To help punctuate the 10th anniversary of Lake Malaren Golf Club, the European Tour’s BMW Masters tees off today on the celebrated Masters Course in Shanghai, China. The field includes defending champion Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño.
Opened in October 2011, the Masters Course—one of two layouts at Lake Malaren and designed by Jack Nicklaus and son Jack Nicklaus II—comes in at more than 7,500 yards and is in every way a world-class championship layout.
While beautiful and hugely aesthetically pleasing to the eye, danger also lurks in the form of vastly undulating putting surfaces, large bunker formations, and—as the Lake Malaren name implies—plenty of water features to navigate.
The wind also often plays a factor in the course’s challenge, but good play generally goes well-rewarded.
The course, which this week hosts the first of four events comprising the European Tour’s “Final Series,” was voted top in China in 2011 and is certainly one that found favor with Spaniard Fernandez-Castaño, who claimed a one-shot victory last year to win the BMW Masters.
“It’s great to be back,” Fernandez-Castaño said. “Even though it has not been a great year for me—I haven’t played great—but, well, when you come back to a course (on which) you’ve won, it always brings great memories. It’s a good feeling and hopefully it brings out the best of my game, too.”
Made up of 10 par 4s, four par 5s, and four par 3s, while measuring 7,606 yards from the tips, the Nicklauses’ Masters Course is a test.
However, with 2,261 birdies made in the first two editions of the BMW Masters in 2012 and 2013, compared to 1,715 bogeys, there are plenty of good scores out there. Just ask course record holder Jamie Donaldson, who fired a 62 at Lake Malaren in 2012.
In what is a tale of two lengths, the longest hole on the course has surprisingly played the easiest while the shortest hole has played the toughest. The 612-yard 15th hole has averaged 0.41 under par, while the 201-yard par-3 17th has ranked the easiest, at an average of 0.31 over par.
When Peter Hanson won the inaugural edition of the BMW Masters in 2012, it was by a formidable 21 under par; however, last year’s champion prevailed at just 11 under par for the week.
That champion, Fernandez-Castaño, provides an overview of the Masters Course at Lake Malaren. “I think that this is one of the longest courses we play all year,” Fernandez- Castaño said. “And considering it’s going to be wet, that’s not going to make it any shorter, that’s for sure. So I think it’s quite a demanding golf course, it’s pretty challenging. You’ve got holes like 9 and like the second and the 18th, with water, so you’ve got to be careful of that.
“It’s wide off the tee, the fairways are generous, but still you need to put the ball in play to be able to attack these greens. And as I said, especially being such a long course, you’re going to be hitting long irons and even a few hybrids into these greens, so you need to be on your game all round.”
“As far as I know, they haven’t invented a ball that floats yet, so all the water is something that you always have to keep in mind. You have to keep the ball in play and of course avoid the hazards.
“On this course, you’ve got a few holes where the water comes into play – on the second, the eighth, the ninth and the 18th – so there is that, but then almost more importantly, you’ve got a lot of bunkers and they are all very well-positioned for your tee shots.
“Some of them are very deep. There is a very deep number on the middle of the 12th, the par 5, which is kind of a reachable par 5 depending where the wind is blowing. But if you hit it in a bunker, which is in the middle of that fairway, the hole is over and that birdie chance is pretty much gone.
“So you have to stay away from all these hazards if you want to be able to score around Lake Malaren.”
“I like number 9; it is very scenic, especially off the tee. You’ve got all that lake in front of you that you have to fly the ball over it. It’s very beautiful.
“And then I also like number 11 because I think it gives you chances, especially when they move the tee upwards. It gives you a chance to drive the green and create an eagle chance. Those two are probably my favorite holes around here.”
Some information courtesy of Will Pearson, europeantour.com