The Carey Island Golf CLub
While Carey Island Golf Club is only an hour or so from Kuala Lumpur, it really is a world away. Without your own transportation, there simply isn’t a way to get there other than a taxi or Grab. And even if you do have your own transportation, just getting there isn’t the most straightforward task. So, to make it easier for you, we’ll add the directions here: first, drive to the ends of the earth, then turn right, and check-in with the company security guard. And, while Google Maps tells you that you have arrived, you will need another 11-kilometer drive through a huge plantation to get to the course! You’re welcome!!
So, how did we even know that Carey Island existed in the first place? In the few years that lead up to our world golf travel adventures, I spent more than my fair share of time daydreaming about golf courses. Most all the greats were known and were already on our list. But if you know us, we love courses that are more out of the ordinary. During a Google search of Asia’s most unique golf courses, we came across a very interesting article written by golf course architect Mr. Paul Jansen titled “The Seven Wonders of Southern Asia” which we found on Hong Kong Golfer’s website. The seven wonders of southern Asia?!! We couldn’t think of anything more, well, us!! So shortly after we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, we contacted Mr. Jansen to let him know that we were about to embrace our first of his seven.
After stopping so our Grab driver could ask for directions, we finally arrived. Stepping out of the car, we were approached by 2 staff members that honestly seemed very surprised to see us! Or, anyone for that matter! Golfers. At a golf course. Requesting to play golf- imagine the odds!
The first thing you notice when you do finally arrive at Carey Island Golf Club is the Clubhouse. Built in the 1920s, the stately white colonial clubhouse is completely open and has no windows or doors. The lofty high ceilings with their black iron ceiling fans keep the open rooms breezy, even in the hot Malaysian summers. And, if we understood correctly, it is the oldest clubhouse in Malaysia that is still in use to this day.
We took our time exploring this magnificent building. Upstairs, there are two large open rooms. One was completely empty, except for 2 built-in black bookcases. The other housed a beautiful billiards table that was unfortunately covered and had the appearance that it had been covered for quite some time.
Surrounding the entire upstairs is an open walkway and seating area that offered pleasing views of the golf course. We can imagine this was THE place to enjoy a Gin and Tonic back in the Clubs heyday.
Downstairs was one main room that has to have one of the most beautiful counters in all of golf! A beautiful black wooden bar-like counter commanded the entire corner of the room. The remaining space was furnished with old teak style furniture, that fit perfectly to the period. We imagined the room with a piano back in the day, Casablanca style. Other than the missing piano, probably not much has changed there since opening day!
Seemingly curious as to why we were there, we approached the counter and inquired if we could play. We had phoned a few days in advance to ensure the course was open to public play. But it just felt like golf wasn’t something that happens here often! The staff mentioned that there is rarely any play during the week, but there is some local and employee play during the weekend. As we signed our names and entered our handicaps into the dated register book, we weren’t surprised to see that we were to become the only names on the entire page. At 43 Malaysian Ringgit for 18 holes (approx. €9,20 Euro, $10.32 USD), we don’t know of a better deal in golf anywhere! In fact, our Grab fare there was more expensive!
Carey Island measures in at a surprisingly 6689 yards from the Black tees and is a par-72. However, it’s not the numbers that will make CIGC linger long in your memory, but rather the character!
Registered and eager to play golf, we went to the first tee. There are 3 sets of tees, Black, Blue, and Red indicated on the scorecard, however, there was only one tee marker in the ground, the Blue, so Blue it was! Carey Island opens with a 165-yard par 3, from the Blue tees. This sounds simple enough, but first, you must clear a small pond and miss the street, all while trying to block the OB that sits just a few steps left of the green out of your mind.
The best target on the second hole was the light post that sat across the street, only about 80 yards from the tee. If you are lucky enough to miss your target, you should find the center of the fairway of this short par four.
Another short par four, the third tee requires you to negotiate your shot under the telephone wires that cross just in front of the tee box. Once past the wires, you best be able to cut the shot if you want to find the fairway.
I think it was there on the third hole that I fell in love with the course. There was something truly familiar with the layout. Something familiar with the distances. Yes, it seems as though I had played here before. That was it, this was the course that I grew up on- Riverwood Golf Course! Just 13,069 kilometers, or 8,121 miles from ‘home’, but worlds away!
Have I been here before?
As we continued playing, more and more memories began flowing in. As did the similarities! The only elevation changes at Carey Island were the one-foot elevated tee boxes and a couple of the greens, exactly like what I grew up on. Tiny odd-shaped bunkers that protected even tinier greens, my kind of place!
OK, not everything was similar. Located in the tropics, the fairways at Carey Island are lined with palm trees, not the wispy overgrown willows that I knew. Oh, and then there’s the wildlife! We saw monkeys on a couple of the tee boxes, as well as running across the seventh green. Monkeys! No joke, playing Carey Island was like taking a walk through a zoo! We saw ostriches, guinea, peacocks, and the bird of prey Brahminy Kite eagle, which, at the time we mistakenly thought was a bald eagle! We also saw goats, and what seemed to be a petting area full of deer!
Other than the owner’s small Poodle that roamed the clubhouse when I was very young, Riverwood had nothing like this!
Making the turn
After loving every detail of the front nine, we were quite disappointed with the back nine. Gone were the interesting holes full of character of the front, and in their place were monotonous forgettable holes that had no resemblance to those that we had just finished.
Perhaps the only thing interesting about the back nine was actually finding it! First, you walk down the road that borders the first hole. Then take the shortcut in front of the eighth green, turn right at the ostriches, turn left at the peacocks, and continue down a street that you will quickly question if it is the correct way. Just when you think you’re lost, turn right at the deer. There were turkeys and goats along the way as well, but we don’t want to get you lost!
There is also a buggy barn at the tenth tee. After walking the front nine and especially all the way to the tenth in the mid-day heat and humidity, taking a buggy seemed like a refreshing idea. But, just like a mirage, it turned out simply to be false hope, because there was absolutely nobody to be found. And upon further inspection of the buggies, it seemed more like a buggy graveyard than anything else. Had there been someone there to help us, there is no doubt that the buggy would have died somewhere near the 12th green or any of the other furthest points to the buggy barn!
It was either due to the heat of the late afternoon, or the layout of the back nine, but we quickly lost interest in the back and to be honest skipped a few holes.
Maybe the only hole worth mentioning here was the eighteenth. From the tee, you can see a small stone bridge, seemingly modeled after the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews. Checking the card, we also noticed that the distance was similar to Tom Morris (the 18th at the Old Course), so I decided to play it the same way- 3 wood off the tee and a full wedge just left of the hole. But unlike my putt on Tom Morris so many years before, this time I made the putt- our only birdie of the day.
Regardless of the disappointing back nine, Carey Island is a ton of fun to play, and we would really recommend playing at least the front when you are in Kuala Lumpur. And, if there is another person on the planet that has played both CIGC and Riverwood, please let us know- we would absolutely love to buy you a beer!