Jack Nicklaus

The first hole at sunrise

The Nicklaus Course Guide Overview

Look at the development of golf properties around Metro Manila and you immediately notice that the bulk of them are south of the metropolis. But the bustling province of Rizal is home to some beautiful golf courses built to world class standards and of championship quality. Forest Hills Golf and Country Club is one of those tracks.

Forest Hills has two golf courses; the first one by Jack Nicklaus' design group and the other by Arnold Palmer. This makes Forest Hills the only golf club in the country with courses designed by both of these golfing greats. But as the Palmer course is just nearing completion, it is the Nicklaus layout that concerns us here today.

Set in the hills of sleepy Barangay Inarawan, in Cogeo, Antipolo, the Nicklaus track meanders through the hills of the Sierra Madre foothills. The shots you'll be asked to play are difficult and made yet more complicated by uneven terrain. This isn't an easy golf course. This is a demanding shotmaker's layout. The fronts of the greens will accept an approach played on the ground and the greens are mature enough to receive the well struck ball. You'll need to club for your shots carefully because of the elevation changes and navigate the multiple ravines.

The view from behind the 3rd green

The greens are the ultimate challenge here. As with all mountain courses, recognition of the general lay of the land and its effect on your putt is crucial to a good putting round. The greens are fast so it's important to keep your ball below the hole to have a chance at a good score. Pay particular attention when taking on numbers 5, 9 and 18; a two putt on any of them is good work.

The upside is that the hole settings are beautiful and the vistas exquisite. The one from the 12th tee at sunset with the City of Ortigas in the distance is one that must not be missed. And you'll become a better ball striker for playing this course. You just might not appreciate it at first blush.

The two opening holes might be two of the most difficult in the country. The elevated tee of the first hole offers a beautiful view of the hole below. The fairway is wide and inviting, but sloped towards the green; you probably won't have an even lie. The green is guarded by a stream that bisects the fairway further complicating matters. Laying up might be prudent if you've found trouble off the tee. Number two is just long (453-yards from the gold tees) and plays into the prevailing wind, making it play even longer. Again water guards the front/left of the green; thankfully, there's a small bailout area to the right if you need it.

The 5th is the hardest hole on the golf course

The next two holes offer some respite and a chance to fully warm up before taking on number 5, which is indubitably one of the most difficult par-4s in the country. The 1-handicap hole, it plays 434-yards from the tips, demanding two good shots to get to the green in regulation.

Guarded in front and to the right by a stream, finding the long narrow green is work enough. Putting on it is a whole other story. It's hard for first timers to comprehend how much break you'll need on here. Particularly when you're front-left and the pin is back right.

The next few holes offer a respite; the par-5 6th is a good birdie hole and is the short par-4 8th. Nine is another one of THOSE holes. Club carefully for your approach to the green and leave the ball below the hole if you can. This is a wicked green and really, you just want to two-putt and move on.

You can see the Ortigas skyline from the 12th tee
on a clear day

The back nine places a premium on a good drive. The par-5 10th offers another good chance for a birdie before the course turns nasty on 11 and 12. The tee shots on those two are two of the most demanding on the golf course. There's water short of the fairway on the downhill tee shot of 11 but the approach to the green is open and doesn't pose too many problems. 12 is a bear; the fairway is bordered on four sides by trouble and requires precise placement from the elevated tee. The reward is a mid-iron to an uphill green with lots of slope. Again, keep the ball below the pin here. Take time to admire Ortigas in the distance before teeing off; it might help steady your nerves.

Par-3 13th hole

Holes 13-17 offer good some good scoring opportunities and set you up for a very difficult home hole. 18 is a 429-yard par-4 that doglegs slightly to the right to an elevated green with OB left and a ravine to the right. The fairway narrows at the dogleg which features a bunker at the far left next to the cart path. The green features a pot bunker in the center, so placement of the approach shot is vital. If you do get stymied by the bunker, there's a local rule that allows you to move off the green on the same line as your ball to the hole without penalty so you can play a wedge.

Par-4 17th Hole

The knock on Forest Hills has always that it's in an area that's just tough to get to because of the traffic. Thankfully, the completion of the Marikina River Bank Road and the widening of the main intersection in Cogeo, the ride there today is far less traumatic than in the past. In fact, at the right time of the day, it's almost pleasant and just 45-minutes from Makati. With the nearing completion of the Palmer course and public-access Sun Valley just next door, Forest Hills Golf and Country Club is well positioned as the premiere golf community East of Metro Manila and is a great buy on the secondary market. What are you waiting for?

(Texts by Mike Besa / Photos by Marty Ilagan)