Golf Travel expert Mary McDowall and her husband jetted off on a winter holiday to Malaysia. Here Mary explains how they combined 'a bit of everything' for the ultimate winter getaway

Our Winter holiday dilemma is always what type of trip should we book?  Golf, sightseeing or beach…we’re willing to travel long haul to get the weather, but a holiday solely dedicated to golf seems a bit lame.  So we solve our problem by including a bit of everything. Our latest destination, Malaysia proved to be ideal; we spent just over two weeks there, seeing the sights, playing golf, and chilling on some beautiful beaches…and yes, we did return feeling relaxed and refreshed rather than exhausted!

Stop 1 - Kuala Lumpur

Our direct flight with Malaysian Airlines touched down in Kuala Lumpur at 07.00.  With that bleary-eyed feeling you get after a long flight, we transferred to our hotel, the Hotel Stripes, where we were fortunately checked in nice and early. Determined to stay awake, we headed to the Perdana Botanical Gardens for an afternoon stroll to acclimatise in this beautiful city centre park.  That evening we discovered our hotel’s chilled rooftop bar & pool and, even better, its free happy hour.  Watching the sunset on KL’s incredible skyline whilst sipping our first cocktail of the holiday was a terrific end to our first day.

We spent the next couple of days taking in the sights of Kuala Lumpur – it’s a relatively compact city so easy to navigate.  Ascending the Petronas Tower is a must, and the extraordinary Batu Caves really are worth the 214 steps required to reach them.  We also strolled around Merdeka Square and Chinatown, stopping every now and then to sample some excellent street food

TOP TIP – we used GRAB to get around Kuala Lumpur.  It’s Asia’s equivalent of Uber and was extremely efficient and cheap.

By Day four we were getting golf withdrawal symptoms, so we booked a round at The Mines Golf Course just to the south of the city (40mins/£10 with Grab). Host of the World Cup of Golf in 1999 won by Tiger Woods, its name comes from the fact that it was once the largest open-cast tin mine in the world.  And the lake which dominates the front nine was created to in-fill the deepest part of it. 

It’s a well-manicured parkland course, enjoyable and playable without being spectacular. The fairways and greens were immaculate and our caddie, Chicken (he never told us why!), was great fun as he steered us round. NB; this was the only course we played where caddies where mandatory.

The round cost £65 each including shared buggy and caddy.  Good value ✔️

Stop 2 – Kota Kinabalu

A 2.5 hour flight took us east to Borneo where we had booked a 4-night stay at the beautiful Shangri-La Rasa Ria Hotel.  There’s a lovely onsite golf course here so time to relax, enjoy the hotel and play some more golf.  Set on a magnificent, wide beach the hotel is surrounded by lush rainforest.  Apart from relaxing by the pool, there’s plenty to do here as the hotel organises hikes into the rainforest as well as canopy tours, cycling and birdwatching.

One thing that struck us here were the amazing sunsets – like nothing we’ve ever seen anywhere else.

TOP TIP – there are two wings to the hotel, the Garden Wing and Ocean Wing – we would recommend the upgrade to the Ocean Wing for a calmer, more relaxed vibe as the Garden Wing gets very busy, particularly at weekends.

We played golf twice here at the on-site Dalit Bay Golf & Country Club.  It’s a beautiful course with spectacular views over to Mount Kinabalu.  There’s plenty of water to navigate as it heads right up to the pristine Pantai Dalit Beach.  The course is surrounded by forested jungle and mangrove swamps, so monkeys and monitor lizards are an occasional hazard!  It was in perfect condition and an enjoyable play with plenty of variety to keep you thinking.

The rounds cost £60 each including shared buggy.  Great value ✔️✔️

Stop 3 – Sandakan

All thoughts of golf were left behind as we took another 50-minute flight over to Sandakan in the Sabah region of Borneo.  We were here to visit the wonderful Orangutan Sanctuary at Sepilok – a lifelong ambition.  The centre’s mission is to rehabilitate and provide a safe haven for orphaned and injured orangutans, one of the world's most endangered primates.  I can honestly say it was a magical experience to watch these beautiful creatures being fed so close-up – something that I will never forget. From here we headed down the River Kingabatangan for a two-day river safari.  Proboscis monkeys were the star of the show here – perched sedately in the trees above us.  Crocodiles swam past and hornbills swooped over – it was a non-stop animal show as we glided silently along this beautiful river. Our fabulous guide, Miro, was invaluable at spotting creatures that we would never, ever have seen without him.

Stop 4 – Langkawi

For our final port of call, we headed back to the Andaman Sea and the gorgeous tropical island of Langkawi.  The lure of the beach was strong, and our hotel, the delightful Casa del Mar, sits on the island’s most beautiful stretch of powder white sand, Pantai Cenang. 

But the lure back to the golf course was stronger, and by our second day we were heading across the island to The Els Club Teluk Datai.  We had saved the best till last… what a spectacular course!  And even better – no bunkers!  I am not sure why Ernie decided this, particularly as he is a master in the sand, but I was nonetheless extremely grateful. 

Set in a tropical paradise, the immaculate fairways are lined by a 10 million-year-old rainforest.  The course winds its way down to the Andaman Sea with five holes lying right next to it.  It’s right up there as one of the most beautiful courses I have ever played.  It was so good – we played it twice 😊.

The round cost £65 each including shared buggy.  Fantastic value ✔️✔️✔️

NOTE – we decided not to take our clubs on this trip because of the amount of travelling involved.  We hired clubs as we went along. All were good quality, and the cost was approximately £30 per set.

Our final days on the island were spent lazing by the pool, but just to keep us alert, we ventured out into the mangroves on kayaks (harder than it sounds!) and took an island-hopping tour to see some of the other 99 stunning islands that make up Langkawi’s archipelago.

After 17 days, four centres, and five rounds of golf we finally headed home. It was a wonderful trip that I would recommend to anyone. Malaysia is a beautiful, warm and friendly country, with some amazing scenery, culture and wildlife, as well as some surprisingly good golf.

About the Author - Mary McDowall

Mary McDowall

I have worked in the golf travel industry for over 20 years, previously Tour Leading golf holidays for Solos Holidays and then as a Product Manager responsible for putting the golf trips together. I have been lucky enough to travel extensively across the fairways of Europe & beyond.

I am a member of Mill Hill Golf Club in England, and Borth & Ynyslas Golf Club in Wales, currently playing off 13.1 but dreaming of returning to single figures one day!

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