Saipan saw fierce wwII fighting, especially during the three-week Battle of Saipan. American troops nicknamed battle locations “Hell’s Pocket,” “Purple Heart Ridge” and “Death Valley” — the well-earned designations offer a glimpse into the circumstances of battle. The U.S. Navy held Japanese supply ships at bay, but Japanese soldiers fought to the end. Some say as many as 3,000 jumped to their deaths at Bonzai Cliff rather than surrender to Allied forces. Thousands of civilians followed suit at Suicide Cliff.
Today, Saipan is peaceful. Golfers who play the two courses at LaoLao Bay would be hard-pressed to picture the violence that reigned here just more than a half century ago. Designed by Greg Norman, the courses are beyond equal in the region. The 36 holes are divided into the East Course, which offers beautiful ocean vistas, and the West Course, which offers mountainous views with more level fairways and strategically placed lakes.
Developed by the Shimizu Corp., the West Course opened first, followed in 1995 by the East Course. United Micronesia Development Assoc. purchased the courses in 2005. Two years later, in 2007, Kumho Asiana, owner of Asiana Airlines, became the owner.
Kumho Asiana’s grand plans include a 234-unit residential development combining three eight-story towers and various smaller or singleunit dwellings. Existing structures such as the clubhouse will be expanded and renovated to enhance and blend the new with the old.
The course, dubbed the “Pebble Beach in Micronesia,” functions under the watchful eye of Sun Don Jhung, LaoLao president and CEO, who makes it his mission to ensure golfers enjoy their experience.
The East Course
Hole 2 (490 yards, par 5)
This slight dogleg left offers you the option of nailing your drive from the tee box, best in order to avoid the two fairway bunkers on the right. The entire course has dense vegetation, and any ball that wanders off track will be lost. There are no snakes in Saipan, so no worries if you have to go hunting in the brush. Big hitters might be able to reach this green in two, but two bunkers guard the front (right and left) to keep balls from rolling up freely.
Hole 5 (291 yards, par 4)
Not a particularly difficult hole, but one that is a must for this report, as I drove the green. There is a lot of vegetation on the hole that you have to carry from the tee box. Aim your drive right; it’s longer and thicker on this side. This dogleg right requires a perfect drive to make the green in one, or a lay-up. Note the WWII U.S. tank rusting on the right side of the fairway. Local law requires preservation of this historic landmark.
Hole 6 (136 yards, par 3)
At this spectacular hole with views of the Pacific Ocean, I could not help but think of Saipan’s past and what it must have been like to look out at the blue Pacific and see the U.S. armada approaching on the horizon. We had a different plan of attack: Our goal was to make par. On this fairly short hole your shot must not drift left or you hit the cliffs and the Pacific Ocean below.
Hole 7 (403 yards, par 4)
The No. 1-handicapped hole on the course offers yet another stunning ocean vista. You easily can be lured into driving your ball left to cut off some yardage, but beware: The drive to clear the cliffs is greater than you think. The safe player will aim his shot to the right center of this dogleg left. The approach is equally tricky, with the green slightly jutting out into the ocean. This hole tests your nerve and accuracy.
Hole 10 (430 yards, par 4)
Aim your drive slightly left of center to avoid trouble at the turn on this difficult par-4 dogleg right. Big hitters can cut the corner a bit; in fact, I thought I lost my ball in the brush on the right, but it was in the rough, nearly out of bounds but clea r. For a safer bet drive to the center of the fairway. A lone trap guards the right side of the green for your mid-iron approach.
Hole 14 (499 yards, par 5)
Yet another great hole with views of the Pacific Ocean from the tee box. Dense vegetation right and left can get you into a great deal of trouble. Watch the traps, one on the left and one on the right. I was fortunate to hit my best drive of the day right down the center of the fairway. This left me with about 185 to 190 yards downhill to the green. Using a 4-iron, I hit the ball firmly and watched it roll across the green to the back fringe. Make a note to avoid the many bunkers around this green.
Hole 15 (127 yards, par 3)
Positioned just above hole No. 7 with the Pacific Ocean below, this short little bugger can bring you to tears; even a pitching wedge seems too much. From the tee box, clear dense vegetation to the green which has a bunker in front and in the back. It is easy to overshoot this hole; staying on the green requires some finesse.
Hole 18 (545 yards, par 5)
A long par 5, the 18th hole brings you home, but you have to work for it. The hole is fairly straight with a slight twist to the left as you approach the green. Let it rip from the tee box; my only advice: Avoid the bunkers on the left. You’re going to need to bring out your best fairway shot, and you have room to do it. Avoid the left side where there is some dense vegetation and trees venturing out onto the rough. Your approach shot should be simple if you played the last two correctly; the green does have a double bunker on the left and several others surrounding the right side and back.
The West Course
Hole 1 (400 yards, par 4)
This hole will test your skill, as it combines uphill topography with strong prevailing winds, adding as much as 10 to 15 percent more distance to the yardage. Equally challenging is the out-of-bounds which runs the entire length of the hole. A ball I shot from the tee slightly right — which I thought was lost — cleared the slight turn in the hole and was in the rough. The green is relatively easy and flat in front.
Hole 2 (540 yards, par 5)
This long slight dogleg to the left requires accuracy from the tee box to the green. Like the previous hole, the out-of-bounds stakes run the entire right side of the fairway, and the prevailing wind runs left to right across it. Aim for the left side of the large tree that is precariously placed on the right side of your landing area. The green is heavily guarded, with bunkers on the front left and trees on the side.
Hole 3 (189 yards, par 3)
This is not a particularly difficult hole, but it is long and heavily guarded with bunkers. The elevated tee box requires you to choose a club with a little less power as the hole plays about 10 percent shorter. On a clear day you can see beautiful Mount Tapochao. Also note the beetlenut growing near the tee box; locals cut the nut in half, add some chewing tobacco and wrap it in a leaf to chew for “medicinal” purposes.
Hole 8 (439 yards, par 4)
This is the No. 1-handicapped hole on the course due to the water on the right side of the fairway (running the entire length) and the sharp dogleg right. Many a golfer will try to cut as much as possible and end up in the water. The hole plays longer than it looks due to a crosswind over the fairway.
Hole 10 (429 yards, par 4)
This hole plays on the long side, and the fairway runs slightly uphill. Aim your drive slightly left of the right side of the fairway, avoiding the bunker on the right. The right side of this fairway parallels the driving range and is out of bounds. It is difficult to see the green from here as it is very flat, but you can roll your ball up onto it. The one bunker on the left side should not come into play.
Hole 11 (360 yards, par 4)
The day we played this hole the wind was howling in our faces, and we decided to try the new tee box (not yet open for official play) which positioned our drive over a pond to the fairway. Needless to say, none of us made it and we proceeded to the regular tee positions left of the water. A dogleg right, the hole runs along the unevenly shaped pond. Aim for the tree on the other side of the water for your drive. Without the wind we could have made the long shot, leaving only 100 yards to the green, but this day we were left with a midiron. The tree near the left bunker has a habit of catching stray balls.
Hole 15 (399 yards, par 4)
A little longer than you might expect and straight as an arrow, this hole usually plays into a headwind. You need a killer tee shot so you have a controllable iron shot to the green. Lay up if your drive is short, as there is a stronger prevailing wind near the green and you must clear a small pond in front. Two bunkers, one left rear and the other right rear, can wreak havoc with your score.
Hole 18 (512 yards, par 5)
This is a beautiful finishing hole where you must take a few minutes to savor spectacular views of Lau Lau Bay. Out-of-bound runs the length of the hole, and the strong prevailing wind, left to right, does not help the situation. Use the first grouping of trees on the left as your mark from the tee box. It is possible, but unlikely, for a big hitter to make the green in two. The smart play is to lay your shot up about 100 yards from the green for a more accurate approach. The green is protected by water on the left and two strategically placed bunkers, one forward right and the other at the rear.
LAOLAO GOLF RESORT
PMB 1020 PO Box 10000
Saipan, MP 96950-8900
tel 670 236 8888
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