Could this be THE most unique 18 holes in the world?
The Shek O Country Club in Hong Kong is an exclusive affair. So much so that we were told by a friend that he knows golfers who have lived in Hong Kong for 20 years and haven’t had the opportunity to play there. So, when the chance to play was extended to us, we jumped! To say that we are grateful would be an understatement, and we will politely respect that privacy and will keep how we were granted this amazing opportunity to ourselves. That said, we are almost embarrassed to admit that we had the chance to play Shek O twice- once during our first short trip to Hong Kong, and again when we returned from Taiwan. It is almost as if we won the lottery- twice!
We arrived at the Club via the MTR and a long, but beautiful bus ride. SOCC is on the south side of Hong Kong island, and feels worlds away from the city. Hoping off the bus with our clubs, we walked up the long and steep driveway to the beautiful clubhouse that offers an incredible view of the South China Sea. Entering, we were welcomed with one of the warmest greetings by a clubhouse staff that we have experienced. Sometimes clubs that are exclusive aren’t, well, the most welcoming places in the world. But that was defiantly not the case here.
We checked in with the shop, hit a few balls, met our caddy, and made our way to the first tee. SOCC is an 18-hole, par 65 course that measures just 4665 yards from the tips. But it isn’t the length that makes SOCC memorable- it is everything else that makes it stand out!
The opening hole is a 210-yard par 3, that plays a little shorter because it is downhill. After the first hole, you walk back towards the ocean to the second tee box, which is a short 235-yard uphill par 4 that takes you directly back and underneath the first tee box. From there you walk up some stairs back to the clubhouse and tee off on the third, hitting driver basically over the second green.
It is here that we first noticed what would be the common theme of SOCC- many of the golf holes share the same playing areas. In fact, the first eight holes all somehow share what one might call a single giant fairway. They all either cross over it diagonally, or play straight down, or, well, straight back.
Those first eight holes also all offer amazing ocean views. The 198-yard par 3 6th hole is one of the greatest par 3’s we’ve ever seen. From the 5th green, you walk downhill to a tee box that rests directly at the ocean. You must then hit back uphill to a small green, all while carrying the ocean. I missed the green both times (once long right, once long left), but saved par each time! You better catch your breath from the uphill walk quickly, because the seventh is a 225-yard monster of a par 3! The first time I hit a hybrid into the bunker behind the green, and got up and down to save par. This could have been one of my best back to back pars of my life!
After finishing 7, it is time to turn back and make your way towards the clubhouse. The eighth hole is an uphill 390-yard par 4 that plays much longer than its yardage. The first time we played it, I hit driver and had about 110 yards in. Even though it is uphill, I thought an easy wedge- which I easily left well short. Playing the hole the second time, I was determined not to leave my wedge short. Hitting from almost the same spot, and telling myself to not be short, I again left it 10 yards short. Both times we played the course, I made par on both the difficult par 3 6th and 7th holes, and both times I made bogey on the short par 4 eighth. Will I ever learn??!
Our next favourite stretch of holes, and maybe our favourite and most unique holes we’ve ever played were the 250-yard par 4 15th, and the 305-yard par 4 16th. Again, it isn’t the distance that captures your eye, but the layout. Let’s see if we can do these 2 holes justice….
At 250-yards, the straight away par 4 Nordahl’s Reach narrows quickly from tee to green. In fact, once you reach the green, you are surrounded on both sides by jungle. So, the choices here are easy- you either hit the green, or leave it short, because anything left or right most likely won’t be found. After putting out, you take a few steps uphill to the tee box of the 305-yard par 4 16th, appropriately named The Trees. After reaching the top, you turn around 180 degrees and hit directly over the 15th green. Literally, directly over the green!
We know what you are thinking- how dangerous SOCC must be to play when tee shots are hit over greens, and approach shots are hit over fairways. Intentionally! 😊 This layout absolutely would not work on a public course, but because there are so few members, it isn’t an issue here. In fact, both times we played here, we saw only one other group either day. Other than maintenance crew, there were only 6 other players that we saw in two days of golf!
Home, the 299-yard par 4 18th hole that shares the same fairway as the third, plays straight uphill back ‘home’. With incredible sea and clubhouse views, Menekse mentioned that this was her favourite hole. Checking the scorecard, I see that she played it par, bogey- doesn’t that always help when picking a favourite hole?!
As mentioned earlier, SOCC is only 4665 yards, but to us it seemed to play longer. We’re not the first to say that the course probably has enough space for 12 or so great holes. But, by utilizing the space for multiple holes, SOCC is able to stretch it to 18 holes. The area just in front of the clubhouse is used by 4 golf holes (1, 2, 3, and 18)! Maybe more if you tend to play golf sideways like we do!
The front was stunningly beautiful, with views of the ocean on probably 8 of the first 9 holes. But we probably liked the routing of the back a little better. While there are no ocean views until you get to 18, there was more space. Other than the awesome 15th and 16th holes that share the same fairway, each hole was its own on the back.
The greens were some of the best we have every putted on- a truly perfect speed and ran true. And, the cups were painted white, which we absolutely love!!!
And, as if the experience couldn’t get any better, Menekse had one of her best rounds of golf ever the first time we played SOCC! If it weren’t for a tough start on the first 3 holes of the second round, her 36-hole score at SOCC would have been her best ever!
On the logo of SOCC are the words Medio Tutissimus Ibis. We had to look this up and found that it comes from the Roman poet Ovid and translates as “in the middle of things you will go most safe”. This could probably apply to any golf course, but it is surely solid advice here.
Is it the best short course we’ve ever played? It is hard to say, because we still feel that honour belongs to the Annesley Links at Royal County Down. But, without question, it is the most unconventional layout and most unique 18 holes of golf we have ever played in our lives! And we have played a lot of unique golf holes in our golf travels!