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Bangkok stopover: where to play golf

Bangkok stopover: where to play golf

Paul Myers

July 22nd, 2013


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Avid golfers who travel to and within Asia on business or pleasure have a common dilemma: where to play golf when you have a day two to spare? And even if you’re so inclined, is it worth the hassle?

In some cities, the answer is yes – but in others, no.

Fortunately, for visitors to Bangkok, playing golf is simply a case of choosing where you want to play and making the arrangements. On all sides of the city there is oodles of choice. Here you can get to the course and play inexpensively, hire clubs (and golf shoes) and secure a unique insight into the delights of playing golf in the kingdom of Thailand.

Not only is the quality of courses high, Thailand’s service culture among clubhouse staff and, especially, caddies, all but guarantees a memorable experience.

It’s no surprise that more and more foreign golfers want to play in or near Bangkok. According to MasterCard’s Global Cities Index, the Thai capital has become the world’s most visited city ahead of London and New York with almost 16 million travellers staying at least one night.

Even with such an influx of visitors, the choice of at least 50 golf courses within two hours’ drive of downtown means you can always get a game, especially in low season (April to November) when visitor numbers decline due to the absence of Europeans and North Asians who make a beeline for Thailand during the northern hemisphere winter.

As long as you escape the worst of the traffic, you only have to travel an hour – or less – from a downtown hotel to be on a course comparable with a medium to high-quality members’ club layout in most cities. Green fees usually cost SGD120 or less, depending if you play midweek or weekends and high (Nov-Mar) or low season. You’ll also pay around SGD30 for a cart and it’s customary to tip your caddy SGD12-15 after the round.

Three nearby courses that aren’t so well known but are definitely worth the experience are Muang Kaew (about 25km east), Riverdale, a similar distance to the north-west, and Suwan which lies 60km due west of Bangkok about half way to Kanchanaburi, known to many as the starting point of the infamous Thai-Burma Railway built by prisoners of war during World War 11.

Designed by the acclaimed team of Schmidt-Curley, who have a large presence in Asia – including all 22 courses at Mission Hills China – Muang Kaew (pronounced moong cow) is on the city’s edge with a great clubhouse, first-class facilities and excellent grooming.

Indeed, Muang Kaew is the closest golf course to bustling Bangkok, but provides anything but a big-city experience. Lakes and creeks are so abundant, there’s a feeling of stepping straight into the countryside once you arrive.

One of the newest courses in Bangkok (opened in 2010), Riverdale Golf Club is owned by MBK Public Company, which also owns and operates Loch Palm and Red Mountain on Phuket, and is well known to tourists and locals for its landmark MBK store in the heart of the city.

Indeed, the company’s managing director of golf, Somboon Wangrassamee, says golfers who come to Bangkok should not leave without experiencing both attractions.

It’s true. MBK shopping centre, with hundreds of individual shops and stores under one roof, is a great experience. And as a golf course, Riverdale is more than able to hold its own among the city’s best.

The signature 8th hole is unique in providing two choices – an island green that plays a meagre 127 yards or an elevated green set further back and requiring a difficult uphill tee shot. It provides a tough choice. Most visitors choose to play to the island.

Riverdale can be played for as little as $US75 midweek in low season plus cart and caddy fees.

Although further from the city, Suwan Golf & Country Club, is worth the drive. It has hosted Asian Tour tournaments and with water on 17 of its 18 holes is a course that needs to be treated with respect. It’s also a lot of fun navigating around and between lakes and channels while observing an abundance of birdlife and occasional large water monitors.

This relatively unknown course is a real surprise packet and deserves a much higher profile in Bangkok’s golf course hierarchy than it often receives. The philosophy of the owners is to provide a high-class golf experience at a reasonable price without having to be a member of a private club. Suwan fulfils this objective handsomely.

Located near the town of Nakhom Chaisi, the 7125-yard layout opened in 2005, and has already hosted three tournaments: the Asian Tour International in 2009 and 2010 and the Thailand Open in 2011.

Water, in play or in sight on all but one hole, is a keynote of the course. Water carries feature on three of the par-3s, the par-5s are all long and the par-4s are renowned for their share of dogleg designs that require careful shot selection and execution.

If you want to go upmarket, Thai Country Club and Alpine Golf Club are the most obvious choices.

Owned and operated by Peninsula Hotels, the championship course at Thai Country Club, about 15 minutes west of the airport, opened in 1996 and has hosted six Asian tour events including the Asian Honda Classic in 1997 (won by Tiger Woods), the Johnnie Walker Championship in 1998 (won by Vijay Singh) and four Volvo Masters Championships between 2005 and 2008.

Rated the number one course in Thailand for seven years until 2011, the layout has many intricate design features – plenty of water, strategic mounds on the side of many fairways, undulating and often fast Tif Eagle greens and perhaps the best clubhouse facilities in Thailand.

Aerial view of Muang Kaew Golf Club, Bangkok.

Aerial view of Muang Kaew Golf Club, Bangkok.

Its signature par-3 sixth hole is rated as one of the best in Thailand, while there are many other memorable holes on the course. Conditioning is always excellent and the quality of its drainage is best explained by the fact that the course didn’t lose a day of play during the 2011 floods, which created problems for many other courses near Bangkok.

About an hour’s drive north of the city, Alpine Golf Club is a private members’ facility, but visitors can play there on request. Its designer, Ron Garl, is the architect of more than 100 courses in Florida and Alabama, so he redily understands the needs of the tropics.

It is regarded as the most challenging golf course in the Thai capital, playing 7100 yards off the back tees, is immaculately maintained and features lightning fast greens and undulating fairways.?Most greens slope from back to front, so keeping the ball below the hole is the key to shooting a low score.

If you don’t mind travelling up to two hours from downtown (or 90 minutes from Suvarnaphumi airport), the top layouts in the Chonburi area near Pattaya shouldn’t be missed: Siam Country Club and Laem Chabang International Country Club.

Siam Country Club’s 27-hole Plantation course and 18-hole Old Course have both hosted the Honda Asian LPGA championship. Next February, another 18 holes, to be named Riverside, will be opened there, making Siam CC by far the premier golf course facility in Thailand with 63 holes, all open to the public.

The Plantation course, designed by Schmidt-Curley, opened in 2008, is situated on a former pineapple and tapioca plantation and is home to Asia’s first triple green, shaped like a clover.

An undulating and relatively open layout with stands of red fountain grass forming a visual barrier between holes and along the fairways, Plantation is strikingly different to the Old Course, which was Thailand’s first privately-owned golf club when it opened in 1970.

The 27-holes Jack Nicklaus-designed Laem Chabang features three distinctly different ‘nines”. The Mountain course plays around jungle and hills, while the Lake and Valley courses are at lower elevation, with an abundance of water – especially on the Valley course.

Tips for playing golf in Bangkok

  • Ask your hotel to arrange a driver to take you to and from the course. Drivers will wait while you play and, depending on the distance, usually charge 1500-2500 baht for the day (approx. $US50-80).
  • Be sure to take a change of clothes. Not only can it be hot, it’s always worthwhile relaxing in the clubhouse after the game.
  • Try to play early morning in low season (Apr-Nov) as there often can be rain in the afternoon from July to November.
  • Avoid peak hour traffic, which can be horrific in Bangkok. Leave your hotel by 7am and you shouldn’t have any problems getting to and from the course.
  • Make sure you interact with your caddie, who will always speak some English and at better clubs and well trained in reading greens, club selection and so on.
  • Usually only one player is allowed per cart, which will cost 600-750 baht ($US20-25) at most courses.
  • While caddie tips are discretionary, you should pay at least 300 baht ($US10) if you are happy with the service.
  • Prices often rise during the high season (Dec-Mar) and it can be difficult to get a game at some courses, so always check in advance.
  • Avoid weekends if possible as courses are often busy with local Thai players.
  • Thai Country Club, and some other courses, is closed on Mondays.

For more information about playing golf in Bangkok, and other parts of Thailand, visit www.golfinakingdom.com





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