19 January 2008

Asia's Sleeping 'Tiger' Awakes

Smiling faces, great food, unbelievable hospitality··· and now multiple world-class golf courses make Thailand the perfect place for winter golf getaways. Thailand has long been a favorite for ex-pats living in Asia looking for rest and relaxation and these days you'll even find detoxification retreats to rid you of your self inflicted Johnnie Walker and Habana's!

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 and 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 have reached the 250-course mark by the end of 2007. There are nine golfing regions, each offering a number of different experiences. They include Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket, Chang Mai and Chang Rai, Koh Samui, Khao Yai and Kanchanaburi.

If stunning white sand beaches and ocean views are what you need, Phuket and Koh Samui offer a sea side paradise just minutes from amazing golf courses. For good challenging courses surrounded by lush hills and mountains you might try Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north. The courses around Bangkok or Pattaya offer not only great golf, but a variety of exotic night life options, bright lights and all the sights and sounds combine with the convenience of the city. For tranquility the quieter seaside town of Hua Hin, has golf in a natural countryside setting. And rounding out the offerings, the waterfalls and stunning scenery of Khao Yai, a national park and World Heritage site, are guaranteed to both intrigue and fascinate you.

The overwhelming 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. Thailand is also quickly becoming a good place for game improvement for golfers of all levels as teaching professionals world wide are making lifestyle decisions and choosing to relocate here and live out their days in self imposed bliss!
In fact, the World Golf Travel Agents Association recently awarded Thailand "Best up-and-coming destination" for golf vacations. With its modern facilities, internationally designed golf courses and excellent infrastructure, it's not surprising! That coupled with the Thai peoples genuine hospitality and the natural beauty of the landscape and Thai golf has become the best in not only Asia, but, dare I say...the world!

Where else, after a full day of corkscrewing your body on those long drives, can you enjoy a traditional, and authentic, Thai massage? Perhaps not quite what you had envisioned, but the standard massage usually consists of an old woman with fingers of steel, standing on your back, tying your body in knots, with the climax being the cranking of your neck until it pops!! Great stuff, centuries old, and famous for restoring your body's natural balance!

With winters icy grip now firmly upon us, leaving many of Japan's inland courses 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 and lush un chartered golf courses are waiting to be explored.

Thailand is often called "The Land of a Thousand Smiles", it all starts with a warm smile from your caddy, and before long don't be surprised to find you've caught one of your very own!

The Money Hole

Thai Country Club, Hole #6, par 3 / 230 yards

This hole was voted "Best Par 3 in Asia 2001-2003" and is a signature hole at Thai Country Club. 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 also plays into the prevailing winds making club selection challenging at times. It requires a confident tee shot to allow most golfers to navigate this beautiful, yet often punishing hole.

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 left. Other hazards include the presence of giant bunker below this sloping green, which if anything, will prevent errant shots from getting wet.

A large bunker behind the green also adds to the mix making shots that fly the green very tricky coming back from above the hole. When keeping to the left side the contours of the approach will usually feed the ball onto the green. Stray a little too much to the left, however, and you may find one of the deep grass bunkers.

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.

- Mark Siegel, Managing Director Golfasian.com and thailandgolfzone.com
"The golf experts in Thailand"

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. Most courses have one day a week when they offer a reduced rate of around $20 USD. This discounted rate, and day, changes depending on the season and the course, so the intrepid golfer who takes the time to look around will be rewarded. Note: in the winter peak season these promotions are usually suspended.

When to go
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. 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.

For further information on tours and getaways to Thailand check out these two leading sites: www.Golfasian.com and www.thailandgolfzone.com and get yourself squared away for a memorable tropical golfing vacation today! And as always here in Japan at Gotemba Golf Club and Belle View Nagao G.C. we only close if there's actual snow on the ground impeding play, so for those hearty souls out there who are looking for a winter round or lesson, come check us out, count me in, and I'll bring the scotch!

Bennett Galloway, 19 January 2008

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  • Japan Golf Tours
  • Gearing Up for Winter Golf
  • Respecting Your Game
  • Adrift in a Sea of Golf Balls
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  • Hakone, the Gem of Kanagawa and a Resort Golfers Paradise
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  • Golf made easy

  • About Bennett
    Bennett is a long time resident of Japan and the Director of Golf for Gotemba Golf Club and Belle View Nagao G.C., in Shizuoka near Mt. Fuji. Member of the Golf Writers Association of America and a teaching professional, providing lessons for all ages and abilities, in English or Japanese. He also specializes in in-bound golf tours to Japan with Golf Shizuoka and Golf Hakone.

    Contact Bennett »