I can hear the alarm going off but my body is refusing to move, its 5.30 am and I went to bed at 4am after a very heavy night out in Manila – you need to try the rum here!!
It’s the last day of the press trip and thankfully my brain has overruled my body and I am standing under the shower trying to sober and wake up, a quick breakfast and I am on my way to Villamor Air Base Golf Course, it’s only a 5-min cab drive from the Manila Hilton, but as we pass through the arch and onto the property it may as well be a million miles away.
Now Manila is a Metropolis of tall buildings, shanty towns, shops of all shapes and sizes and 6-lane roads with 20-rows of traffic and being next to the airport planes taken off every 2-minutes, throw in the train tracks, buses and jeepys, you can imagine suddenly seeing 18-holes of a green oasis stuck right in the middle, it really is an amazing sight and unless you were looking for it you would never know it was here.
Top: An emerald oasis surrounded by noise and chaos. Above LtoR: 3rd, 10th and 18th holes
I am playing with the owner Roberto and Alex who runs the golf carts and caddies, there’s a wonderful driving range to warm up on but I had to decide between sleep and hitting a few balls and even in my lubricated state I knew I needed to grab some sleep.
Fortunately, I managed to connect the club head to the ball and send it down the centre of the fairway, my first impressions apart from the greenery is how tight the fairways are. The holes here are treelined with narra, mahogany, eucalyptus, and mango trees and the fairways run like slithers of mown emerald carpet between them.
I realise very quickly strategy is the key to playing here, put the ball in the fairway, stay out of the trees and bunkers and you will score well, try and over power the course and you can quickly put a number on the board that an opening batsman would be proud of!
The course is in wonderful condition the fairways are lush, green and manicured, with the greens being beautifully prepared and although they look in great condition they were slower than what I expected them to be.
The first of the par 3s arrives at the 176-yard, 3rd hole known as friendship – all the holes are named after aircraft that made up the Philippines Air Force during the time the base was used – water protects the front of the green with a backdrop of a fly over, which I could probably hit with my 3-wood and displayed proudly behind the green in big bold white lettering is the words “Home of the Philippine Masters” having tried to research this I think it could be a local amateur tournament as I cannot find any mention of it, but Villamor did host the Philippines Open from 1984-86.
It is a great little hole played downhill, but for me the highlight of the front nine came at the 459-yard par 4, 5th hole known as Albatross, it’s a another tight driving hole, but for me the uniqueness came from the hotels that ran along the left hand side of the fairway and framed the green and tower over the trees, the juxtaposed positioning of this green oasis surrounded by an urban sprawl is incapsulated in that one hole.
The 10th hole is where you will find the umbrella girls, for those who like to walk but want protection from the sun you can hire the girls to protect you from the sun with their umbrellas.
The 11th is a severe dogleg left which requires just a 6-iron off the tee between trees to a marker post, then you have a long second shot into the green to give you an eagle chance on this 530-yard, par 5. Walking off the 18th green I am greeted by a sign that says “Thank you, golf again” and it is certainly a course I would love to play again. I did find the back nine more interesting and I am reluctant to pick out a hole because I enjoyed them all, but the island green at the par 3, 17th should get a mention.
In conclusion if you like quiet solitude this course isn’t for you, the noise from a busy city and the airport is constant and towering over the trees is a concrete jungle, but if you like a tough test of golf that makes the most of the land with raised small greens with run offs, tight fairways, well-placed bunkers and water hazards you will love playing here, I will certainly be back next time I’m in town.
Above: The juxtaposed position of the 12th green and the shanty town in the background