A Look at Golf in the Far East - Part 1

By: Rick Corcoran

Part 1. Getting a Lay of the Thai-land

Editor’s Note: In this three-part travelogue, Cybergolf’s Rick Corcoran writes about his experiences of a September 2004 golf trip to Thailand. Rick discusses his experiences on and off several golf courses, and lends his personal observations of an exotic country in the Far East. Based on what he chronicles in this Thai adventure, we don’t believe Rick will ever be the same.

Imagine a place where you play beautiful golf courses and have three caddies at your beck and call, who fan you, get cold drinks for you, and even help you line up your putts. You might think this slice of heaven must be some ultra-ritzy place reserved only for the VIP’s of the golf world or billionaires who spend money like drunken sailors. Well, it’s neither. This place that sounds too good to be true . . . is Thailand.

I don’t know about you, but places on my top-five lists of international golf destinations include countries like Scotland, Ireland and Australia. But Thailand? Maybe the country should be reconsidered as a place for golf. I didn’t really know that much about the country before traveling there in September 2004. I had always heard about the beautiful Thai women . . . Yul Brenner was the King of Siam in a movie . . . It’s driver-driver-wedge to the equator . . . David Bowie wrote a song about Bangkok . . . The country is often referred to as “the land of 1,000 smiles” . . . and that they might serve food items which we Americans like to have has pets.

Sounds more like a place that the Griswalds would go to film “International Vacation,” but not a golf destination. But what the hell, I decided to give it a shot.

Head West Young Man

At the invitation of David Lin, managing director of Asia Golfing, located in Bellevue, Wash., a group of us headed westward to play some golf in the Far East.

Asia Golfing began booking Thailand trips for golfers looking for a little more adventure than the traditional Arizona, Myrtle Beach or Monterey Peninsula destinations. After experiencing golf – and much more – in this exotic country, the trip makes those places feel like a Coco Beach senior community. The trips originate in Seattle and run seven days, with round-trip airfare to and from Bangkok, hotel, ground transportation, most of your meals, and four rounds of golf for $1,899 plus tax. Not a bad price for being treated like a king.

If it’s just the guys golfing – while the wives or girlfriends explore, shop and hang out by the pool, the price will be adjusted to take out the green fees that won’t be used. You can upgrade your flight for another $400 to EVA Air’s Evergreen Deluxe Class, which I highly recommend for the 10-hour flight to Taipei. It’s kind of like “Business Class Lite,” where you get bigger seats that tilt far enough back to get some sleep, but not have to worry about breaking the kneecaps of the person behind you and shoving a tray table into their gut. The food is good, and the flight attendants operate with military precision as they roam the aisles giving top-notch service.

The two cities included on the tour are Bangkok and Pattaya Beach, both in central Thailand.

You’re Getting Warmer . . .

High (cool) season in Thailand runs from October through early March, so this is definitely the time you want to play golf here. There are two other seasons: the first is called “Warm,” with the other being, “Just put a gun to my head and pull the trigger until I say Stop – it’s so hot!” I think the locals actually call it the “rainy” season. A broken watch is right twice a day. In Bangkok, if all the thermometers broke when the temperature reached 90 degrees, they’d be right more often than not. Think Boston and Chicago in July or August and you’re pretty close to an average daily temperature. It actually gets down to the mid-80’s during the cool season and, no, there isn’t anything close to a “dry heat.” But, thankfully, air conditioning and cocktails will cool you off.

Once landing in Bangkok, there’s a two-hour drive to Pattaya Beach where you can unwind and prepare for the week ahead. You’ll stay at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort, which sits right on the Gulf of Thailand. Royal Cliff is a five-star resort with everything needed to make yourself comfortable. It has beautiful views of the gulf and great restaurants for breakfasts and dinners, with good selections of American-style foods and local delicacies. This is if you think duck tongue is a delicacy. (I can only think of the poor tongueless ducks waddling around going, “Quamp, quamp, quamp!”) The property is very secure and the staff always ready to help. For that matter, one of the highlights of the trip are the many smiles you’ll get from the staff and nearly every Thai.

“Sawatdi krap” means “Hello,” and “Khawp khun khrap” means thank you in Thai. The latter phrase is usually accompanied with a bow while the person’s hands are in the prayer position. You can return the gesture if you want. I pretty much butchered the pronunciations most of the time, but managed to avoid any international incidents. One local handed me a chicken after I tried to say hello once. Maybe he thought I was hungry. Baht (40 Baht = $1) is the main form of currency, but smiles will go a long way when asking for information. If your cheeks don’t hurt a little at the end of the day in Thailand, you’re either not smiling enough or your shorts rode up on you while playing the golf course!

Let’s Spank Whitey!

After a good nights sleep, and trying to figure out what planet you’re on with the time change and jet lag from your 7,000-plus-mile trip, it’s time to play some golf, or as a good friend says, “Spank Whitey.” With my swing, it’s usually better if half of my brain is still on another continent whose time zone is 14 hours behind me.

You’ll play three courses in the Pattaya Beach area. One of the four courses – Siam Country Club – our group played will be replaced by a better track in future tours. Siam CC isn’t a bad course. But compared to the other three, it’s like having a $100 bottle of wine with a steak and lobster dinner that ended with a fried zucchini sundae. It just didn’t fit the other two courses.

Another course on the itinerary is St. Andrews 2000, located about an hour and a half from Pattaya Beach in the southeastern Thai province of Rayong. Designer Desmond Muirhead’s task was to recreate the slightly better known St. Andrews course in Scotland. But the site doesn’t lend itself to a classic links layout. Undaunted, Muirhead created a really challenging track with elevation, water, numerous bunkers and cactus (yes, there’s cactus in Thailand).

St. Andrews 2000 is a unique track. For starters, from the blue tees, which some in our trip played, the course stretches a whopping 7,777 yards. The late Muirhead must have been sipping some Dom Perignon while designing this course, as there are not one but two par-6 holes on the card! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never played a par-6 in my life, let alone two on the same golf course. I’ve heard of their existence, but I’ve also heard about Sasquatch and that dragons breathe fire.

From the tips, the “twin-sixes” (Nos. 4 and 13) measured 878 and 861 yards, respectively. Remember that driver-driver-wedge comment? Add another driver to the mix on these holes. My group tried the white tees, which are a relatively measly 7,000 yards. There is a shot in this story of my friend Joel beside one of the “green monsters.” Joel’s smiling because he’s either two days into the trip and hasn’t gotten sick yet; or, at 5’9” he’s one of the tallest men in Thailand; or he only had to play the first par-6 from 836 yards. Joel carded a 9 after dropping a shot in the water, which you have to go over twice. He wasn’t smiling quite so brightly after finishing the hole.

But, in reality, you couldn’t help but smile after playing this interesting and challenging course. Except for the 240-yard par-3 17th, the layout actually didn’t play as long as the yardage. I don’t think you’ll have to make a trip to Balco labs to get the Barry Bonds’ special sauce before playing St. Andrews 2000. With the par-6’s eating up so much yardage, the rest of the course is part of the real world most of us are familiar with.

One of my favorite holes is usually the 19th, because of the various ways it can take a bad round and make it better, and can make a good round legendary. It all depends on how many “rounds” you ingest. But at the par-74 St. Andrews 2000, they have a real 19th hole! It doesn’t count toward your score, and it’s not even at the end of the course. The elevated par-3 19th is 150 yards from the blues (125 from the whites), and features a water-ringed, island green. There are lots of those in Scotland, Desmond! Anyway, it’s a fun hole to play.

St. Andrews 2000 is the most scenic of all the courses we played. The back nine is gorgeous with all the elevation changes and views of the surrounding hillsides. You really get a feel for how beautiful Thailand is and how very lush and green the country is. Here, you can almost feel the color. The course contains many lakes, tons of bunkers, slit fairways, huge greens, rock gardens and cactus, which is a very strange sight in an area that gets about 54 inches of yearly rainfall.

The caddies helping me during the round were average; they weren’t as good as another course I’ll soon tell you about. But they still made the round more enjoyable. What do you expect for $7 a caddie? They always offered a smile, even carding a big number, and we each had two caddies and big numbers. The $75 weekend fee to play St. Andrews 2000 is worth every cent, and we all left the course happy campers.

For more information about golf tours to Thailand, visit www.asiagolfing.com or call 425/644-0566. For more information about the other services and places in this article, please visit:

Eva Air: www.evaair.com
Royal Cliff Beach Resort: www.royalcliff.com
St. Andrews 2000: www.standrews2000golf.com/2004/home.php