, bad ones severely punished. Just the way it should be.

Favorites? It’s so tough to choose between them. Three, four, seven and nine on the front and the last seven holes on the back are the holes that seem to best characterize this golf course. They work so well together in sequence; making different demands of you from the tee. These are beautiful driving holes and will demand every bit of your skill to play properly.

The holes flow so well one after the other as you traverse the course. You’ll see it all here; elevated tee shots, elevated greens and everything in between. A high draw off the tee is a definite advantage on some of the shorter holes as you’ll get a chance to cut corners. The smart play is to play away from the doglegs to get a good line into the green. 

It is the intangibles that define Calatagan. The ambience is something that you can’t buy or build. It’s something that developed over time. It takes you back to the grand era of the course’s birth and shows you what golf was in that golden age. Calatagan Golf Club connects with you on a gut-level in a way that you never fully understand. It draws you in with its beauty and seduces you with the golf. It is something that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

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