KOTA PERMAI GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB never fails to pleasantly surprise the first-timer on this magnificent Ross Watson masterpiece carved out of an oil palm estate. The charisma of Kota Permai is that it makes you want to come back again and again to enjoy what is popularly described as the best golfing experience in the region.

Kota Permai has set new standards in overall presentation of a country club. Its five-star golf course, banquet and sporting facilities, highly rated service and hospitality have made the club an institution of its own standing. The cornerstone of Kota Permai is obviously the 18 holes and therein lies a diamond that never ceases to sparkle.

Watson’s credentials include astute drainage and irrigation which should not surprise as he is a qualified engineer. So it should come as no surprise why this club is commended with having the best conditioned golf course all year round.

Since it was opened for play in March 1998, Kota Permai has won numerous awards for excellence, among them being Best Course, Best Course Maintenance and Best Greens. Such recognition by industry leaders and the golfing media underlines the fact that Kota Permai is widely accepted as among the best golf courses in this region.

Playing a round of golf at Kota Permai is always a joy. It starts with very warm and friendly receptionists at the golf centre. There is little fuss as you register for 18 holes or 9 holes. Your golf bag is transferred to the holding area while you make your way to the air-conditioned locker room. You might want to take a quick meal at the Golfers’ Terrace which boasts an airy, social ambience and primely located, overlooking the 9th and 18th greens.

The motorised carts, or buggies are always in good working condition. To help you with your game and plot your way around the course, Kota Permai employs reliable male and female caddies. While the male caddies take a no-nonsense approach to your game, the girls are very charming, sometimes feisty but they have mastered reading lines on the tricky and undulating greens. They even get club selection right, when you’re unsure of distances.

After an early feel of the first fairway, you sense that your round at Kota Permai is going to be special. The first hole is a relatively easy Par 5 with a wide enough fairway guarded by sand traps on the right of the landing area, thick rough and khaya trees on the left. The zoysia-carpeted fairways impress you when the ball sits nicely on the grass, enticing you to always hit your best shot.

The contoured greens are covered with tifdwarf, a grass that has made its mark in this part of the world. It is hardy enough to withstand the stifling hot and wet tropical conditions and yet provide a superior putting surface that Kota Permai is proud of. In 2010, the average green speed throughout the year was 9.5 feet on the stimp meter. For 2011, that average crept up to an incredible 10 feet.

Kota Permai has taken green speeds to a high level in this region, 10.5 and 11 feet for corporate tournaments and monthly medals. For important events like the annual club championship or international championship, green speed could even go up to 12 feet or more.

Kota Permai’s layout is unique, an adventure for the first-timer. Each time you leave a green, you are not sure of what to expect at the next teebox. You do not always see what is ahead of you until you get there. That is true on most holes, especially Hole no.  5, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 18.

The course is generously built on 170 acres. Water comes into play on nine holes and all the waterways are interconnected, enhancing the layout with a nice, natural flow instead of the usual, stagnant ponds constructed merely to provide artificial hazards.

The course is nicely lined with various species of trees, including the Khaya, Oil Palm, Pine, Kayu Manis and magnificent Raintrees. But the club is not sitting back and resting on its laurels. Most of the oil palms that are almost 40 years old are being replanted to maintain the identity of the course.

Kota Permai underwent major renovations on its greens in 2004. Utilising the new ‘bunker fabric’ technology, it allowed them to construct bunkers at fairway level but with higher lips and large faces, rather than digging deep and producing pot bunkers.

Visually, the effect is quite stunning and this is best represented midway from the 18th fairway towards the green. This new bunkering method is a photographer’s dream. There are several pot bunkers on the course though, like those around the short but tricky Par 3 14th and two bunkers on the right of the 9th green.

Kota Permai is always referred to as among the best course in the region because it is constantly upgrading the course and club facilities. For instance, when bunkers were added, silica sand was used instead of the usual mining sand. In a bid to provide a healthier playing environment, friendlier  biological products are used to control diseases and insects.

Playing in Kota Permai is quite a straight-forward affair. There are no blind holes or greens so elevated that you only see the top of the flag, always a challenge even for club selection. Kota Permai challenges your skill, course management and patience.

This is a course that leads you to think you will post low scores if you regularly find the fairways. Not necessarily so. Some greens are tightly guarded, like the short Par 4 11th hole. A3 wood is sufficient off the tee. The middle part of the green slopes frontwards and any shot hit a little long will end up in a deep swale behind or out of bounds.

The Par 4 16th is another test of patience and management. Water lurks left of the fairway and Raintrees run the length of the right. The fairway is the narrowest on the course. The green is bunkered left, right and at the back and again, there is only a narrow opening leading to the front of the green.

The best holes are the challenging Par 4 3rd, the long Par 4 8th and 9th, the long Par 5 12th, the doglegged left Par 4 13th, the testy Par 4 15th and then the superbly crafted Par 5 18th hole which has got to be the most memorable on the course. From the teebox you look down towards a valley where the fairway is guarded by water all the way right, with bunkers and Khaya trees on the left. The second shot has to be accurate enough to avoid two fairway pot bunkers and get onto a higher tier landing area. The green is devilishly contoured and heavily guarded by bunkers right and at the back, with deep swales on the left.

The Kota Permai clubhouse was a superb facility from day one but that did not stop the club from embarking on a massive RM13 million clubhouse expansion exercise in early 2005. By the time the project was completed in 2007, the clubhouse more than doubled in size. Today, members enjoy two swimming pools including an Olympic-sized pool, floodlit tennis courts, squash courts, an eight-court-badminton hall, seminar facilities, ballroom, gymnasium and health centre.

In the Malay language, ‘permai’ means serene and this aptly describes the club. Kota Permai has come a long way in such a short time, achieved numerous awards and is the envy of many clubs in the region. But seeing is believing and as they say you will only know how good Kota Permai really is, after you have tasted it.