By Shankan Balan
Recently a good friend and I were happily able to take a short Golfing holiday in the picturesque and tourist friendly Kingdom of Thailand.
We had fixed up our Golf via the world-wide-web and I had zeroed in particularly on two beautifully manicured golf courses, one located roughly North East and the other, North of Bangkok town. Most importantly, in the primary interests of our game, we carried with us a half set each, made up from our own golf clubs.
Alighting in the Land of the Royal Orchid, we were struck at first by the orderly chaos of the traffic and the man-made splendour of the buildings surrounding us.
Part I – President Golf and Country Club, Lumtoiting, Nong Chok, Bangkok
Saturday, 26 August 2006
At about 11am on that beautiful grey and overcast day, we called a regular cab from our hotel to get to the President Golf and Country Club situated an hour North East of Bangkok City by car. This is an idyllic setting, composed of four separate 9 hole – Par -36 golf courses, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. better known as the famous Bobby Jones himself! Today it is one of the Top 20 Golf Courses in Thailand and a real pleasure to play!
For me, it was greatly gratifying, to be playing on a course designed by one of the best gentlemen golfers of all time and a true sportsman to boot. The courses lie North, South, East and West. One typically plays a Pre-set combination of two directions in a round of 18 holes – having said that, I must mention that there is absolutely no “criss-cross” and the other regular issues one faces, of shared greens and so on, since there is simply no space constraint there at all. I must heartily commend the Thai people, for their immense foresight in the matter of their wholly tourism dependent economy!
My friend Mr Mathew and I first met Ms Ana, the lady who had kindly arranged the afternoon’s golf for us, then the caddies assigned to us, diminutive in stature and immensely respectful, their faces permanently creased in wide smiles (at us? for us? Or at their expectations of our state of play????). We were then introduced to our partners, Mr Khun and his son, Mr Ton. Bowing to each other to take the honour first we proceeded along to the North course for the first nine. A long straight par 5 with some wicked bunkers casually interspersed saw us through at bogey with our partners making par. The second, a lovely par 4, 349 yard hole with a slight dogleg right with a green guarded by water saw us home in doubles. Moving through the next few holes saw us through with a bunch of doubles with our partners playing steadily for par and bogey.
We reached the lovely 6th – Par 3 across deep water with a tiny green. My simple advice is, always appease the Water Gods before taking on such a dauntingly difficult task! Need I really say any more?
The 8th is a long par 4 with a pretty pine fringe on the left beyond the water bounding the fairway. A couple of bunkers strategically placed, added to the interest. The 9th is a long par 5, relatively straightforward but with a green well guarded on all sides by bunkers causing havoc for us and similar such members of the Duffers Golf Club!
We stopped then at the golf hut to re-vitalize our systems with some chilled water and a plantain fruit for some extra energy, (sorely needed to tackle the particularly dangerous, water hazard laden, East course.)
We were met squarely by a 290-yard par 4, bounded by water, with a wicked dogleg left to strike the green. We were under pressure at first but somehow managed a double bogey. Then we played the straightforward 11th and moved on to the 12th, where we were faced with an amazingly sharp right dogleg bounded with deep water on the right. The 13th is another super sharp right dogleg to the green and bounded with water! The Par 3, 14th is simply wonderful. An island promontory serving as a Tee box, straight over water to a pocket hanky sized green with a steep fringe – truly a hole for the Lion hearts amongst us! Interestingly the Par 5,16th hole is very similar to the Par 4, 13th the main difference is the length. Then we reached the Par 3, 17th where we were amazed to see almost an exact replica of the Par 3,14th, but here, instead of a steep fringe, we had to carry over some treacherous looking bunkers apart from hoping one would hit the ball so as to have enough “wings” over the deep water as well as the bunkers! We had a respectable bogey though on this one! The 18th is a pretty straightforward hole with a wide fairway. An interesting thing is that it is bounded on the left by water and between the fairway and the water, lies a long trench filled with sand, just to cause that extra bit of worry and ensure that one keeps well away on the right!
We played off the White tees and covered a distance of about 6000 odd yards over 18 holes. An elegant setting, a gentle looking golf course but with rather sharp teeth in that it abounded with hazards, plenty of water, millions of bunkers all over the place. Definitely a course not recommended for the faint, meek or unfit amongst us. But I’m glad I played it because it is important to be able to look challenges like this squarely in the eye and making them wilt (if possible)!
Thanking our partners Mr Khun and Mr Ton profusely and appreciating their decisive, sometimes daring and wholly skilful games, we meandered back to our hotel, bathed in that gentle sort of euphoria that can only come after a day of golf like the one we had enjoyed!
Part II – Pinehurst Golf and Country Club, Klong 1, Pathumthanee, Thailand
Monday 28th August 2006
Bright and early on a fine Monday morning, around the time when most normal people perform their ablutions prior to setting out for work, some with happiness, some with purpose and some certainly with a not-so-attractive fit of Monday morning blues, Mr Mathew (my friend) and I set out, with the light hearted gait of a pair of errant schoolboys playing truant from the classroom, to play Golf, I ask you, in Thailand! Woof – I just loved the thought of me in my golfing kit and going off to enjoy a whole day of fun when others elsewhere, ploughed through the doldrums of their daily existence! Ha!
We were picked up from our hotel by a Private Car (some serious cosseting, this) and got transported in comfort for about 45 minutes in a Northerly direction out of Bangkok City, past the Airport and so on, to a Jewel of a place called Pinehurst Golf and Country Club in a place called Pathumthanee.
Designed by the renowned Japanese Golf Course Designer Yoshibara Aihara, Pinehurst is typical of the genteel passion of the Japanese people for manicured floral extravagance, colourful and splendiferous yet symmetrical gardens, manicured shrubs, tended flowerbeds, shaped trees doubling as distance markers, beautiful bridged waterways and floating lotuses and lilies. The course spans three separate courses actually, North, South and West – each of 9 holes, the North being a Par 35 and the others, Par 36. A true Golfer’s Paradise, with birds chirping in the trees, warm, lush tropical weather (sometimes a bit muggy, it is true, but brilliant nonetheless) and superlatively maintained fairways, roughs, bunkers and greens. A beautiful setting indeed, for an extremely challenging and tight golf course – a dream course for the accurate hitter.
Our friendly, ever smiling Chauffeur, Mr Win, deposited us at the Main entrance and said he’d await our pleasure in the spacious car park. (It is damned good fun to pretend to be rich, even if one isn’t actually and personally, I can never have too much of the good life, I can tell you!)
We went straight to the Starter, presented our confirmation slip, met our friendly lady caddies and straightaway attacked the First (White) Tee of the North course, a Par 5, 351 yard mini dogleg right to the green. We were only a Twosome (being Monday as I said earlier) and since we play regularly together, just went out, attacked the ball with gusto and simply and uncomplicatedly enjoyed our golf!
The second is a short Par 3, Eight Iron hole which (since I had only a half set) I attacked with a Number 7, overshooting a little for a double. The third has water on all sides with a sharp-ish dogleg left on a Par 4. Nice one to attack with one’s driver being careful to hit the fairway since the possibility of rollover and kick into water is high. The fourth was just made for my trusty Cleveland over a pretty bridged waterway, flying onto the mid fairway to attack the green guarded on one side by a reasonable bunker.
The fifth, a 463-yard Par 5 is completely and deceptively wicked, causing you to pull out the “big dog” so to say, and thunk it straight down the middle! The fairway ends just short of the green to fall away into some brilliant water with an island green so do not hit a wild second shot with any old wood, but be humble!
The Par 4 sixth is very straightforward and relatively easy. Moving to the 7th, a very well designed Par 3 over water to the green, we were trapped for a bit in the bunkers guarding the green itself.
The eighth hole is a long 581-yard Par 5 with miles of fairway bounded by trees, with a sudden sharp dogleg left with a very long approach wood to the green. Disaster for both of us though, since we duffed it so badly we were forced to scratch, to save face! The ninth hole is a simple and straightforward hole to play, a par 4 350 yard, peaceable one!
It was a good feeling to play this course, in a reasonably face saving manner, bar one or two duffs.
Stopping briefly for a quick bite and some Coke and so on for our caddies, we went across to the West course for our second half. Fortified well by the rather excellent snacks available at the golf hut, we quite possibly were a little over-confident on our 10th hole, (the first hole on the West Course), a par 5, 499 yard monster, causing both of us to double.
The 11th and 12th holes passed without much incident and then we were onto the 13th hole, which is a 128 Yard Par 3 where I managed a bogey despite having gone onto the left of the green. This hole is an absolute beauty sitting right there, guarded on all sides by little knolls of grass, with water on the right of the fairway and surrounded by no less then 4 bunkers of varying sizes, shapes and depths, beautifully inset into the little grassy knolls themselves! The 14th is quite capable of dealing you the card saying death by water if you are not careful because some low-ish mounds bound it on the right, effectively concealing the lurking threat of the waterway on the right! The 15th is a long par 5 of 529 yards – very difficult so don’t ever underestimate it! Absolute hell, believe me. The 16th is pretty straightforward and a 358 yard Par 4, well met with a Driver, 9 iron and Approach Wedge for Par.
Onto the best hole of the day, the short Par 3 17th, (8th hole of the West course), which has deep water on the left side and in front between you and the green with a tough rough on the right. Two levels of Tee Box, meet you when you attack this hole. You can either play an 8 or 9 Iron from below if you feel confident, OR, as we did, you can play a 7 Iron from the Upper Tee, a turf-lined, concrete platform that serves as a roof to the lower tee box. Wonder of Wonders, both of us were on the green in regulation and went for the most pleasurable par we made that day!
The Par 4, Eighteenth hole again was rather deceptive. Keep left is the motto here, in order to remain on the fairway. Since it was the last hole for the day, I thunked my Driver down for a beautiful shot (or so I thought) heading slightly to the right, landing well on the springy fairway turf, only to bounce once, twice and SPLOTCH! over the last restraining knoll, off the steep fringe, into the water body that guards (and very effectively too), the 18th island green. Finishing with a Bogey despite a dropped stroke here was to me, an achievement in itself!
Then, four hours and about 6000 odd yards after we had begun it was onto some sorely required refreshment and a round of their excellently appointed Pro Shop to buy some little souvenir caps and tees and so on, for keepsakes and to top off our visit!
Thus ended another wonderful and enjoyable round of Golf and most importantly a round on a Monday, dull and dreary working day that it normally is! Enveloped in that dull afterglow of euphoria combined with the disappointment of having to tear one’s self away from such a nice environment, prior to packing one’s bags and leaving for the grind of daily working life at home, we drove slowly back to our hotel.
Since the pretty little Kingdom of Thailand is superbly equipped in terms of facilities and just brilliantly geared to meet all the needs of the enthusiastic Golf Tourist, it should certainly take pride of place on one’s list of “must visit” golfing destinations, if one is a dedicated golfer with a bit of a passion for travel as well. Indeed there are in excess of 50 or 60 world class Golf Courses/ Resorts/ Country Clubs in and around Bangkok City itself, located at varying distances. This is to say nothing of the other places there like Pattaya and Phuket and what have you!
Highly enjoyable and heartily recommended, is my considered view!