This article was written by Mike Bridge editor of Thai Golf News.
Destination diversity, value for money, warm weather and the vast choice of golf courses located throughout the country are key factors attracting the large numbers of visitors coming to play golf in Thailand.
With over 230 courses Thailand is now regarded as the Worldâs 3rd destination for golf vacations and if the Tourism Authority of Thailandâs (TAT) projections are accurate, the countryâs golf courses can expect to welcome over 750,000 foreign golf tourists in 2013.
From the beach resorts in the south, to the mountainous surroundings in the North, or the bustling cities of Bangkok and Pattaya, there are golf courses to suit every preference and for all standards.
All are located in highly accessible areas with fast and convenient door-to-door transfers possible within several hoursâ travel time. This provides you the visitor with a vast choice for planning Thailand golf holidays.
Most arrive first into Bangkok, which alone boasts of 40 courses all within an hour of the capital city. Perhaps the most well-known course here is the Thai Country Club, a memberâs only course which in the past hosted the Jonnie Walker Championship. New kid on the block and gaining a lot of praise from golf editors is Riverdale Golf Club with 18 testing holes. If you are busy in meetings or maybe shopping during the day then there are a number of excellent night courses including Summit Windmill and Panya Indra which stay open until midnight.
In the North of Thailand there are some championship golf courses around Chiang Mai which is an hourâs flight from Bangkok. Alpine Chiang Mai recently had Ernie Els competing in an Asian Tour event and for pure thrills do try the Chiang Mai Highlandâs course with spectacular mountain side fairways. Definitely exciting challengers played in some wonderful countryside.
Two and half hoursâ drive south west of Bangkok is the seaside town of Hua Hin, summer home to the current Royal family. If you like your more traditional golf layout, try the countryâs oldest course here, The Royal Hua Hin where you tee off close to the towns old fashioned railway. In recent years the town has increased the number of local course to eleven, with the notable âmust play coursesâ being Black Mountain and Banyan Golf Resorts. Also worth trying are Majestic Golf Club and Palm Hills all within easy drive for Hua Hin.
On the other side of the Gulf of Thailand 90 minutes south of Bangkok is Pattaya with over 23 courses. In 2011 they were voted âTop Golf Destination in Asiaâ, and here you can enjoy some great courses designed by the likes of Nicklaus, Faldo, Player and Dye. St Andrews 2000 has 18 holes including two par 6âs, one the Worldâs longest hole at just under 900 yards. Siam Country Clubâs Old Course hosts the annual LPGA Tour and they also have Siam Plantation a spectacular 27 hole club. Early in 2014 they will open Waterside a new 18 holes designed by IMG which will make them the biggest golf complex in the region.
With several direct international flights golf tourism is flourishing on the Island of Phuket which has six top quality courses. Blue Canyon which has seen the likes of Tiger and Greg Norman in the past conquer its Canyon course is perhaps the must play course here. However do try Loch Palm and its sister course Red Mountain which is carved out of an old disused tin mine.
Overall golf in Thailand is most acceptable for all players with most clubs welcoming non- members seven days a week. Some have sports days during the week where the rates are lower. Average cost of a green fee is around Baht2, 000 and expect to pay baht350 for your caddy fee and another Baht600 for a golf cart.
By the way Caddies are compulsory at all clubs and you should expect to tip them around Baht 300-500 after they have looked after you for 18 holes. They will give you the yardage, read the greens and hopefully lower your score. As the countryâs top golfer Thongchai Jaidee says. âCaddies are the best kept secret in the land of smiles, Thailandâ. I hope you will come to Thailand soon to enjoy the culture, cuisine and many superb golf courses.
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Thai Holes to Remember…
With over 230 golf courses Thailand is fast becoming THE golf vacation destination and will soon overtake Spain as the number two country for overseas golfers after the USA.
As editor of Thai Golf News, I am fortunate to play on a lot of courses, and although I have a long way to go have managed to savour over 70 to date.
Therefore in this issue instead of concentrating on just one golf course report, I wanted to reflect on some of my personal holes that bring back memories of why it is such fun to play our golf in Thailand.
Thailand offers all types of courses from the flat waste lands of Bangkok to the highlands of Chiang Mai, or the Seaside links of Phuket to the Mountains of Hua Hin.
Apart from some excellent locations, the designers have been careful to blend into their surroundings and to create some great holes to test our skills.
I am sure you will say how come he left that hole out, or that golf course is not featured. Yes I have to admit this is my choice over the past three years of living in Thailand, but do feel free to email your favourite hole and why you think it stands out.
This course is always popular, especially as it is near to the centre of Bangkok. Itâs a fair course with several par 3âs to sort out your accuracy. This 18th hole is a great finishing hole as it allows you to give it all from the tee with a fairly wide fairway. But watch out for those cleverly placed bunkers on both sides of the fairway at around 270 yards. If you are a bigger hitter then you will probably want to go for the green in two. It may look simple but, how many balls end up in the water on the right of the green. Course management is definitely required to conquer this finishing par five. This course is close to the airport so is ideal for an early round after landing or a final 18 before check in.
One of the most photographed holes in the Kingdom. Literally carved out of a disused mine shaft you can almost use your putter as it is a straight drop down onto a fairly small green. I used my wedge and the ball almost creates its own crater as it hits the green below. Known as the clubs signature hole, I am sure the caddies there will tell you most players sneak in a second shot just for the hell of it. The course overall is certainly very well maintained and has that âWOWâ factor that makes playing a round a real treat.
Water comes into play on both the right hand side of the fairway plus the surrounding island green. Various elevations means you need to place you drive carefully along the middle of the fairway. Maybe you want to try you second shot onto the green, but beware of a fairly tight green with water on three sides. I am sure the golf ball fishermen must have a field day here, as I am sure many balls end up in the drink. Maybe better to play up. A truly top class 18 hole Championship course 7,100 yard par 72 masterpiece designed by Ron Garl from the USA. Members only officially but some tour operators can arrange a tee time for you.
Known as the Ravine, this short par 3 reminds me a bit of the 17th at Red Mountain. When you see it for the first time from the tee box you almost expect to loose your ball. There is a small stream running across the front of the green, and trees and bushes await your ball at the back of the relatively small green, which is surrounded by a ravine. Samui is a very pretty course with great views, some blind shots and very tight fairways. Suggest you use their driving range first to get your eye in unless you plan to make the golf ball manufactures rich. Good idea to pre book here in high season as with most top courses.
The new kid on the block, designed and owned by the same team that brought you Red Mountain in Phuket. The original plot of land was flat, however the course has elevations and gullies covering up to 30 metres in height. They are some very long par 4âs to test the longest hitters. The 18th drops down to a valley surrounded by small shrubs. Keep away from the the bunkers on the right of the fairway and on the left and front of the raised tee. Definitely a hole to beware if you want to avoid some expensive bogeys. The âinâ course for locals and the 6th par five is also spectacular too.
Once you have taken in the amazing views and have enjoyed playing in one of the most peaceful golf courses in the Kingdom, the highlands likes to finish with a bang. This long par five starts downhill with a few cleverly place trees to avoid. If you are a budding John Daly then try for the green in two, but beware of the stream across the valley below. Better hit your second shot just over the water and then use a 9 iron up onto the raised tee. A great hole to par.
Club selection here is vital depending on the wind. The green is raised with a large lake on the right and numerous mounds to get over at the front. A fair size bunker awaits you on the left hand side of the green. This is a fairly intimidating hole to find so early in the round, so try not to add too much to your card. Everything about the TCC smacks of class, from the immaculate turn out caddies to the five star restaurant and club house. Part of the Peninsula Group so one not to miss. Again Members only so book through a golf tour operator.
Laem Chabang Golf Club Pattaya. Valley Course 9 holes.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus all 27 holes are impressive however I would have to say that the experience of playing the nine holes here known simply as The Valley is well worth the trip to Pattaya. Sure you can experience the more famous neighbour Siam Country Clubâs Old Course, home to the Honda LPGA however the combination of water, undulating greens and beautiful flora remind you of a round at Augusta without the penalties!
Tipping Thai Caddies After Your Round
I remember the first time I arrived in Thailand, we were nearing the end of our round of golf and all of us did not know really how much are delightful caddies were expecting us to tip them. Nobody had pre-warned us when we checked in!!!
So here are a few tips on what to do.
You are actual very fortunate here in Thailand, as virtually all golf courses have professionally trained caddies to assist golfers of all standards. Back home, the only time most of us will see a caddy is on TV watching a PGA tournament.
It is normally compulsory to book a caddy as part of the golf package including green fee, golf cart and caddy, although some courses do allow walking.
Thai caddies are in the majority female from Northern Thailand, or in some cases from Cambodia as well. This is their full time job, which they enjoy and take very seriously. In fact it is not unusual to find both mothers and daughters carrying your bag.
They will have a good knowledge of their course, being able to provide golfers with the accurate yardage along the fairways and will be able to read those tricky undulating greens like a paperback novel. They will also assist in selecting your clubs, cleaning them, and will drive the golf cart or pull your golf trolley.
It is a courtesy to offer them a cold drink, especially on hot days, and often in return they will happily fan you to cool you down as you wait at the tee boxes.
Donât be intimidated by your caddy, as I am sure she has seen a lot worse before you came along. In fact many will happily help and advice you and all with a big Thai smile…well it is known as the Land of the Smiles.
Many caddies are encouraged by their golf clubs to actually play golf in their spare time, so have a better understanding of the rules of the game. They even have their own annual golf tournament known as the Amazing Thailand Singha Caddy Championship.