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South Cape Ranked #9 – World’s 100 Greatest Courses


Golf Digest ranks South Cape Owners Club #9

World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses


The most dramatic rise on our 2020 list among 21st-century designs. Six-year-old South Cape Owners Club in South Korea, which debuted in 2018 at No. 49, moves up 40 spots to No. 9 this year.
The design by Kyle Phillips (who also has No. 27 Kingsbarns and No. 48 Yas Links on our list, and has remodeling credit at No. 7 Morfontaine and No. 38 Valderrama) runs along the rocky cliffs of an ocean shoreline. It features two par 3s over ocean coves and another that plays out to an intimidatingly narrow green on a peninsula. It’s rugged and stunning and it’s conceivable that it could contend for the No. 1 spot in our next world ranking.
The collection of par 3’s at South Cape Owners Club is tough to beat.

 The par 3 6th – South Cape Owners Club


 The par 3 14th – South Cape Owners Club


 The par 3 16th – South Cape Owners Club

What it’s like to play a round at South Korea’s Stunning South Cape Owners Club


The journey to South Cape builds anticipation like few courses I’ve visited anywhere in the world. Not only have you taken yourself to Seoul, South Korea, but you’ve then more than likely hopped on the one-hour Korean Air flight to Sacheon. This military airport shares the runway with a tiny commercial terminal that receives a couple of flights a day. No pictures allowed, we’re told as we land.

After landing at Sacheon, I’m waved at by a seasoned Korean gentleman who appears to not only to be very fashionably dressed, but also has a purple tint in what would otherwise be classified as silver hair. His lovely wife of the same vintage is smartly but subtly dressed, and it turns out they were on my flight. The man is JB Chung, owner and visionary of our destination, South Cape Owners Club.

Along with perhaps 30 or so other guests that are also headed to the resort, we hop on the luxury club coach transfer for the hour-long drive around the inlets of Namhae. The scenery is like something out of Pirates of the Carribbean crossed with the James Bond classic, The Man with the Golden Gun. Simply stunning.

JB is a very private man, and although his English is excellent, we talk little about his founding of the resort for his fear of keen ears on the bus. He likes to keep a low profile — at least as much as a man with purple hair can!

We soon arrive to the most incredible clubhouse I’ve ever seen. To stick with the James Bond theme, it’s like an underwater futuristic baddie layer, that happens to be on top of a huge cliff overlooking the surrounding islands.  Clean, flowing lines are the order of the day for the structure itself, accented by sharp glass corners.  It is a marvel of architectural design. The clubhouse has turned the dial to 11, with guests taking turns for the ubiquitous Instagram shot with the reflection pool that greets our arrival.

A stunning vista awaits when you enter the lobby at the South Cape Owners Club.

A stunning vista awaits when you enter the lobby at the South Cape Owners Club.
Simon Holt

After a killer lunch of Namhae beef — which incidentally leaves the Kobe beef I had in, well, Kobe, for dead — we head to the first tee to get out before the other new arrivals. We are greeted by a stunning drop shot opener, and after our caddie-led group stretch (which is one of the coolest Korean golfing customs), we hit off into the abyss.

The first hole is a par-4 dogleg right to left that hugs the coast. One minor criticism is the theme felt like it was on repeat for the entire round. Very few holes require the golfer to work the ball left to right, but otherwise the ebb and flow of the round is lovely. It grabs your attention from the first ball off, before heading slightly inland for a few holes, then it slaps you around the chops again on hole No. 5.

The par-5 5th takes us back toward the water; bigger hitters have an opportunity to pull off a heroic second shot over a large drop-off in the fairway, over the corner of an inlet, flying a sizable bunker around 50 yards short of the green to hopefully run up onto a beautifully tiered green. There is an interesting bunker complex that flanks the right of the approach, shadowed by a sheer boulder rock face which makes for a stunning visual contrast to the perfect green fairways and the cobalt blue waters of the bay. This place, both course and buildings, is a marvel in textures.

After a nice, solid  one-shotter back at the 4th, the first of three quite incredible par-3s now sits before us on No. 6.  After a visit to one the beautiful, hyper-modern tea houses they have on each nine, we step out to be faced with 200+ yards of carry over yet another storybook inlet. This really is like golf on some sort of Instagram dream course.

The stunning 5th at South Cape Owners Club.

The stunning 5th at South Cape Owners Club.
Simon Holt

No. 7 is an arrow-straight short par-4, which from the correct tee for one’s ability is the rarest of modern holes; one that is bunkered with every tee taken into account, so that each level of player faces exactly the same challenge, without the hole feeling cluttered visually. This makes up for what could be seen as the lack of vista on this hole given the run we’ve just finished.

If I had one more slight dig to take, it would be the course’s conditioning. While near perfect from behind a lens, I’d like to see them turn off the taps for a while and give the fairways a buzzcut. This would allow for a firmer bounce and roll to really take advantage of the incredible movement Kyle Philips laid over the holes. There are other areas which are simply personal preference — I don’t like the look of fairways that are striped like Centre Court at Wimbledon, nor do I like fairways which abruptly end with a collar of first cut, to then start as fairway again 20 yards later — but I’m nit-picking on what should be embraced as 18 holes worth of joyful assaults on the senses.

Nos. 8 and 9 both feature semi-blind tee shots and are arguably two of the stouter golfing tests. And then, since our eyes can’t take anymore “wow,” JB, who has the entire time been quietly grinning, leads us back into the clubhouse for an incredible 30-minute lunch, followed by 15 minutes or so in his favorite part of the resort: his music library.

We walk down the marble staircase on the side of the upper level to a room which features two sides of floor-to-ceiling glass that must measure 5,000 square feet in floor area. One whole wall is speaker, and not just any speaker, either.  JB has two huge 1930s American speakers, which are arranged on either side of two equally impressive German speakers of the same vintage. These are somehow built into the wall but still on show. All analog and worth I don’t want to know how much money. The ceiling is specially made to allow the sound to reverberate around the room, held up on the final wall by fine art that hides a walk-in treasure trove of vinyls.

A classic Ave Maria is playing beautifully and not without volume as we sip our perfect tea and nibble on incredible chocolates. I ask JB what his favorite music is (kind of expecting The Beatles given his unique style, and as a nod to his fashion mogul past that has afforded him this incredible legacy to the Korean golfing landscape). “Red Army Ensemble!” he says loudly and proudly. If he’d given me a million guesses I wouldn’t have come up with that. At his request, a member of his excellent staff put on the aforementioned favorite. It was incredible — like the room was built for that piece, and listening to it there was an experience I’ll never forget. JB is not only the coolest man in golf but perhaps the most unpredictable I’ve spent a day with.

South Cape Owners Club owner and visionary, JB Chung, strides down the 12th fairway.

South Cape Owners Club owner and visionary, JB Chung, strides down the 12th fairway.
Simon Holt

The back nine won’t be done justice by me saying it’s jaw-dropping, but you’ll have to take my word for it. No. 10 eases you back in, before turning back along the coast, now on the other side of the peninsula from the front nine. From the 12th tee you can see down to No. 13 too. It’s one of the truly special stretches of holes in golf, and is punctuated by the short 14th, before the tough uphill 15th, which somehow seems to play in a Cape-hole manner in terms of the tee shot, but then the hole almost comes back on itself, so harsh is the dogleg. You may think the long hitters could shoot over a bay to the green but some taller trees have sensibly been left to block out that 300-yard-plus, route. A good drive for me, cutting off as much as I dared, still left a long iron up the hill to a very well-protected green.

You then approach what was for me, the highlight of the round. You exit the 15th green to see a sharp-edged, perfect triangular mound of grass and glass. Imagine the bow of the Titanic from the movie poster, with nothing but sky and sea behind it, but instead of the deck you have grass, and instead of the brass rail you have glass! As we walk closer, wooden steps lead underneath the grass, which is actually the roof of another incredible modern tea house. There are floor-to-ceiling glass walls inside with gorgeous and highly-polished wooden flooring. Some minimalist furniture sets a space-age tone in this little pitstop on the back nine. Lewis Capaldi is pumping out of the Sonos speakers; the structure we are in seems like we’ve entered a giant glass shell, keeping all the music in, and we all just stay quiet and admire the incredible view.

That is, until JB bids us to take a seat. He has one more surprise. The staff bring out what I first thought was a giant scoop of mango sorbet, but it’s actually half-frozen persimmon fruit for each of us — almost burnt orange in color.  Wow! The golf connection of Persimmon was lost in translation when I tried to explain it to JB but I doubled down that he needs this to be the club’s tradition. Top 5 golf course food status, right out of the gate.

After all that, we then walk to the tee of the par-3 16th, which might be the only 16th hole anywhere that can compete with Cypress Point’s in terms of beauty. Set on yet another small peninsula on this magical piece of land, it’s a 220-yard carry over the South Sea. Just wow. Then, when you arrive at the green, you look back and see just how dramatically perched the little tea house was that we were just sat in. Simply incredible.

The 14th hole at South Cape Owners Club.

The 14th hole at South Cape Owners Club.
Simon Holt

A solid par-4 on No. 17 ends with a cool and interesting green complex, before heading under one of the poured concrete bridges JB had made so no seams showed. The man’s level of detail knows no bounds.

No. 18 is a strong par-5 to finish, again showcasing the drama of the towering cliffs to the left of us, falling away to the sea hundreds of feet below.

At the end of the round, we walk back toward the marble staircase that leads to the clubhouse, that from this new angle looks like a 1950s depiction of a flying saucer hovering above us. JB stops me to point out a Korean inscription on the bottom step. “Guess what this says?” I know him well enough by now to know this 70-something Korean gentleman is not into the aged proverbs that I may have first expected.

“Stairway to heaven?” I venture.

He nodded, and smiled.

Simon Holt has been a member of GOLF’s course ranking panel since 2019, and has played 96 courses on GOLF’s current Top 100 list.

Creating Landscapes – Interview

from Golf Course Architecture Magazine – Issue 56 – April 2019


Creating landscapes – Interview with Kyle Phillips

Kyle Phillips has built a reputation for creating landscapes that appear to have been formed by nature. Toby Ingleton finds out more


How would you describe your design philosophy? Are there some key principles that you try to employ in all of your work?

My design philosophy stems from the belief that golf courses should have their own character and personality derived from the existing natural features each site, as well as its location and history. I take a customised approach to each of my designs. This results in different architectural styles within our portfolio. The common threads are that the style of each course be sympathetic of its location, sits naturally in the land, evokes the traditional playing qualities and strategic elements rooted in links golf, all within the context of being enjoyable for players of all levels.

At the front end of each of our projects I work with our owners to create our own unique story to that particular location. The headlines of that story guide us in making the many detailed design decisions required to achieve a top result.

We are actively engaged in the entire design experience, from the moment you enter until the moment you leave the property. It is common for us to take the lead in the development of the site plan. Through the construction we provide our expertise with the integration of buildings, roads and parking into the landscape. We support the design team, architects and engineers with our expertise of visualising three dimensionally on a large scale. It is common that we are able to provide earth-based design solutions that are more beautiful and far less expensive, which allows us to organically integrate buildings and other rigid elements into the landscape.

We always seek to use the natural landforms where they exist. Where they do not exist we have shown an unparalleled ability to create landforms that appear natural. It has been this ability to transform less-than-perfect sites into some of the world’s finest courses that seems to have distinguished my work from other designers.

The par 3 17th at Yas Links in Abu Dhabi

How has the work of Golden Age architects influenced you, and have any of your renovation projects unearthed a special appreciation for any particular architect?

Albert Tillinghast influenced me the most in my youth, when I played regularly on one of his designs. When I came to California, I had the opportunity to know well the works of Alister MacKenzie and became intrigued by his flamboyant bunkering and green complexes. Spending more of my professional time and playing more golf in Europe, I also became exposed to the works of Harry Colt and Tom Simpson. As green speeds have increased dramatically, I have come to find their work, particularly their green complexes, quite applicable for today’s game. At California Golf Club we restored the 1928 MacKenzie bunkering and at Morfontaine we have continued to pay tribute to Tom Simpson in the work we have done there. In Los Angeles, we are currently reimagining a 1920 Willie Watson by stripping back several generations of modern alterations and restoring the essence of his Golden Age design.


Talking about Cal Club in the January 2018 issue of GCA, Ian Andrew said you did an outstanding job of tying new holes into the original architecture. Would you ever see a case for a pure restoration, or is a hybrid always likely to be the best option?

For various reasons, sometimes it is not possible to literally restore a course. In the case of Cal Club, portions of the site had been lost through the state of California taking a portion of land in the 1960s for a four-lane connector road. As a result, only 13 holes could be literally restored. Twelve holes were restored and by eliminating the remaining hole, opportunities were created for a full-length practice range, a far better, strategic, new par-four cape-style hole, a wonderful downhill par three, as well as the ability to bring back the essence of the original strategic qualities on the remaining four holes.

Certainly the backstory of courses that were created a century or more ago are interesting to us that are deeply involved in the game. Within that historical context, the first priority is to design the best quality course for today. Ian did an excellent job recognising this in his article.

What does literal restoration mean? What should it mean? Particularly on Golden Age courses, there are those who define a literal restoration as a copy-and-paste of the exact original course back onto the property. Given the reality of modern technology, this approach dismisses the restoration of the strategic intent of the original designer. The mission of any true literal restoration should be to bring back not only the architectural style, but also, to the extent possible, restore the strategic playing characteristics of the course to the original architect’s design intent. To accomplish this within the context of today’s technology, elements of the course must be repositioned accordingly.

The all new par 4 7th Cape Hole at Cal Club


Since launching your firm two decades ago, you’ve had success throughout the globe. Do you have to change your mindset across different regions?

Even though the same golf design principles apply everywhere, the golf experience expectations of the players can vary considerably, particularly in operational items such as speed of play; clubhouse facilities; walking, riding and caddies; rest stations; interaction between groups of players; and practice facilities, to name a few. For example, speed of play expectations can vary from 3.5 hours for 18-hole rounds, to a game of golf being an all-day event with a full lunch after the first nine holes.

The permitting process, including the level of pre-construction documentation and time to acquire permits, varies as much on a regional level as a national level. Contractor quality tends to vary more country-to-country rather than by continent. The speed of construction also tends to vary not only by weather conditions, but also by the number of holidays and working hour restrictions. By working in so many different countries, with different consultants and contractors, I learned that there is more than one way to get something built with a quality result.


To what extent are your hole designs planned on paper, as opposed to being designed on-the-fly in the field?

It is true that those in our industry who come from more of a shaping background tend to work almost exclusively on natural sites, where numerous potential holes naturally exist. This process identifies a routing plan and then moves directly to the commencement of shaping.

Coming from a design background, our process provides as much detail as we can at every level of design, both on paper and in the field. Our level of detail throughout the construction process has not only allowed us to have great success on natural sites, but also on sites degraded by agriculture or past developments. This has allowed us to not only restore the historic landforms, but to obtain a net positive result by creating large amounts on new nature to be integrated into and adjacent to the golf course.

In addition, with this level of detail we are able to obtain competitive bid pricing for our clients and then spend the majority of the construction period focusing on design details with our site representative/shaping specialists. I spend a lot of time on site working on the details and provide a series of sketches that are continually refined through the step-by-step processes of a golf course construction. Mark Thawley, who has been with me for many years, is also periodically on site to work on important design details.


Which of your courses brings you the most pride, and why?

Certainly there is a sense of pride in every creation. Our process brings about the birth of a course, but it is in the hands of our owners that our creations mature and are presented to the world. It is always a pleasure to visit one of our ‘children’ and see the level of pride that our owners or club members have in the course. Of course, it is also rewarding when our creations such as Yas Links, Cal Club, Kingsbarns and South Cape are embraced as one of the best by the world of golf.

The par 3 6th at South Cape Owners Club in South Korea


It is satisfying to see how we have been able to consistently transform land into literal nature parks of golf that contain an abundance of new nature, in the process creating and restoring landforms that have been altered by farming or development in a way that are indistinguishable from nature. Recently, I was listening to a live television broadcast of a tournament being played on a course I had designed, where the commentator was celebrating how naturally wonderful this rumpled course was for golf. After a pause, rather than correcting him, his fellow commentator began to describe how the course was actually ‘created’ by design with all of the marvellous characteristics of an old course.


Can you tell us about the projects you are currently working on? And what does the future hold?

We recently completed the lovely new Bernardus Golf located in the Netherlands, which the golf world will certainly be hearing more about in the near future. Now open, it will host the KLM Dutch Open from 2020-2022. 

In addition to the courses we have in design, we are currently building new 18-hole courses in Bangkok and Prague, as well as a complete reconstruction and reimagination of Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.

How Kyle Phillips created a world-class course from land deemed ‘unsuitable for golf’

By Kelsey Lee

Sunset over South Cape Owner's Club [image: Joann Dost]

Sunset over South Cape Owner’s Club [image: Joann Dost]

Namhae, South Korea – South Cape Owners Club is the innovation of business mogul JB Chung. Even when others said it was impossible, Chung remained optimistic – he had visionary Golf Course Architect Kyle Phillips in his square. “It seems other designers felt the land was too challenging to achieve a top quality golf experience,” says Kyle. “Mr. Chung believed the property was so stunningly beautiful, he was willing to take on this challenge.”

Kyle Phillips designs world-class golf courses maintaining the natural elements of the existing property, as if a golfer happened upon a piece of land that is perfectly fit for a round of golf. With South Cape Owner’s Club, “the original conception of the course involved considerable earth moving” Kyle recounts. “When I came in the picture, I was able to reduce the earth moving by roughly 40% from what the prior plans had called for—which not only saved a significant amount of money, but also allowed me to save more of the natural vegetation.” In areas where earthmoving occurred, thousands of trees were transplanted allowing this world-class course to fit naturally on its landscape.

The transformation of Holes 12 and 13

When I asked Kyle how he felt so confident in this new direction for the land, he laughed and said, “It’s just what I do. It is hard to explain. I knew the course would turn out well and this would be a good golf course, but the challenge was always to make it great – the best. To get it there, I just worked with the topography and thought out of the box.”

With South Cape Owner’s Club already being recognized as Korea’s #1 course and ranking in the world’s Top 100 Courses, it is safe to say Kyle was successful.

Kyle humbly credits his success at South Cape Owner’s Club to playing to the land’s strengths, and maintaining the natural features of the landscape while turning down the volume. “Not only is the design of each hole important, but when you finish a hole you want it to have a nice connection to the next tee”, says Phillips. “We worked hard to create transitions throughout the course that would allow the players to get lost in the game and the beauty of their surroundings.” A feat Kyle Phillips makes sound all too easy.


Perhaps, Fergal O’Leary, a panelist for Golf Magazine and Golf digest (as well as the youngest person to play the World’s Top 100 Ranked courses), most elegantly remarked on South Cape when he said:

“I never thought I’d find a golf course more stunning that Cypress Point or Cape Kidnappers. I never thought I’d play a golf course more impressive than Oakmont or Royal Melbourne (West). I never thought I’d experience a feeling of privilege more than Muirfield or Shinnecock Hills. I never thought I’d play a piece of property more remarkable than Augusta National or St. Andrews. What Kyle Phillips created at South Cape makes a lot of old classics shiver in their boots. The world needs to brace itself as this whole experience takes you to unimaginable levels of euphoria.”

Quite remarkable words, for land once given up on for golf. However, after Kingsbarns in St. Andrews, Yas Links in Abu Dhabi, Cal Club in San Francisco and now South Cape in South Korea, it seems not much is impossible for Kyle Phillips.

South Cape Owner's Club Hole 6 [image: Joann Dost]

South Cape Owner’s Club Hole 6 [image: Joann Dost]

Spectacular South Cape Golf Course Debuts in South Korea


Copyright 2013 Joann Dost
The 16th hole at South Cape Owners Club reflects the natural elements that create a memorable golf experience.

SOUTH GYEONGSANG PROVINCE, South Korea (November 13, 2013) – The spectacular new South Cape Owners Club, nestled along the rugged coastline of Namhae Island in southeast Korea, has made its much-anticipated debut.

Designed by internationally acclaimed golf architect Kyle Phillips, South Cape’s dramatic setting and ocean views on all 18 holes have positioned it to become the premier golf course in the country and one of the most significant new golf courses in the world.

The golf course is the centerpiece of a luxury golf resort community created by South Korea clothing magnate Jae Bong Chung, the owner and visionary behind the project. South Cape includes a sophisticated boutique hotel (40 suites) and spa, as well as 130 privately owned luxury sea-view villas.

In addition to resort play, South Cape will offer club membership privileges to villa owners. The par-72 course stretches to 6685 meters (7,313 yards) from the championship tees. There are also four additional sets of tees, offering fantastic views of the sea and neighboring islands.

“When you come to South Cape, you know you have arrived at a special place,” Chung said following the recent grand opening celebration. “It is a pure pleasure for the senses, with the sights, the smells and sounds of the sea all around you. There is not a golf experience anywhere that will surpass the quality of South Cape.”

The dramatic coastline topography at South Cape – “where the mountains meet the sea,” Phillips says – provides a considerably different landscape than more conventional seaside links courses.

“We incorporated a links feel into what is not a true links landscape,” said the California-based Phillips, who has designed award-winning golf courses world-wide, including Kingsbarns Golf Links in St. Andrews, Scotland and Yas Links in Abu Dhabi.

The bentgrass greens at South Cape offer subtle undulations and contours that create suitable hole locations for everyday play, yet provide ample positions that can easily meet the needs of championship competition. South Cape has a course rating of 75.2 and slope of 138 from the championship tees. The turf for the tees and fairways is bluegrass, while the rough consists of a blend of fine fescues.

Dramatic granite outcroppings accent the seaside routing, where inland and coastline holes create a serene rhythm, but can be unforgiving to those who flirt with the edges of the golf course. South Cape offers variation and features memorable holes throughout, particularly on what Phillips calls “the promenade to the sea” that starts with the downhill par-5 11th hole and continues through the par-3 16th.

“There is a good variety of strategy through the course,” said Phillips, whose stylish bunkering replicates the natural outline of the island coast. “You can play bump-and-run shots, or you can be aggressive. There are multiple lines of play, depending on how you want to attack the golf course.”

“It is simply an amazing coastline,” Phillips said. “Every hole has a view of the sea, which comes into play on 8 holes. It is one of the most striking coastlines in golf.”

The remarkable collection of par 3s at South Cape is visually inspiring and strategically challenging. Most notable is a breathtaking pair on the back nine – the 136-meter (148 yards) 14th hole, on a spectacular peninsula setting reminiscent of the famed 7th at Pebble Beach Golf Links; and the 204-meter (223 yards) 16th, which plays cliff-to-cliff across a cove, evoking the spirit of the legendary 16th at Cypress Point Club.

“As you walk the course, the ever-present beauty of South Cape is all around you,” Phillips said. “It is a golf experience that transcends shot-making.”

# # #

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Karen Moraghan

Hunter Public Relations


Continental Drift?

Asia has been golf’s most dramatic growth region in recent years. But has golf development stalled across the continent, or is the momentum still there? Adam Lawrence investigates.

South Cape #14 - Par 3 - 136 meters

Kyle Phillips’ new South Cape course in Korea is expected to attract worldwide attention.

The Korean golf explosion is perhaps the game’s greatest recent success story. From 24 courses and a total of 750,000 rounds in 1980, the country’s market has expanded to well over 400 courses and nearly 27 million rounds now. Korean golfers have achieved huge successes on both male and female professional tours, and research by golf consultant Ha Jong-du shows an average number of rounds per course in excess of 60,000 – which implies  demand for additional facilities. And, indeed, more courses are currently being built:  architect Kyle Phillips’s spectacular new South Cape course on an island off the country’s southern coast is expected by many to challenge the Nine Bridges course, which has long been regarded as the country’s best.

Source:  Golf Course Architecture – October 2013