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Thailand: World’s Hottest Golf Destination

Thailand: World’s Hottest Golf Destination

Paul Myers

July 19th, 2013

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Like a well-weighted putt or a perfect chip-and-run, golf tourism to Thailand is on a roll.

Already one of the world’s four major golf tourism destinations – along with Spain, the British Isles and the US – Thailand has become Asia’s golf holiday market of choice for Europeans, Australians and Asians themselves.

Mark Siegel, whose company Golfasian is the largest dedicated inbound golf tourism business in South-East Asia, predicts inbound golf tourism into Thailand could reach 750,000 visitors in 2013, worth $US3 billion in land arrangements alone. This may be only half the number of golf tourists who venture to Spain each year, but it is many more than those who venture to other alternative golf markets such as Portugal, Turkey, Morocco, the Caribbean and Bulgaria.

Why has Thailand become so popular?

“Because of the experience it offers,” Siegel explains. “You can find countries with better golf courses, maybe with better value, great weather and infrastructure, but nowhere else matches the genuine friendliness of the Thai people. In Thailand, everyone is treated as a guest. They are considered part of the family as soon as they arrive. The people do it because they are happy, not because it’s good business. Kids in Thailand are taught to be nice.

“Visiting golfers experience genuine Thai friendship in many ways, but especially with caddies, who really have fun and are extremely helpful and knowledgeable about golf. They also like their jobs. It’s not an act. They are Thai golf’s secret weapon. Throw in the climate, cost, culture, food, entertainment, nightlife, safety, infrastructure, widespread use of English and everyone who comes to Thailand to play golf is a winner.”

The Tourism Authority of Thailand recognises Thailand’s golf tourism potential and invests heavily in promoting golf internationally. Indeed, golf is one of Thailand’s four official tourism “pillars” alongside medical tourism, eco-tourism and weddings.

The quality of golf in Thailand is as good as you’ll find in most major golf destinations. Of the kingdom’s 260 courses, about 30 are internationally recognised, including Black Mountain near Hua Hin, the first (in 2012) Thai course to make US Golf Digest’s list of the Top 100 Courses Outside the United States.

Thailand’s five major golf tourism areas – Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, Chiangmai/Chiangrai and Hua Hin – are all strongly represented in Golf In A Kingdom (www.golfinakingdom.com), a collection of Thailand’s top golf courses and resorts.  Among them, Thai Country Club just outside Bangkok, designed by Denis Griffiths, has hosted six Asian Tour events and has the name of Tiger Woods (who won there in 1997) on its #1 locker.

Long regarded as the standard by which all other courses are judged, Thai CC was awarded premier status as the best course in the country for seven years in a row until Black Mountain Golf Club (see information to follow) opened.

Its distinctive terra cotta-coloured clubhouse is still a standout and boasts the best buffet at a golf club in Asia. Owned and operated by Peninsula Hotels, the service and overall quality of the facility is what you would expect from such a prestige establishment.

Suwan Golf & Country Club, west of Bangkok, has also hosted Asian Tour tournaments, and with water on 17 of its 18 holes, presents a formidable challenge. It’s an hour’s drive to the course from downtown Bangkok, but well worth the trip.

Right in Bangkok itself, Riverdale Golf Club is among the city’s five best courses, is easy to reach and offers great value. Set in a bowl, its low-slung clubhouse on the top of a ridge offers commanding views of the course, the last four holes of which are truly memorable.

Riverdale also features a par-3 hole with two greens – an island green just 100 yards from the tea and another on a plateau some 40 yards further and to the left. Take your pick which hole to play, but – as you would expect – most choose the island option.

Muang Kaew Golf Club (pronounced mung cow), also within easy reach of Bangkok’s CBD, designed by the US team of Schmidt-Curley, is an oasis in the city with a great clubhouse and first-class facilities.

Two hours south of Bangkok, the tourism hotspot of Pattaya has 20 courses of which the twin layouts at Siam Country Club and nearly Laem Chabang are clearly the best.

Siam Country Club’s 27-hole Plantation course and 18-hole Old Course have both hosted the Honda Asian LPGA championship.

Next February, Siam CC will open another 18 holes, to be named Riverside, which will make it the premier golf course facility in Thailand with 63 holes, all open to the public.

The 27-holes Jack Nicklaus-designed Laem Chabang means that there will soon be 80 holes within easy reach of other at Pattaya’s two premier courses.

Siam CC’s Old Course was originally laid out by Isao Mazumi in 1970 and was redesigned in 2007 by Schmidt-Curley, immediately after which it became the first course in Thailand to host an LPGA event, the 2007 Honda LPGA Thailand.

Its sister Plantation course, another Schmidt-Curley design, opened in 2008 and immediately hosted the Honda LPGA Thailand, won by world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa. The 27-hole layout is situated on a former pineapple and tapioca plantation and is home to Asia’s first triple green, shaped like a clover.

Hua Hin, three hours’ drive south of Bangkok, is another golf hotspot. Here you’ll find multi-award-winning Black Mountain Golf Club, which opened in 2007, and is regarded as Thailand’s best course as well as having an extraordinary par-3 layout, villas, condominiums, as water park and wakeboard park, spa, tennis courts and outstanding restaurant.

Nearby Banyan Golf Club, opened in 2009, is a testing mountainside course set in natural surroundings. The property also includes Banyan Resort, a complex of private villas and pool villas near Hua Hin, a few minutes’ drive from the golf course.

The clubhouse, situated on the highest part of the property, offers stunning vistas of the Burmese Mountains, while the course itself takes golfers on an undulating journey than can be made as difficult as they wish. Local Thai designer, Pirapon Namatra, provided four sets of well-spaced tees, allowing the course to play from 5087 yards up to an imposing 7361 yards.

Situated 1200 feet above sea level in the mountainous northern Thailand, Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort is literally a breath of fresh air and a must visit for any serious golf trip to Thailand. The atmosphere is cooler and crisper than in any other part of the country and the reservoir-fed course is invigorating, too.

Yet another Schmidt-Curley design, Mother Nature provided all the ingredients needed to create a course that is one of the best in Thailand. Natural contours of the hilly property dictate each hole, providing some challenges alongside superb vistas.

For more information on great golf experiences in Thailand, visit www.golfinakingdom.com

Muang Kaew Golf Course

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