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FOREST CITY GOLF RESORT — Desert Golf in Malaysia’s Johor Bahru

In the early part of the eighties, I looked after management for Billy Preston, the USA keyboard-wizzard who often was referred to as “The Fifth Beatle”, or “The Sixth Rolling Stone” for his studio- and live-show contributions to these, two of the most iconic and innovative bands that ever existed in pop music.

Being a budding golfer, and spending lots of time in California, Arizona, and Nevada, it was there that I was introduced to “desert golf”. Playing a round of golf in a “sea of sand” that was dotted with patches of verdant green grass for tee boxes, fairways and greens, and being surrounded by hundreds of cacti, big and small, initially, it all seemed a bit odd to me. But eventually, pretty fast I got used to it. And as a matter of fact, I truly enjoyed the desert-golf experience. Since 1987, however, I have not returned to the US. Hence, ever since that year I hadn’t played a single round of desert golf.

Fast forward to the first week of September 2018, when I arrived in Southern Malaysia’s Johor Bahru, and at the Forest City Golf Resort to be more precise. There, I was invited for the official opening of the “Legacy Course”, a brand-new golf course designed by USA-based Nicklaus Design, and by Jack Nickalus II (Jr.), and his famous father, Jack Nicklaus Sr.

Lo and behold, and rather surprisingly and unexpectedly, I might add, at Forest City I was confronted with nothing less than a genuine “desert-golf-look-alike” golf course. Stepping onto a site that was covered with sand invested with patches of verdant green grass, surely took me back to my early-golfing days in the Western part of the USA.

The Legacy Course is part and parcel of the Forest City Golf Resort (FCGR), a brand-new golf facility that, apart from this Legacy Course, eventually will boost two more 18-holes golf courses. The FCGR itself, is part and parcel of a billion-dollar real estate project that is set on a 30-square-kilometer plot of land that overlooks the straits between Southern Malaysia and Singapore.

Located on low-lying land at the estuary of the Pulai River – and although obscured, and mostly protected by a Mangrove forest – the golf course needed to be protected against possible tidal flooding. The (low-lying) land therefore, needed to be elevated by capping it with sand. To do so, over 2.5 million qubic meters of dredged ocean sand was imported, apparently giving way to the (brilliant) idea of creating a desert-golf-look-alike golf course.

The usual Cacti that can be found at any given desert golf course, were cleverly substistuted with hunderds of palm trees, giving this Legacy Course the tropical looks that it boosts. And rather fortunately, I might add, the other famous desert-element that is missing here, is the indigenous rattle snake that usually inhabits the deserts in USA’s wild west.  

Because of its characteristics of being salt-tollerant in relation to irrigation water, and it being highly suitable for use in warm-season places, Seashore Paspalum was the grass of choice. For the bunkers, rather fluffy and USGA-specification sand was sourced, and used.

The 21-bay full-length driving range is housed in a open structure that, uniquely, is covered with a roof of brown straw thatching, giving it this typical “tropical” look. It is fronted by a rather large short-game and chipping- and putting practice area.  

The on-site Forest City Golf Hotel features 301 spacious rooms with a variety of room types that include King- and Twin-bed guest rooms, as well as 3 Presidential Suites, and one Family Suite. This 5-Star facility also features a large outdoor swimming pool area that will have the kids jump for joy.

For those who have never ever played desert golf, playing this Legacy Course is nothing short of “a new sensation”. And surely not only because of a somewhat alien feeling of playing golf holes that look like slivers of verdant green grass neatly placed in a gigantic white-yellowish sand pit…, but surely also because of the striking difference in color between grass and sand, creating clear markers as to where the fairway ends, and where the hazard begins. And this alien feeling is yet elevated by the hundreds of palm trees that are planted in this rather arid environment, that, by the way, is dotted with plenty of  man-made water hazards that await errant shots.


At Forest City, rather cleverly, both Nicklaus Jr. and Sr. have not only found a perfect solution for the problem of the low-lying land, but they also introduced Asian golfers to the phenomenon of “desert golf”. But above all, with the Legacy Course, they have created a unique and genuine “resort” golf course that, given the many tee box options and friendly wide fairways, is incredibly fun and rewarding to play.  

 FROM “GOLF IN STYLE” MAG – NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018, Words and pictures by Dennis G. Kloeth

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