PGA Sultan is a course for serious golfers. It is playable by most golfers, but study the scorecard and course map carefully, and be humble when you pick which tee to play from. You will enjoy your round much more if you play from a tee suitable to your skill as a golfer.
The first hole is a 350 m par four. Right from the start you get to contend with the defining characteristic of this course; water. On this hole to your left near the tee, and to your right further up. This hole is also typical in that it is rather straight. This is true for many of the holes on the course, there are no oddball designs here. Straight doesn’t mean easy or boring, there are plenty of challenges to be found on every hole. While the overall landscape is pretty flat (this used to be a swamp before the course was built), many of the holes are shaped and undulated to add to the challenge.
The second hole is a short par three. It looks pretty easy, but it has its own, very unique challenge. A large flock of birds have set up residence nearby, and they are known for stealing balls. We were warned about this before our round, but brushed it off as something they just said to entertain tourists. But lo and behold a bird dove in and stole one of our balls from the green (in a nice position, too) on our very first round! Luckily we carried a rule book.
The third hole, a par five, ups the ante a bit more, with a tee shot over water, a stream crossing the fairway, and an approach with water all along the left side. A very nice hole.
The course now turns toward the sea, with the fifth green being the closest you get. All the holes have names, and the fifth is called ”Sea View”, but unfortunately the view is now obscured by hotels, maybe the one you are staying in if you are lucky enough to have chosen Kempinski.
Another notable hole on the front nine is the eight, a long par three that requires a tee shot of around 160 meters to clear a pond, quite a challenge. A very nice hole that for some unknown reason the hole is named after the Hoopoe, a bird connect with death in the Estonian tradition…
Finishing off the front side, the ninth is a real beauty (and beast) running back to the clubhouse and protected on both sides by three small lakes, with the green fronted by one of them.
The back side is even better than the front. The first six holes are par fours, with the 12th being the best and most difficult. Here you play along a narrow fairway into a green angled out into the water on the left, with another pond to contend with on the right.
On the back nine there’s only a single par five, the 16th, but it is both beautiful and challenging. Bending slightly to the right, it has a big lake along the entire right hand side. The green is separated from the fairway by a stream. It is a great risk/reward hole, where you can reach the green if you first risk putting your tee shot near the waters edge, then again risk a long approach all over water into the green. A truly great hole.
The 17th is the only par three on the back side, and it is in all honesty a bit bland for being one of the finishing holes. The 18th on the other hand, is not bland at all, quite the opposite. Playing back to the clubhouse, the fairway is guarded by lakes, one on each side. Just before you reach the green, the fairway gets very narrow, and the green is tucked in behind the left hand lake. A great finish to a great course.
In 2012 the Turkish Open was played here, with top names like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the eventual winner Justin Rose. It’s bit of a mystery why more top international tournaments haven’t been played here since, as this course is a serious challenge from the back tees at almost 6500 meters.
We found the course in excellent condition when we played it in late fall. It is a course we would have no problem playing over and over again, highly recommended.