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Saipan's scenic championship courses Just three hours from Tokyo awaits a winter golf haven

Saipan golf courses

When visitors first step out of the plane at Saipan International Airport, they are greeted by the salty-sweet taste of sea breeze, hazy sunshine, and an inescapable feeling of relaxation. Just three hours from Tokyo lies this winter golf haven, part of the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

There are five golf courses on the island of Saipan—courses that are strikingly beautiful and lush, many with fantastic panoramic views of the Pacific, its reefs, and greener than green hills. Aside from golf, the island offers many historical and geographical sites to explore, as well as diving and other maritime activities. There are also numerous resort hotels and kid-friendly activities, making this an ideal destination for families.
Another of Saipan’s great draws is its weather. With a climate averaging 27 degrees year- round, the golf here is always accessible. So the next time you’re looking for a break from the cold winter months, consider booking a weekend jaunt to Japan’s neighbor to the south.

Marianas Country Club

Mariana Resort & Spa, Saipan

This club offers both an 18-hole championship course and a short course located right next to the resort, which is specifically aimed at golfers with families. Kids are welcome here and under 18s play for free. The short course is a great way to unwind, and its lush, perfect fairways and not-too- demanding layout make it ideal for beginners.

The championship course offers serious golfers more of a challenge, particularly on the holes with water features, which have been well thought-out in their placement. The gently undulating fairways are wide and forgiving, giving players plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful views of the Marpi Cliffs, Saipan Lagoon, Managaha Island, and the Philippine Sea.

Playing at the club is a fantastic value—just US$20 for guests at the resort and US$35 for visitors. In addition to the two courses, the resort itself deserves particular mention for its fantastic restaurants, spa and outdoor activities (including a driving range) for the whole family.

Laolao Bay Country Club

Laolao Bay Country Club

Like so many of the best links in the world, the Greg Norman designed LaoLao Bay offers bittersweet over-the-water holes that provide both a challenge and enjoyment. Divided into two dramatic 18-hole courses, the resort is about 20 minutes from the center of the island, and is both beautiful and treacherous.

The East Course is spread out over the bay and borders on some pretty dense bush. With no caddies and self-play only, the course can offer up some surprises. Four back-to-back cliff-lined holes on the first nine demand respect and strategy, and it is not easy to score low on the first attempt. The short par-fours lull you into a false security with well-guarded greens, which are lightning quick to boot.

The West Course, surrounded by dense jungle and reservoir lakes, is equally challenging, often called the best tournament course in all of Guam and Saipan. Both courses make players think and offer their own difficulties, but in such a beautiful environment, the challenge just makes it that bit more enjoyable to play. Visitors are welcome, and Japanese speakers are available. Expect to pay about US$200–210 during peak season.

Coral Ocean Point Resort Club

Coral Ocean Point Resort Club

The most challenging of Saipan’s four championship courses is, like many others, attached to a resort complex that offers guests plenty of other activities, meaning the course is often not very crowded. The par-72 is 7,156 yards from the tips, and its layout is well thought-out, maximizing on the natural features of the land, particularly on the cliff-side holes. Wind is a massive factor here given the location on the island’s southern tip, and seemingly constant lateral gusts across the course make the cliff-top holes all the more tricky.

The 7th hole is aptly named “Shark Bay,” and only about 50 percent of tee shots hold the green. In fact, all of the holes are named for their features, with some reflecting the islanders’ humor with names such as “Highway Robbery” and “Pond of Hell” adding to the quirky charm of this fun course.

Expect to pay about US$150 during peak season, with guest rates running at US$135.

Kingfisher Golf Links

Kingfisher Golf Links

It’s not hard to see how the magnificent Kingfisher course got its name—players will likely encounter scores of the little birds darting along the water features. This short 18-hole course is only 6,216 yards from the regular tee and 6,651 yards from the tips. The course lies on a spectacular part of the island, with the cobalt blue ocean visible from all holes.

Designed by Graham Marsh, this course feels a little bit like one of its distant Hawaiian cousins, with natural rock formations as well as the cliff-lined fairways coming into play. As with most links, golfers really need to stick to the short stuff or they’ll be in trouble, but contrastingly, wider greens await and make the play a little easier, with the birdies there for the taking. The tea house on the 14th is on an outcropping of land overlooking a cove below, and there is no better place on the island to take a moment to enjoy the amazing ocean views.

As with LaoLao, the short over-the-water holes come in to play on the 15th and 16th, with the first—a short par-three—being just about as much fun as you can have on a golf course. Hitting onto the little peninsula can be a bit tricky with the wind gusting from right to left. The 18th comes up quickly after the excitement of the 15th and 16th, offering a relatively easy, long par-four to finish.

The course, with its tricky but not-too-lengthy layout and big greens, is recommended for golfers of all levels. Expect to pay US$170–190 per round, with special two- and three-day pack- ages available. Japanese is spoken at the club.

Rota Resort & Country Club

Rota Resort & Country Club

Visitors to Saipan who have an extra day and are looking for adventure may want to catch a 30-minute flight to the North- ern Marianas’ most southerly island, Rota. Just a few minutes’ drive from the airport is the island’s only golf course, part of the Rota Resort.

The course was designed by Scott Fisette with the lower handicap golfer in mind, and most of the fairway edges are lined with grass bunkers and dense vegetation awaiting a wayward fade or draw. The course eases players in with pleasant palm tree-lined holes not offering up too many problems, but stealthily the course becomes a little more assertive. Caution is key when taking on the multi-tiered and challenging seventh and ninth holes, which give players not only elevation to contend with, but water and bunker features as well. That said, the sand in the bunkers is well maintained and doesn’t often pose too any difficulties in getting out.

The back nine has more of the same, with some really fantastic ocean views on the 13th and 14th. Visitor rates run at US$190 and hotel guests pay US$170 during peak season. Japanese speak- ing staff members are available.
There are few better ways to round out a great getaway than a final evening spent at the Rota resort, being pampered with outdoor sports massages followed by a top-class seafood meal.

To really get the most out of the trip, try to stay for at least five days and schedule second attempts at LaoLao and Kingfisher. For more information on all of Saipan’s courses, as well as accommodation and other activities, visit the tourism website at (English and Japanese).

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