BRINGING OUT BRUNEI'S BEST
As a golfing destination, Brunei has been very much an enigma.
Occupying barely one per cent of Borneo Island, Brunei, with a largely
affluent population of less than 400,000 and a handful of exclusive
golfing establishments, has never aggressively positioned itself
as a getaway for golfers.
All that is changing, though, with last year's inaugural US$300,000
Brunei Open on the Asian Tour - won by Australian Terry Pilkadaris
- launching the oil-rich Southeast Asian country as the region's
Sultanate of Swing.
The 2006 edition, with prize money increased to US$500,000, will
again take place from August 24-27 at the Jack Nicklaus-designed
Empire Golf Course, part of the regal Empire Hotel & Country
Club in Bandar Seri Begawan.
While an estimated one million visitors pass through Brunei's immigration
checkpoints every year, golf has not figured prominently on the
agenda. Largely the tourism industry in Brunei revolves around the
tropical country's rich rain forests that attract eco-tourists,
its opulent palaces, mosques and other cultural attractions, along
with beachfront resorts offering water sports.
Jean Christophe Robles Espinosa, Tourism Expert, Market and Product
Development, Brunei Tourism, is convinced that golf can be added
to that list of attractions. He said: "We believe that staging
the Brunei Open will help tremendously to position Brunei as a new
golfing destination in Asia, one that most people have overlooked
so far, mostly because of lack of awareness."
Indeed, Brunei Tourism anticipate that the publicity generated
by the Brunei Open will increase the number of golf tourists.
"Because of the quality of the courses in Brunei, the luxurious
accommodation and clubhouses, and the lack of crowds on the greens,
golf has the potential to become one of Brunei's key tourism products,
especially for the regional markets," said Robles.
Projecting a wholesome and family friendly image, Brunei also offers
plenty of off-course activities to keep non-golfers occupied, ideal
for those who wish to take a golfing trip with the family, while
enjoying their game in peaceful, quiet and green surroundings, far
from pollution, noise, traffic jams and crowds.
"As golfers are known to be high spending tourists, many from
the nearby markets can expect to get 'hooked' on Brunei's golf experience
and become repeat visitors, perhaps bringing friends and family
along," added Robles. "We are hopeful that golf will be
one of the products that will help Brunei in its tourism growth,
and staging the Brunei Open is certainly a step in the right direction."
With golf courses of genuine pedigree ready to be challenged, the
real golfers have made their grand entrance. Asia's elite field
of professionals is putting Brunei on the golfing map, both as a
venue for big tournaments and as a golfing destination.
Not only do Asian Tour officials see the Brunei event as being
important for the growth of the Tour, but also as a platform for
golf's development in the Sultanate.
"The establishment of the Brunei Open is a wonderful development
for Asian golf and the Asian Tour. It will place Brunei firmly on
the international golfing map and there will be keen media interest
in the inaugural Open," said Louis Martin, chief executive
of the Asian Tour.
"The Asian Tour Weekly, which is on air via ESPN STAR Sports,
will provide great mileage for the event which could well create
a positive spin for the growing golf tourism industry in the Sultanate."
With three championship courses in Brunei, Robles feels that it
is time for the golfing community to take notice of this 'undiscovered
gem of a golfing destination' only a short flight away from the
region's main capitals.
Hotel and Country Club is truly a magnificent golf facility,
and one that stands out," said Martin, referring to the venue
for the Brunei Open, located in Kampung Jerudong.
Built in 1997, the par-71, 6,427-metre course has been etched out
of tropical jungle with lush fairways and magnificent views of the
South China Sea from holes that have been carved out alongside the
Walk-in visitors can play a round for B$200 (about US$120), including
buggy charges. Night golf is also offered with all 18 holes floodlit.
One of the most memorable holes is the intimidating par-four sixth,
a par-four measuring just 326 metres, but daring the golfer with
a 190-metre tee-shot carry over a deep valley and on to a narrow
fairway, with so-called 'cliffs of doom' awaiting anything that
The most difficult hole is the par-four 18th, where you tee-off
from one of the highest points on the course. The index-one hole
is 435 metres in distance with a tee-shot that looks down on a fairway
separating daunting cliffs to the left and a large bunker on the
Brunei Golf & Country Club used to be the exclusive
personal playground of Brunei's ruler, His Majesty Haji Hassanal
Bolkiak, the 29th Sultan, and his special guests of the mostly Royal
and dignitary variety.
It has previously been open only to guests of the ruler, which
have included former US President Bill Clinton, Royal dignitaries
and some of the world's leading golfers such as Greg Norman, Seve
Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Tony Jacklin.
Indeed, the absence of a commercial entrance mandatory in other
clubs is indicative of its exclusivity.
However, His Majesty has recently allowed outsiders to flirt with
the par-72, 6,175-metre course, which is maintained to standards
set by the US PGA and modelled by Ron Fream on Augusta National,
home of the US Masters.
Still, one must make bookings well in advance and, as one of Asia's
most exclusive courses, a tee-time is never guaranteed.
Its tight fairways and super-fast greens make it a true challenge
but also gives golfers a 'jungle experience', with a nearby zoo
regularly providing natural sound effects from its resident elephants
Not quite as exclusive, but still a pleasant golfing experience
is the RBA
Golf Club, Brunei's first public course, less than 20 minutes
drive from Bandar Seri Begawan and five minutes from Brunei International
Running alongside the runways of the airport, the course is owned
by the country's national airline, Royal Brunei Airlines.
The Max Wexler-designed, 6,380-metre layout is generally flat with
man-made lakes. Water comes into play on 14 of the holes and natural
fauna remain from what used to be rain forest, offering unfriendly
responses to wayward shots.
And with some strategically placed bunkers and well-sculpted mounds
on the fairways, the well maintained layout [green fees: B$45-B$60
(about US$25-US$35)] will prove a stern test for most visiting golfers,
especially on a windy afternoon, which can cause plenty of havoc
in the relatively exposed course.
Meanwhile, the greens - also as flat as the proverbial 50 cent
coin - often tilt wickedly from side-to-side, ensuring your approach
shots require the utmost precision. Just ask the players from the
2003 Southeast Asian men's amateur team championship for the Putra
Cup, which was contested there.
Best Of The Rest
Golfing in Brunei is not limited to the three main clubs. The Pantai
Mentiri Golf Club at Jalan Pengkalan Sibabau is a visitor-friendly
The 18-hole, par-72 layout offers spectacular scenery and is of
international standard with green fees of B$60 (US$36) on weekdays
and B$120 (US$72) on weekends.
There is also the Panaga
Golf Club in Seria, a members-only facility, and the Jerudong
Park Polo Club, with a 9 hole 'Pitch & Putt' course.
The members-only policy for many clubs, the relatively few courses
within the country and the lack of a well-known touring professional
are possible hindrances to making Brunei a true focal point of Asia's
golf tourism industry.
But if the Sultan, who is one of the richest men in the world,
can allow his own private course to be used by outsiders, it is
a sign that Brunei is opening its doors.
And with those doors welcoming Asia's best touring professionals,
Brunei golf is on display to the world.
Off The Links
Once the essence of life in Brunei, the traditional water village
of Kampong Ayer remains a stronghold of life in the Sultanate. Though
numbers have decreased since the establishment of towns on the mainland
in 1906, Kampong Ayer is still very much the 'heart' of Brunei and
home to more than 30,000 people staying in the houses built on stilts
along the Brunei river.
While the exterior remains much the same, word has it that the
interior of many of these houses are now modernised and come with
full amenities, electricity and piped fresh water. The community
is also well-served by schools and clinics, as well as thriving
cottage industries such as cloth-weaving, silver crafting and fishing.
For visits not exceeding 30 days, tourists from Germany, Malaysia,
Singapore and British and New Zealand nationals are not required
to obtain a visa. American passport holders can enter for up to
three months without visas while visas are also waived for some
other nationalities for visits not exceeding 14 days.
All other nationals entering Brunei must have visas obtainable
from any Brunei Darussalam diplomatic missions abroad. These visas
are normally issued for a two-week stay but can be renewed in Brunei.
Visitors must have onward tickets or sufficient funds to support
themselves while in the country.
Brunei's equatorial climate sees year round temperatures ranging
between 23 to 32 degrees Celsius. There is no distinct rainy season
although from November to March generally tends to be the wetter
With connections to more than 20 cities, including Singapore, Kuala
Lumpur, Hong Kong, Frankfurt and London, Royal Brunei Airlines offers
numerous non-stop flights to the Sultanate. In addition, the national
airlines of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand also fly direct to
For transactions, the Brunei dollar is the national currency, although
Singapore dollars can also be used at the same value.
For dialling services, Brunei's country code is 673 while the area
code for the capital Bandar Seri Begawan is 02 (drop the zero when
dialling from overseas).
T: +673-2 382-832
F: +673-2 382-824
Royal Brunei Airlines
T: +673-2 242-222
The Empire Hotel & Country Club
T: +673-2 418-888
F: +673-2 418-999
Royal Brunei Golf & Country Club
T: +673-2 611-582
F: +673-2 610-499
RBA Golf Club
T: +673-2 343-724
F: +673-2 343-726
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of