Malaysia's heritage city of Melaka attracts tourists with its historic buildings, restaurants and shopping, plus excellent golf courses such as Tiara Golf & Country Club and A'Famosa Resort.
MELAKA, Malaysia - Perhaps no street signifies Malaysia's place in southeast Asia quite like historic Melaka's "Street of Harmony" in Chinatown.
Melaka (formerly spelled "Malacca") has shifted power many times in its history, much a result of its place on the Strait of Melaka, a bustling waterway that funnels out to the South China Sea. Power has shifted hands from the Portuguese, Malays, Dutch, British and Japanese.
But through all the changing of hands and shifts in power, the Street of Harmony's three religious centers - the Cheng Hoon Teng chinese Temple, the Kampung Keling Mosque and Sri Payyatha Vinayagar Moorth hindu temple - have remained. The street is a symbol to the world that Malaysia has always remained a tolerant and peaceful nation, through times of peace or war.
"Even today, the many cultures and the races mix together very well, especially well in Melaka," said tourism official Nor Ashikin Samat. "There is even still a very large Portuguese population here, too."
It's also Malaysia's most historical city and is celebrating the July announcement as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, Melaka draws visitors from all over Asia for its world class shopping. Melaka isn't as bustling as Kuala Lumpur two hours up the road. It's smaller, quieter and far older, making for a charming, leisurely getaway.
It's also a hotbed of golf, home to a handful of the country's top courses and arguably its best.
Golf in Melaka, Malaysia
Tiara Golf & Country Club: Designed by the Nelson, Wright & Haworth design team, Tiara was recently rated Malaysia's most difficult golf course from the championship tees and is cut through 700 acres of thick jungle, while its off-course facilities, including a massive Olympic-sized pool, are exceptional. The design features a few holes that are especially unconventional, like several split fairways and a long, par-4 eighth hole on the Meadows that plays around a tree in the middle of the fairway to a small, uphill green.
If this golf course doesn't give you enough to think about, officials advise keeping your valuables out of sight, not of potential criminals but of monkeys. Rest assured, rangers are often riding around on motorcycles and scaring them off.
Still, keep your Blackberry zipped up. Green fees: RM 90-150.
A'Famosa Resort: Don't let the A'Famosa Resort's many touristy gimmicks, like the Jesse James-inspired Cowboy Town amusement park, and their golf course's many little quirks, like an island tee box and a "Croc Pit" beside the Croc Nine's ninth green, fool you. A'Famosa's 27-hole course is certainly one of Malaysia's best. A'Famosa Resort hosted the World Amateur Inter-team championships in 2008 and features a beautiful collection of hilly jungle holes and other downhill tee shots to greens tucked beside water. Green fees: RM 200-306.
Orna Golf Club: A little more wide open than Tiara Golf Club, you can score at the 27-hole Orna course, which is set on similar rolling terrain cut into thick jungle but features a design by Andy Dye (nephew of Pete Dye) that has some teeth. From 2001 to 2003 it hosted the Davidoff Tour Qualifying School, but has greens a little too slow these days to be considered a championship test. The course features a little more space off the tee compared to Tiara and A'Famosa, though the closing holes down the East nine, which are long and full of water, are quite formidable. Green fees: RM 92-172.
Ayer Keroh Country Club: No Malaysian golf experience is complete without a romp in the cow grass: a native grass used on the country's oldest golf courses, including the 27-hole Ayer Keroh, which opened in 1964 and features some beautiful holes set in thick, rolling jungle filled with birds, squirrels, lizards and monkeys.
Don't think Ayer's age makes it a short course. Not only is practically every hole lined by jungle, but the Tunku Nine's ninth hole plays an endless 604 meters.
Night golf in Melaka
As with many spots in Asia, night golf is a popular way to enjoy the game without the heat or after working hours. Tiara Golf Club, Orna Golf Club and A'Famosa all offer night golf, but the frequency varies depending on time of year. It's far more popular during the summer months and best to check in advance for night golf schedules.
Where to stay in Melaka: A'Famosa Resort
The A'Famosa Resort (www.afamosa.com) is a large development full of things to do beyond the 27-hole golf course. There is a safari, Cowboy Town amusement park, water park and hiking and biking trails. It's certainly a family-friendly atmosphere.
A'Famosa is about a half hour drive into Melaka, so if you're looking to stay in the heart of the city there are numerous modern luxury hotels that are a good value. Three-star Mahkota Hotel Melaka (www.malacca.ws/mahkota) is located right near the waterfront and within walking distance to sightseeing, historical attractions and close to most of Melaka's best shopping. On site, there is a beautiful swimming pool in the center of the property, along with a spa, fine dining, business center and even karaoke rooms.