The azure waters of the South China Sea and the early-morning light, glinting off the striking dagger-like summit of Mount Kinabalu, frame a pretty picture, as the airplane banks into its final descent into the capital city of the Malaysian state of Sabah. The full panorama from the water’s edge pans across what looks like a modern city (albeit bereft of skyscrapers) to forested hinterland, sweeping all the way up to a mountain range. It’s an astonishing sight and one which vindicates the fairly long journey it has taken to get here from Delhi: five hours to Bangkok and half of that to Kota Kinabalu.
Over the last few years, Kota Kinabalu has evolved into a golf vacation hub in Malaysia. With as many as 12 championship courses, all of which open for the visiting golfer and with residential star-rated properties with top-notch facilities, Kota Kinabalu’s golf tourism is booming. The city’s repertoire of courses is rather diverse—championship layouts, resort links, an up-and-down mist-shrouded hill course, traditional old-world clubs—and you would be hard-pressed to play all.
The jewel in the crown in Kota Kinabalu’s golfing firmament, the Sutera G&CC, is a stunning amalgam of picturesque views and a world-class layout. It’s the perfect way to begin your golf odyssey in Kota Kinabalu because the experience is fool-proof: you can’t go wrong with 27 holes, eminently playable for golfers of all abilities, and with the best seats in the house to witness Kota Kinabalu’s famous sunsets. Three Nines—Lakes, Heritage and Garden—and night golfing facilities mean this course is the busiest in Kota Kinabalu. That also means that players can begin their rounds at dusk and wrap up 18-holes by 10 at night.
From the clubhouse, the first set is the Lakes Nine. It winds around the biggest lake and provides a fitting introduction to water hazards, which are, by far, the most common elements of golf courses in Kota Kinabalu. The Heritage Nine has sweeping vistas of the city with typical tropical shrubbery and trees marking the outer boundaries. The Garden Nine, as the name implies, has lush landscaping and foliage typical of the tropical rainforest in Borneo. The signature hole, the 24th, is part of Garden Nine and provides a stunning view over the South China Sea. It requires a precise drive between fairway traps and a challenging second shot to an undulating green, skirted perilously by the ocean.