Golf in the Land of Smiles:
I am an unabashed golf junkie. I’ve played the game since I was ten years old. I’m an underachieving six handicap who has had the good fortune to play some of the great courses in the world including Pebble Beach, Royal Melbourne, Winged Foot, Wentworth and Olympic, to name but a few. These have been some of the most enjoyable golf experiences imaginable, played on world-class courses with plenty of fine food and grog. As good as these experiences have been, it is hard to beat golf in Thailand.
Golf in the West often involves four over-sized players loaded into two undersized electric carts. As carts are frequently not allowed to leave the paved paths, each player takes his turn running back and forth across the fairway – cart to ball (to indeed find the ball), back to cart (to get the right club), back to ball (now you’re holding things up) hit the ball (swear at the ball), run back to the cart, move forward 30 yards at which point your cart partner will repeat the above steps. I’ve not spoken with him lately, but I’m sure that’s not the way Ole Tom Morris envisioned this wonderful game to be played.
Golf in Thailand is pure, unadulterated fun. Thais think nothing of having five or even six players to a group. The plague that is the electric golf cart has not yet reached Thailand. Therefore, each player has, at the very least, one caddy and, quite often, a second caddy whose sole task is to carry an umbrella and shade the player from the sun. These entourages of between 12 and 18 people set off down the fairway and, unless you’ve played competitive golf, you’ve probably never had that large an audience watch you. It can be rather unnerving.
Thais seldom stop and wait for someone to hit a shot. When you get to your ball, you’d best be ready to hit because they aren’t going to pause and, no, they are not going to quite down so you can concentrate either.
The caddies and umbrella carriers are always cute, soft spoken, mild-mannered Thai girls. They smile that disarming Thai smile, they laugh when you hit a bad shot, and they are quick to encourage you with a “goot shaaa, Khun Rob.”
Besides being delightful people, they’re good caddies, too. They know the course, the way the greens break and can do a good job of clubbing you (I don’t mean thrashing you with a five iron; I mean suggesting the proper weapon to use.) They always replace divots and repair pitch marks. They mark your ball on the green, clean it and hand it to you with a suggested allowance for break.
Thailand has many world-class golf layouts. Nicklaus, Player, Palmer, Faldo and Norman all have designed and built courses in the Land of Smiles. The climatic conditions are ideal, plenty of sunlight, warm but not too hot, adequate rain and an abundance of cheap labor to keep the grass groomed to perfection. As if all this wasn’t enough, it’s inexpensive as well. A day like I’ve described with green fees, caddy charges, snacks and several Singha beers (the wonderfully exotic, local brew) will seldom set you back more than US $50.
Speaking of snacks, Thais don’t eat – they graze. There’s usually a snack shack every couple of holes. You are guaranteed to find the most creative assortment of drinks and snacks imaginable. Grilled chicken legs with honey/chili sauce, steamed rice in coconut milk and wrapped in a banana leaf, curry puff pastries, and enough other delicious and unique dishes to keep you satisfied, no matter what’s your pleasure.
In addition to the usual assortment of sodas and electrolyte drinks, in Thailand you’ll also find an incredible array of fruit juices and nectars that most Westerners have never seen. Yes, there are the mango, guava, coconut, pineapple and papaya but there are also the less common longnan, mangosteen, litchi, rambutan, sapodilla and noina. Take my word for it; they are all delicious.
After each nine holes, a tall, slender, attractive young Thai girl emerges from the clubhouse and walks down to meet your group at the green. She has a tray full of glasses of cold water and cool, moist towels. The whole image is so idyllic; that you’d think it has to be a mirage. I’m glad to report it is not, so you towel off and head for the clubhouse. More ‘grazing’ is in store as you adjourn to the dining area where you order dishes of stir-fried noodles and plenty of cleansing ale. After that, it’s off to the showers and then on to enjoy some of the famous Bangkok nightlife.
Golf doesn’t get much better than that.
Author: Rob Chipman @ Asian Tigers Hong Kong