By Paul Myers
Like a perfectly played chip-and-run, golf tourism in Thailand is on a roll.
As one of the world’s top three international golf tourism destinations after Spain and the United States, Thailand offers an unrivalled all-round golf and tourism experience that will attract an estimated 750,000 foreign golf tourists in 2013.
Thailand picks up more golf tourism awards than any other country. It was named by golf tourism’s global organisation, the International Association of Golf Tourism Operators (IAGTO), as golf destination of the year for 2010 in Asia and Australasia. Last year (2012) the same award went to the Thai resort city of Pattaya, 150 kilometres south of Bangkok. It was the first time the award had gone to a region rather than not an entire country.
In November 2011, at the Asia Pacific Golf Summit – held, coincidentally, in Pattaya – Black Mountain Golf Club at Hua Hin, 200 kilometres from Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand, was declared Asia/Pacific’s best championship course, while Bangkok’s prestigious Thai Country Club was named number two in the region to Kingston Heath in Melbourne.
Although 60 percent of Thailand’s inbound golf tourists come from within Asia itself, other markets including Great Britain and western Europe and, to a smaller extent, North America, are also growing.
Increasingly, antipodean golf tourists are finding what Europeans and Thai golfers have long known: everything on and off the course in Thailand is geared towards visitors have the best possible experience. Food, culture, entertainment, weather, value for money and knowledgeable, friendly caddies are among its many attractions.
Thailand has five main golf regions: Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Other quality courses can be found on the island of Koh Samui, as well as near Chiang Rai in the far north and at Khao Yai in the central highlands.
Courses near Bangkok and close to Hua Hin and Pattaya can be reached by car from Bangkok. Chiang Mai and Phuket are one-hour flights to or from the capital.
Among Thailand’s best courses are:
Thai Country Club on the outskirts of Bangkok, it is the only golf course in the portfolio of the Peninsula Hotels property group, operator of the acclaimed Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong and its sister establishment in Bangkok. The Peninsula brand’s influence is everywhere at TCC – from the high level of customer service to overall ambience and appeal. Lunch and drinks in the clubhouse is as much a highlight of visiting the course as a game there.
The club has hosted six Asian Tour events and Tiger Woods, who won the 1997 Honda Classic at the course, has his name in the number one locker.
The 18-hole par 72 course, with an abundance of water hazards, plays a formidable 7097 yards (6xxx metres) from the back tees, but a much more manageable 6034 yards from the whites.
Riverdale Golf Club, a new course opened on Bangkok’s outskirts in late 2010 has more undulation than the usually flat courses around the Thai capital. At 2500 baht (approx. $US85) on weekdays and weekends, it is one of the best-value courses within easy access of Bangkok. www.riverdalegolfclub.co.th
Suwan Golf & Country Club, about an hour west of Bangkok, is one of the best-value courses in Thailand, with 18 holes costing as little as $US25 midweek for an especially enjoyable golf experience.
Siam Country Club and Laem Chabang near Pattaya, 150 kilometres south of Bangkok.
Siam Country Club’s two layouts – the 27-hole Plantation Course and 18-hole Old Course that was Thailand’s first privately-owned club when it opened in 1970 – are to be joined in early 2014 by another 18 holes, making this by far the largest golf complex in Thailand.
Without any members, these courses cater purely for visiting golfers. Soon after opening in 2008, the Plantation course hosted the Honda LPGA Thailand, won by world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa. The 27-hole, Schmidt-Curley design is situated on a former pineapple and tapioca plantation and is home to Asia’s first triple green, shaped like a clover.
Laem Chabang, which also has 27 holes, is a Jack Nicklaus design that offers challenge and variety in each of its three nine-hole groupings.
Black Mountain, named as the best course in Thailand and best championship layout in Asia Pacific at last November’s Asia Pacific Golf Summit in Pattaya, opened in 2007 and quickly picked up awards including best new course in Asia (2007) and second best course in Thailand (2008).
The host of the 2009 Black Mountain Masters, an Asian Tour event won by Swedish star Johan Edfors uses natural features to great advantage, including creeks that run through the course and stunning mountain backdrops.
It has numerous wonderful downhill and uphill holes, and several with difficult water carries. The clubhouse and expansive dining terrace is the perfect perch from which to watch golfers close out their rounds.
Pineapple patches, bougainvillea beds and banyan trees come into play at Banyan Golf Club, a hillside course a few kilometres from Hua Hin. The clubhouse, situated on the highest part of the property, offers stunning vistas (especially at sunset) of the Burmese Mountains, while the layout itself takes golfers on an undulating journey than can be as difficult as they wish. Four sets of well-spaced tees means the course plays from 5087 up to an imposing 7361 yards.
Red Mountain, near Phuket’s main tourist location of Patong, is one of the most dramatic courses in the kingdom. Opened in 2008, the 6900-yard sister property to nearby Loch Palm of Club winds its way through a stunning former tin mine in the heart of Phuket’s central highlands. For its unique location alone, Red Mountain is one of Asia’s most exciting new courses, but the layout is also first class.
The course has been cleverly routed to take advantage of a huge variety of landforms and dizzying elevation changes. Scars left from the tin mine era have been imaginatively incorporated into the overall scheme, creating a unique character and several unforgettable risk-reward scenarios. The par-3 17th hole drops more than 100 feet from tee to green.
In the mountainous northern region of Thailand, Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort lead the field. The atmosphere is cooler and crisper than in any other part of the country and the reservoir-fed course is invigorating, too.
Mother Nature provided the design team of Schmidt-Curley with all the ingredients they needed to create a course that is regarded by many as the best in Thailand. Natural contours of the hilly property dictate each hole, providing some challenges alongside superb vistas.
The result is a nice balance of risk and reward, symbolised best by the 558-yard, par-5 closing hole – a downhiller that tempts players on their second shot to take on a large pond fronting the green.
For more information on great golf experiences in Thailand, visit Golf In A Kingdom” The Thai Golf Experience www.golfinakingdom.com
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