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Puerto Azul Golf and Country Club - Ready to assume its place at the top of Philippine Golf


I've been blessed to have seen the rebirth of Puerto Azul Golf and Country Club. I made my first trip back over a year ago. Only a few holes had been completed but I got a good look at the new layout and marveled at the changes to the course. 

Since then, I've had the good fortune to play the course several times and can now offer real insight on how the golf course plays.

Christened the Zamora Championship Course after its namesake, Salvador "Buddy" Zamora, whose vision it was to rehabilitate Puerto Azul, it is now a true championship track. From the tips it measures 7,495 yards, making it suitable for international events, exactly what Mr. Zamora intended.

This is a golf course that requires nerve and accuracy off the tee. Many of the fairways are obscured by the rainforest and restricted by water hazards from the furthest tees. The fairway opens up for the shorter tees revealing more of the fairway. 

It's a golf course designed to challenge the best golfers in the world from the tips. It is therefore advisable to play a set of tees forward from what you are accustomed until you develop enough course knowledge to challenge the course from further back. 

The front nine can be brutal. There is danger on both sides as all the holes are bordered by the jungle on one side and a water hazard on the other. The opening hole sets the tone of the round; it's a 645-yard par 5 with two forced carries. Even from further forward, it's still a brute of a golf hole. 

Three is the 1-handicap, remarkable if you consider that this is one of the shortest of the par fours. The hole snakes along the side of the mountain and requires multiple forced carries. It requires precision both off the tee and into the green, lest you lose your golf ball in the creek that meanders across it or into the ever-present jungle. 

The fifth presents the first real scoring opportunity. The shortest of the par fives, it's the one that most golfers can reach in two. The first shot from the tips is nerve-wracking with just a sliver of the fairway visible from the tee. As with many of the other holes, the fairway is revealed as you move further up but the tree line on the left conspires to force you to play out to the right and thus further away from the green. 

The sixth is a long dogleg to the left to an island green. This green used to be the ninth green but in the club's quest for length, the green now sees duty on the sixth hole. The tee shot needs to be played further right than you might think off the tee to get a good angle for your approach to the green. There's quite a premium on distance control for the shot into the green as it is quite shallow from front to back.

The tenth hole takes you up the hill and offers the first real view of the Manila Bay from the green. It plays much longer than it reads on the scorecard and narrows as you get to the long, skinny green. A forced carry is required for the approach to the green but if the hole is played properly, the small creek shouldn't be a factor.

Eleven (along with seventeen and eighteen) are the three holes that are largely untouched by the renovation. It's short but is a lovely golf hole that eases the transition to the meat of the inward nine.

Twelve presents a scoring opportunity by carrying the tree on the left that guards the dogleg. A fade is the preferred shot shape here, which will put you in a great position to attack the smaller half of a double green shared with fourteen. Be mindful to club up for the approach as the wooden planks that front the green are unforgiving of shots that fall short.

The tee shot on fourteen is claustrophobic; the mountain on the left hides the left third of the fairway and a creek on the right sits in wait for the errant tee shot. The green is more generous than that of twelve, which should provide a quick respite before tackling the four finishing holes.

The last corner is arguably the most beautiful stretch of golf in the country. The short sixteenth puts a real premium on the tee shot as the landing area is barely thirty-yards wide. The green butts up almost right by the bay and is a truly beautiful sight. 

Seventeen and eighteen are some of the most storied holes in Philippine golf. The par 3 seventeenth was once voted one of the most beautiful holes of golf in the world outside the United States by Golf Magazine. It remains a stunning hole of golf and will give golfers fits when the wind is up. 

Eighteen is a strong finishing hole with forced carries required off the tee and into the green, which, mercifully, presents a large target for a long iron or fairway metal. It's a magnificent way to end your round.

The Zamora Championship Course at Puerto Azul is now in its soft opening phase and is accepting guests by appointment only. If you'd like to play, join the Pinoygolfer Group on Facebook and look for the announcement pinned to the top of the group page.