Play!By Bennet Galloway
Asia’s Sleeping ‘Tiger’ Awakes
Smiling faces, great food, unbelievable hospitality…and now some world-class golf courses make Thailand the perfect place for a winter golf holiday.
Thailand has long been a favorite for ex-pats living in Asia looking for rest and relaxation. Visitors enjoy everything from elephant treks, scuba diving, ancient Buddhist temples and world-renown spas to resorts nestled upon white sandy beaches. Fortunately for the golfer, you can now add golf to the list. This is, after all, the homeland of Tiger Woods’ mother, a country whose diverse geography seems tailor-made for the game.
In the past decade, Thailand has really come into its own as a golf destination and will reach the 250-course mark by the end of 2007. There are nine golfing regions offering different golf experiences. They include Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket, Chang Mai and Chang Rai, Koh Samui, Khao Yai and Kanchanaburi.
In the south, there are stunning beach courses just minutes from hot spots such as Phuket and Koh Samui. To the north you can mix in some golf with hill trekking around hubs such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. If you prefer a quieter seaside town, Hua Hin has some excellent courses as does Khao Yai, a national park and World Heritage site just three hours from Bangkok. Even around the bustling capital, and the infamous nightlife center of Pattaya just a two-hour drive away, there’s some great golf to be enjoyed.
The influx of international expertise has produced courses that rival the best in the world, with many developed by leading professionals such as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman, not to mention famous architects such as Pete Dye and Robert Trent Jones Jr. who’ve all raised the standard of quality. The need to fill the demand has expanded in recent years locally, as Thais are also starting to get into the game, joining ex-patriates (mainly form Asia) and visitors from Europe.
The European Tour and Asian Tour are taking notice with events such as the Asian Volvo Masters being held at the Thai Country Club as well as other “big pay check” international golf tournaments attracting the likes of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie, to name a few. Notable courses include Blue Canyon in Phuket, which hosts multiple international tournaments, and the Thai Country Club and Alpine Golf Club in Bangkok.
Since vacationers are discovering the quality of golf in Thailand, and tour operators are catering to golf enthusiasts, a large number of people are trying the game for the first time, especially since other places can be far less welcoming to beginner golfers. Hence the country is becoming a good place for golfers of all levels to hone their skills, while luring top-quality teaching professionals attracted by the quality of life there.
In fact, the World Golf Travel Agents Association recently awarded Thailand “Best up-and-coming destination” for golf vacations. And what else is better, after a day corkscrewing your body on those long drives, than a Thai massage to soothe those golf-induced lower back pains.
With winter fast approaching, when many of Japan’s courses become hidden underneath a blanket of snow, it’s nice to know there’s a place not far from here (and relatively inexpensive to get to) where white balls are flying across deep blue tropical skies. Thailand is often called “The Land of a Thousand Smiles” and trip there this winter will sure to put a smile on your face and help improve your game.
What can I expect to pay?
Average green fees are only USD $40. The most expensive courses come in about USD $150 (Blue Canyon and Thai C.C.). The least expensive (still reasonably quality courses) cost only USD $10. Other than during peak season, most golf courses also have special reduced rates one day a week for about USD $20.
When to go
Peak season is from November to February with relatively cooler day-time temperatures (30°-31°C), clear skies and light breezes, making it the most desirable time of the year to tee it up. But word is getting out, and courses in the more populated tourist areas are becoming crowded with happy golfers competing for tee times.
Thai Country Club, Hole #6
Par 3, 230 yards
Voted “Best Par 3 in Asia 2001-2006,” it is the longest par 3 on the course, ranging in distance from 170 to 230 yards from the white to back tees, respectively. The hole plays into the prevailing wind, making club selection challenging, but a confident tee shot will help you navigate this beautiful, yet often punishing, hole.
Thailand has a tropical climate featuring three distinct seasons. During the hot season (March to May), when temperatures hover around 34°-36°C, you may want to play in the early morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the heat. During the monsoon season (June to October) you may experience some brief rain interruptions, but the sunshine is never far away with average day-time temperatures a comfortable 32°-33°C. However, September is generally the rainiest month and best to be avoided.
The danger lies in the water guarding the entire right side of the fairway, making it essential, for those prone to slicing, to keep their shot to the left. Other hazards include the giant bunker below the sloping green which, if anything, will prevent errant shots from getting wet, and a large bunker behind the green making shots that fly the green very tricky coming down from above the hole. When Thai Country Club hosted the 1997 Asian Honda Classic, this deceiving hole was found to be the most difficult on the course with a 3.38 stroke average.
Degrees of Separation
Linked from: Brendan Jones
Name: Jim Fletcher
Occupation: General Manager, Windsor Park Golf and Country Club
What’s in your bag?
Driver: PRGR TRX Inner Power
Irons: PRGR 901 Speed Irons
Putter: AMC Mallet Type
Ball: No specific preference
Favorite course in the world? Penina Golf Course, Portugal.
Favorite course in Japan? (Of Course) Windsor Park Golf and Country Club, Ibaraki.
How often do you tee it up? Once a month (and you thought working at a golf course would get you on the tee…guess again!).
How often would you like to tee it up? 3-4 times a week.
Who would you choose to tee it up with in your dream foursome?
1. Seve Ballesteros (recently retired, timeless style and copious amounts of mojo)
2. John Daly (Gorilla)
3. Tiger Woods (it)
BY THE NUMBERS
When golf was first played in Thailand (at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club course).
The year the Royal Hua Hin Golf Course opened; Thailand’s first public golf course.
When the World Cup of Golf was played at the Navatanee Golf Course in Bangkok; the first course in Thailand designed by a foreign architect.
Number of "high standard" golf courses in Thailand. With many courses currently being developed, the number should hit 250 by the end of 2007.
Number of visitors who golfed in Thailand in 2002.
The number of visiting golfers the Tourism Authority of Thailand hopes to attract by the end of 2007.