Ever since I became a member of one of the clubs south of Manila, I have not had time to visit the course where I met my golfing buddies. These guys were the reason why I prefer playing with a group. These guys, enjoy the game, are knowledgeable and have fun on the course. There is never a dull moment when I play with these guys. So when the invite came for me to tee off with them on a Sunday morning, I jumped at the chance. Yes, it had been raining in Manila for some time and the course is not an all weather beauty like some of the private courses; this course still manages to give me that feeling that ‘all is well with my game and the world in general’.
Enter, The Navy Golf Course. At a tad over 5600 yards from the blue tees, the course is not long by any classification. The challenge is in the narrow fairways and the trees that line virtually every hole on this course. With not so subtle elevation changes and slow greens, this course is unlike the private courses. It’s just different. I played with my group which included Llody and Rico with an honorable mention to my awesome caddy Dang. Rico is a jolly 60 year (and I am being generous) with a quick wit and Llody is a 30 something (again being generous) with a beautiful ‘self-taught’ game. Unfortunately, our buddy Reggie was unable to join so we played as a threesome. Navy sits bang in the middle of Lawton Avenue on the road to the NAIA terminal 3. Once on Lawton Avenue, watch out for the distinctive water tower (nee reservoir) and the gate next to that will lead to the course. A couple of meandering turns later you enter the property. Take care to drop off your bag as soon as you enter the gate and then make your way to the operations office. The first tee is right next to the restaurant and the admin office. We teed off at around 6 AM under an overcast sky.
A Story of 2 nines:
Before I begin my report, I would like to mention a few unique features of the course.
• The way the tee boxes and greens are setup, you can always see golfers on other greens and fairways all around you. You just know that you are part of a community or part of a crowd, depending on how you look at it.
• The course is so accessible, ala Villamor, that it is always crowded. You will see expats, armed forces personnel, kids, all enjoying a round here.
• If it rains, you can expect a wet course (remember it’s not an all-weather course)
• Each hole on navy has a signage next to the yardage box, describing various instruments of war, battleships, troop carriers etc. Informative for sure.
• You cannot, I mean cannot, fail to notice the wait times between holes. If you finish the first 9, then you can be sure that there is a queue at the 10th since the Marshalls allow people to tee off simultaneously from both nines. I feel that this is an area where the course can do better. Wait times of 30-40 minutes are not uncommon between holes 10, 11 and 12.
• There are 5 par 5s and 7 par 3s on the course. No one can blame this Par-70 course of not providing opportunities to score.
• If you are going to take a picture of the fairway or green, then don’t expect to get a clean shot. You will always have someone in your camera’s line of sight!!
We played from the white tees because the blue ones were packed up (No idea why).
Hole 1 is a par 5 with a meandering stream bisecting the fairway. The opening shot is a bit daunting as there are tree branches jutting out all the way on the left of the teeing ground. Try hitting your shot around 240 yards and you will be left with a 220 yard wood/hybrid to an uphill green. The green has a couple of bunkers on either side but all in all an easy opening hole. Hole 2 is a much tougher hole. Though straight and long, the green sits well above the fairway thus making the 447 yarder even longer. Hole 3 is where the action truly starts. It’s a 180 yard par 3 with water around the tee box that does not really come into play. There is a lone tree to the left of the green but does not really come into play unless you pull your tee shot well left. There are a couple of bunkers framing the green but not too deep.
The 4th is my favorite hole on the course. It’s a short Par 4, only 324 yards in length and a dogleg left. If you are a long hitter, you can try hitting over the hazard on the left and over a few houses!!! The fairway is narrow and widens at the turn. Hit a 3 wood and keep right for an open shot to the green. The fairway slopes down to the left so you are typically left with a shot well above your feet (for right handers). After a routine drive, I was left with a 9 iron into the green and I forgot to adjust my aim and found myself on the wrong side of the green and near the bunker. As is typical of navy there are small bunkers on all sides of the green. Credit to the course that inspite of the heavy rain the sand was loose and not packed. A routine wedge was followed by a longish par putt which was duly dispatched and my recovery was well and truly on (I neglected to mention that I was 8 over after the first 3 holes).
The 5th hole is an uphill Par 3. Its only 120 yards in length and no more than a 9 iron or a wedge but due to the elevation, you will be better served to club up.
The 6th is a short dogleg left Par 4 with the outstanding feature the green being surrounded by water on all sides. It’s just a small canal but there is real danger of getting your ball wet if you miss the smallish green.
The 7th is another of the course’s short Par 4s with a slight curve to the right. What you do need to be wary of is your tee shot. With the fairway being framed by trees and quite narrow, it will be better to take a hybrid/wood off the tee. I took a driver off the tee trying to cut over the tree cover on the right but ended up hitting it straight and left and through the tree cover and into the 6th fairway. After a feeble attempt at ‘fore’ I found myself scrambling to find my ball which was slam back in the middle of the 6th fairway. I then had a short discussion with the group behind us. The gentleman insisted that the ball was his while I pointed out that the name on the ball was mine (I try to scribble my name on the ball before I play so I don’t end up hitting the incorrect ball:). After an animated discussion, (with his group pitching in) we settled on the fact that my name was indeed Harry and the ball was in fact mine. I then hit a routine wedge onto the green and 2 putted for par.
The 8th is a 160 yard Par 3 with bunkers framing the green. Nothing fancy, just a routine 8 iron.
The last hole on the front 9 is a 500 yard Par 5 with a small canal bisecting the fairway. If you can carry the driver 260 yards, you can cross the canal and be left with a wood into the green. The green sits a little above the fairway so be careful and adjust your distances accordingly. There are a couple of bunkers short of the green to catch a mishit ball. A birdie hole for sure.
The back 9 started off with the now customary wait time, due to course traffic. After a 20 minute hiatus we finally teed off on the Par 3 which measures 160 yards. It’s surrounded by a bunker on all sides 3 sides with a steep drop off towards the back into deep rough.
The 11th is a short Par 4 which can be carried by the long hitters. There is a small canal (see how the course designers tried to work in some degree of difficulty) at around 260 yards which presents the only challenge. Hole 12 is a routine Par 3 with water on the extreme left only coming into play if you pull your tee shot left. There are 2 bunkers on the right and front which present the obstacle to a medium fast green. The back 9 actually starts off in right earnest from holes 13, 14 and 15. All of which are Par 5s of varying difficulties.
The 13th is an uphill downhill Par 5 while the 14th is a long hole with the green hidden on the right by a clump of trees. The Makati skyline is clearly visible from the tee and the elevated fairway. The 15th is another uphill and downhill hole with a premium on an accurate shot. There are 2 bunkers on either side of the fairway and a stream sitting around 80-100 yards from the green.
The 16th is a beautiful par 3 with a deep bunker on the front of the hole. It’s only a 115 yards in length but the green slopes heavily from the back to the front. The beautiful part about this hole is that more often than not you can actually see planes on their landing approach to the Airport. Take note, you will have to shake off the deep rumble of those planes as they pass quite close to the hole. This hole also has a small snack bar which you can use to stock up for the final 3 holes which are actually quite easy. After landing my tee shot around 10 feet to the green, I found myself looking at a slow uphill putt (hate those). I missed it by about 2 inches, tapped in for par and tried my best to blame my putter!!
The 17th is a 180 yard par 3 (the 7th Par 3 of this course). Nothing fancy, just hit a 6 iron, get a birdie and move on. If you do manage to drop it short then you may find yourself in a bunker which is not tough to splash out of. The 18th sits beside a road so there is a big net all the way to the left side to catch the errant tee shot. I must assume the residents there have made quite a killing on the used golf ball market. My buddies duly added to that booming industry by launching a couple of handsome drives straight down the left and disturbing a few roosters who cackled their displeasure. I hit mine down the center and over the small canal bisecting the fairway (there must be a million of those on this course). The fairway slopes gently to the right and I was faced with a downhill lie for my second. I flubbed my second and hit a beautiful wedge to 10 feet for my 3rd. Took my bogey and signed off on what turned out to be my second best ever round of 87!!
While the front 9 is a mix of short and long holes, elevation changes and a couple of water hazards, the back nine is easy paced and will give you the best opportunities to score. The rough on the front 9 is thick and a devil to hack out of. The back nine starts off slow and after a flurry of 3 par 5s in a row, gently meanders off into the easiest closing holes you will play on any course. Navy is not a fancy course, not does it pretend to be. The only negative is the green fee which after a discount due to my Golfph membership, came out to be Php 2000 (they also added a 10% expat charge!!). After tipping your caddy and getting a bite, you will end up paying close to 3K for a round of golf. Is it worth it? Depends on what your expectations are. There are cheaper courses outside the metro and a couple cheaper towards the east of the metro. Even Villamor is a cheaper bet. The good thing about Navy is that you don’t need a cart and we actually finished our round in 3.5 hours which is not bad for a threesome with a decently high handicap.
If you ever find yourself short on confidence and need a pick-me-up, this is the perfect course. After my historic front 9 meltdown at a recent tournament, I needed a confidence boost and this was it. You don’t need a long game to score on this course. The greens are slow and if you do manage to overhit your ball, you won’t be faced with the prospect of chipping your way back. The caddies are knowledgeable and helpful and the course feels like coming home to a warm welcome. It’s a lush, green course and the fairways are well maintained. Not the best mind you but definitely no bald spots. If you are in the Fort area and want to catch a game, then I recommend Navy. Army is too short and Villamor is best described as an exercise in patience. This course will force you to use all the clubs in your bag and at the end of the day that is the perfect kind of exercise.
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