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Club Intramuros - Golf in the Belly of the Beast

Established in the early 1900’s, Club Intramuros began its existence as a short nine-hole course known as the Manila Municipal Golf Links more commonly known as “Muni”. In the early 1930’s, the course came under the management of the City Government of Manila and was expanded to a full 18-holes 3,896-yards in length playing to a par of 60. In 1981, control and management of the golf course was transferred to the Philippine Tourism Authority by presidential decree. It was at this time that the current clubhouse was built, and other physical aspects of the course were improved. 

The course meanders around the periphery of the walled city of Intramuros (literally “within the walls”) from which the course gets its name. No discussion of the golf course would be complete without reviewing the great history of the city within the walls. Built by the Spaniards in 1571 using Filipino prisoners for forced labor, the adobe walls stretch some 4.5 kilometers from Del Pan to Jones Bridges along the Pasig River enclosing a pentagonal area of some 64 hectares which contained residences, churches schools and government buildings. Entry to the walled city was made possible via a series of draw bridges and gates that opened at sunrise and closed at sunset. The golf course is laid out along many of these entrances; in fact, the holes are named after the gates and battlements by which they lie. 

In 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos, an avid golfer himself, approved the budget for a total renovation of the golf course. P230.9 million Pesos was allotted for the project and renown golf architect Andy Dye was retained to lead the redesign and refurbishment of the club’s facilities. After a year, the new course was unveiled to an eager public. The new course measures 4,151 yards and plays to a par of 66. Seashore Paspalum now covers the fairways improving playability immensely while Zoysia (a local Bermuda variety) covers the tee boxes and putting surfaces; both smart choices as these local grasses stand up well to the conditions and climate outside the walled city. 

A round of golf here is a walk with history. These are the holes and the outworks and fortifications after which they are named with a short history of each.

1. Guadalupe Shrine – Occupying an outwork known as the Bastion de San Francisco and what is today a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, it is steeped in history. An array of cannons atop the fortification protected the bayside of Fort Santiago and the entrance to the Pasig River before the Port Area was reclaimed. 

2. Postiago del Palacio – Built in 1782, this entrance led to the palaces of the Archbishop and Governor-General who used it whenever they wanted to enter or leave the city unnoticed. Jose Rizal was taken to Bagumbayan to his execution through this gate. 

3. Puerto de Sta. Lucia – Built in 1603, this gate has two side chambers, one with steps leading to a dungeon-like cell. This gate led directly to Malecon Drive, a popular promenade, across a cobblestone bridge over Calle Real which was excavated and restored in 1981. 

4. Baluarte de San Jose – the site of one of the golf course’s most difficult holes, the Baluarte de San Jose was used to transport ammunition to the Reducto de San Pedro. It was also known as “No. 1 Victoria Street” or “The White House” when it served as the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur in 1941. 

5. Revellin de Real – Converted by the Americans into an aquarium before WW II, it used to house an impressive collection of Philippine fishes. The moat that separated it from the gate is now a garden of tropical trees and coconut palms and serves as a popular venue of performing arts presentations. 

6. Puerto Real – Built in 1663, The Royal Gate was for the exclusive use of the Governor-General on occasions of state. This section was destroyed by cannon fire during the British invasion of 1762 and was reconstructed in 1780. 

7. National Museum – The seventh hole sits directly across the Old Congress building which now serves as the National Museum. It is the official repository and guardian of the national heritage and natural history. 

9. Baluarte de Dilao – Built in 1592 as part of the original stone fortification of the city. It is also known as San Lorenzo, San Francisco de Dilao or simply Dilao. It was enlarged in 1662 following threats of invasion by Chinese pirates. Heavily damaged after the British attack on Manila in 1762, it was again enlarged and strengthened in 1773. Again, severely damaged in the Battle of Manila in 1945, it was finally restored in 1984. 

10. Revellin de Recolletos – Built in 1771 and named after the Recolletos Church. It was also known as the Revellin de Dilao. The fortification was created to strengthen the defenses of the curtain wall between the Baluarte de Dilao and Baluarte de San Andres. The original entrance at the center of the curtain wall was closed when the revellin was converted into a garden in 1940. Renamed Aurora Garden in honor of the wife of Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, it was severely damaged during the Battle of Manila in 1945 and was restored in 1969 and 1983. 

11. Baluarte de San Andres – Built in 1645, it was designed to protect the old Puerta Real on its right flank and reinforced the Southern part of Intramuros. Reconstructed in 1773 as a bomb-proof arsenal for gun powder storage, a garita or watch tower and barracks for its guards were added. It was also known as the Baluarte de San Nicolas or Carranza. It was destroyed in the British siege in 1762, rebuilt and modified after the occupation and severely damaged again in WW II. It was finally restored to its present condition in 1987. 

12. Luna Gap – A wooden door, sentry box and some chambers were all that remained of the old Puerta Real, walled up after the British occupation in 1764. The gap was opened in 1904 by the American Government to give access to vehicles and pedestrians goint to and from Luneta and the Southern suburbs.

13. The Manila Hotel – It is said that at the Manila Hotel, history never takes a holiday. Since its opening on July 4, 1912, this national landmark has been an active, albeit silent, witness to Philippine history. For almost thirty years, the hotel saw the coming and goings of a wealth of luminaries and in 1935, General Douglas MacArthur made it his home until he was unceremoniously replaced by General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya in 1941. Since its restoration after WW II, it has been the favorite home of visiting celebrities and state visitors from the Beatles to U.S. President Bill Clinton. 

14. Baluarte de San Diego – Within this fortification is the oldest fort in Manila, the Nuestra Señra de Guia. A round tower encompassing the defenses of land and sea, it was of poor quality and soon fell into disrepair. A new baluarte, San Diego, wasn constructed in the 17th century shaped like the ace of spades. Breached in the 1762 British invasion and destroyed in WW I, San Diego was restored during the 1980’s following archaeological excavations in 1979. 

15. Reducto de San Pedro – This is an independent pentagonal structure built outside the walls. A ramp on one side of the structure leads to the parapet on top. It was used as a powder magazine during Spanish times and as an office of the USAFFE during the pre-war period. 

16. Puerta de Isabel II – The last gate built by the Spaniards in the Walled City, it was opened in 1861 to ease traffic between Intramuros and Binondo. Flanking it are chambers which seved as barracks and arsenals. The gate is graced by the statue of the queen after which it was named. The bronze statue of Queen Isabel II was unveiled in 1860 in Plaza Arroceros (now Liwasang Bonifacio). 

17. Rizal’s Footsteps – Dr. Jose Rizal crossed the fairway of number 17 as he was led from his detention cell in the fort to his execution at Bagumbayan on December 30, 1896. His martyrdom is a testament to the indomitable spirit and faith of the Filipino people. 

18. Fort Santiago – Fort Santiago guards the entrance to the Pasig River from Manila Bay. Named in honor of Saint James, Slayer of the Moors (Santiago Matamoro), this was the site of the ancient settlement of Maynilad ruled by Rajah Soliman. The fort served as headquarters of Spanish, American and Japanese colonizers until its destruction in 1945. It was restored in the 1950’s as a public park and houses the shrine in honor of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. 

Golf at Intramuros is an experience like no other. The redesign by Andy Dye means that although the course is short, it is tricky. You’ll need to keep the ball below the hole to score well. One is best served by resisting the urge to drive the greens on the shorter par 4s and instead play for position on the next shot. 

There is a surprising amount of water on the course so keeping your ball dry is essential to a good score. The 10th is one of the most interesting holes as it is an homage to the 17th at the TPC Sawgrass. Thankfully, the 10th green is much larger than the one at Sawgrass so it will not play as hard.

Many are quick to diss Club Intramuros because it's quirky and takes the driver out of your hands. But the course has its own challenges. It requires thoughtful placement of your golf ball and control of your short game. The course is far from being a push-over and is a great place for an intermediate level golfer to learn how to manage his/her way around the fairways.  

Enjoy your walk and marvel at the construction of the immense walls that line the sides of the fairway. Take the opportunity to play a round in the evening to fully appreciate the uniqueness of the golf experience here. You won’t regret you did.