Teeing off: the rise of golf in Cambodia

Golf is slowly but surely gaining a foothold in the Kingdom, with top-class courses offering plenty of challenges. David Baron, director of golf at Siem Reap’s Angkor Golf Resort, discusses the state of the game in Cambodia

Photo: Sam Jam

What are the latest happenings in Cambodia’s golf scene?
It’s going from strength to strength. We’ve seen growth of 10-15% year on year, but particularly in the past five years it seems to have been fast-tracked. Korea has always been the strongest tourism market, but we’re starting to see an upward trend from the European and other long-haul markets. I think there’s a bright future for Siem Reap as a golf tourism destination, but we’ve also seen a large increase in local golfers, with the number of players probably doubling in the past two years, which is great for the longevity of the game.

What does the average holidaying golfer get up to in Siem Reap?
There are three courses here, and most golf tourists would typically play all of them, or at least two of them. We try our best to work with the other courses to combine our efforts and market Siem Reap globally as a golfing destination. Phnom Penh is a bit of a separate market, where there is a lot more of a local golf scene with locals and expats playing down there. Here I’d estimate we’re about 80% tourists and 20% local in terms of players; it’s probably the other way around in Phnom Penh.

You mention the game is taking off among Cambodians. Why do you think that is?
It has really boomed in the past two years. I think there’s a bit of a feeling of: ‘Well, my friend plays, so I want to play too.’ The question of affordability is becoming less of an issue too; it’s now relatively affordable for the middle class at least. It’s also quite an addictive game, so the numbers are growing quite quickly, in Phnom Penh especially.

What do you think Siem Reap offers visitors as a golfing destination?
I think we’re unique. Obviously the number one draw is Angkor Wat, which is almost visible from our course. There’s also the locality of the courses, most of them within 30 minutes’ drive from the town centre, whereas in other destinations you can be driving for 90 minutes to get to the course. The whole vibe of Siem Reap in general also helps, with great value hotels and restaurants an added bonus. I think it’s also relatively new and untouched as far as some tourists are concerned, so we’ve got the intrigue factor as well.

People are usually surprised. For many people, their perception of Cambodia is still a little bit behind – chickens and cows on the fairway and all that! But when they get here they realise this is a genuinely world-class facility similar to what they’d play back home. People definitely tend to say that their expectations were exceeded.

If you were going to advise people to play three courses in Cambodia, what would they be?

I’m obviously a bit biased, but I think we’re a little bit ahead of the other courses in Siem Reap. I’d also recommend the Phokeethra Country Club, which is a very good course, a good challenge. It’s quite different in its design and is more of a challenge from the tee, a bit longer, whereas here there are subtle undulations and perhaps a bit more strategy needed. I’d also go for Garden City in Phnom Penh, which is a well-maintained and very tough course. The main challenge there is the greens, which are quite quick and difficult.

And what would you rate as the three best holes in Cambodia?

The standout here is hole 13, a par five with lots of bunkers, which makes it visually intimidating off the tee. I’d go for hole 18 at Garden City, which is a classic strong finishing hole with the hotel and clubhouse in the background and a bit of water to catch you out on the right hand side. And finally, at Phokeethra, hole number seven is a nice par three over the water, with the tee and the green and nothing but water in between, so that’s another great, intimidating hole.

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