GOLF IN BANGKOK

Thai­land's vi­brant, colour­ful and pul­sat­ing cap­i­tal is ac­cord­ing to one rep­utable source, the most vis­ited in­ter­na­tional desti­na­tion on the planet in 2016.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENT -

Bangkok, aside from its tra­di­tional tourist at­trac­tions con­tin­ues to ad­vance its po­si­tion as a ma­jor com­mer­cial hub in global terms while play­ing a lead­ing role in SE Asia's econ­omy, per­haps now only be­hind Singapore in im­por­tance. A glance across the city's bur­geon­ing sky­line, which, in­ci­den­tally, fea­tures some spec­tac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture, will give hint to that!

How­ever, Bangkok also de­serves recog­ni­tion as a golf desti­na­tion, and in its own right rather than typ­i­cally be­ing a con­duit to the re­sort towns of Pat­taya, HuaHin and Phuket, which soak up much of Thai­land's sub­stan­tial golf tourism in­come. You can prob­a­bly now add Chi­ang Mai to that list too. The city's vaguely de­fined metropoli­tan re­gion is home to about 60 golf clubs, some of­fer­ing cour­ses which are rated in­ter­na­tion­ally, and have reg­u­larly hosted events on both men's and women's pro­fes­sional tours. It would be a fair as­sump­tion how­ever that the overall stan­dard is high. The cour­ses I played are con­sid­ered a fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion. They all of­fered a qual­ity golf and hos­pi­tal­ity ex­pe­ri­ence at rea­son­able cost, and, im­por­tantly, were vis­i­tor friendly.

Most golf clubs in the Bangkok area are how­ever, pri­vate, some be­ing quite ex­clu­sive. Se­cur­ing week­day tee times is usu­ally straight for­ward but op­tions are lim­ited at week­ends and green fees are usu­ally higher. It's also eas­ier to get a book­ing for groups - two peo­ple at least. Clubs can be less ac­com­mo­dat­ing of sin­gle play­ers, par­tic­u­larly on week­ends, how­ever they will try and find a slot for you with an­other group. Morn­ing tee times are best. It's marginally cooler and there's less threat of rain, as­sum­ing you visit in the cheaper low sea­son.

A tour of Bangkok's fair­ways also pre­sents lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges i.e. the city's no­to­ri­ous traf­fic!. Thought­ful plan­ning is es­sen­tial. If you choose to stay in the city and com­bine golf with some re­tail ther­apy, sight­see­ing and noc­tur­nal ac­tiv­ity, the lo­ca­tion of your ho­tel will be an im­por­tant de­ci­sion – The Park Plaza 18 is suit­ably well po­si­tioned. Al­ter­na­tively, you could di­vide your stay be­tween the city and a ho­tel fur­ther out e.g. nearer the air­port where most of the cour­ses I vis­ited, and sev­eral oth­ers, are con­ve­niently sit­u­ated. One such ho­tel/golf course pack­age will be fea­tured in part two of this re­view.

Ei­ther way, at­ten­tion to de­tail will help en­sure your trip will be an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence rather than a frus­trat­ing, and quite likely, more ex­pen­sive one. Util­is­ing the ser­vices and ex­per­tise of a rep­utable lo­cal tour op­er­a­tor is highly rec­om­mended. They en­joy pref­er­en­tial ar­range­ments with a good se­lec­tion of ho­tels (or can prob­a­bly book the ho­tel of your choice) have the knowl­edge to ef­fi­ciently or­gan­ise your golf itin­er­ary and se­cure any deals on of­fer, and most im­por­tantly, man­age all the lo­gis­tics. They can also usu­ally as­sist with sight­see­ing ex­cur­sions. While the up­front cost may be a lit­tle more than the DIY ap­proach, you will ul­ti­mately be bet­ter off and, stress free

MUANG KEAW GOLF CLUB

‘Muang Keaw Golf – The golf­ing Oa­sis in Bangkok' pro­claims a taste­ful sign as you ap­proach the front of the club­house. Pre­ten­tious? Mar­ket­ing hy­per­bole? Well ac­tu­ally no, it re­ally is some­thing of an Oa­sis and one of the clos­est (24km) golf clubs to the city. The pic­turesque, metic­u­lously main­tained 18 hole lay­out was ini­tially opened for play in 1993 but in 2003, the Sch­midt Curley de­sign team were re­tained to im­ple­ment a ma­jor re­vamp. This pri­mar­ily in­volved re­build­ing many of the greens to a tour­na­ment stan­dard which has cer­tainly been achieved!. The fast paced, un­du­lat­ing putting sur­faces would test the best of strokes. In­ci­den­tally, I first en­coun­tered Sch­midt Curley's im­pres­sive work in 2016 when I vis­ited Muang Keaw's sis­ter club, the equally im­pres­sive Chi­ang Mai High­lands GC. In its en­tirety, Muang Keaw is a gen­uine chal­lenge. It's not ex­ces­sively long, although five par fours ex­tend over 370mts and the wide but damp­ish fair­ways of­fered lit­tle run. How­ever, Lee Sch­midt has re fash­ioned a flat­tish course into a lay­out with more pro­nounced el­e­va­tion changes par­tic­u­larly around the well guarded greens em­pha­sis­ing the pre­mium he places on the short game. Clev­erly placed and shaped bunker­ing (green­side and fair­way) also fits with his de­sign phi­los­o­phy and there's plenty of water around to com­pli­cate mat­ters too. Muang Keaw cer­tainly put my game to the test, and mostly to the sword, but it was a de­light to play and to ex­pe­ri­ence the en­vi­ron­ment that's been cre­ated here. The spa­cious club house is well ap­pointed and ser­viced apart­ments are also of­fered.

LAKE­WOOD COUN­TRY CLUB

35km from the city cen­tre, Lake­wood oc­cu­pies a sur­pris­ingly se­cluded prop­erty neigh­bour­ing one of Bangkok's many uni­ver­si­ties and only 15 min­utes from the air­port. Open­ing in 1992 with 18 holes - the Lake and Wood nines- with an ad­di­tional nine (cu­ri­ously bap­tised, the Rock) fol­low­ing a year later, the 27 hole lay­out is the handi­work of Cal­i­for­nian ar­chi­tect J Michael Poel­lot, whose re­sume in­cludes award win­ning projects in the USA, China and Ja­pan.

The Bangkok re­gion's ‘pan­cake' to­pog­ra­phy pre­sents a con­stant chal­lenge to golf course de­sign­ers and as a con­se­quence, water is a ubiq­ui­tous el­e­ment in the cre­ative process. Lake­wood is no ex­cep­tion as im­plied by its name. The Lake and Wood composite 18, ag­gre­gat­ing 6000mts, fea­ture water promi­nently on all but six holes, how­ever its pres­ence, aside from the ex­cel­lent 3rd hole (Lake) the de­mand­ing 9th (Wood) and a cou­ple of stand­out par threes, was less in­tim­i­dat­ing than ex­pected. This was per­haps partly at­trib­ut­able to gen­er­ously wide fair­ways which, de­spite be­ing slug­gish from the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of re­cent overnight rain, were in very good con­di­tion. The mod­estly sized and con­toured greens were also a lit­tle on the slow side but of­fered a true putting sur­face .In sum­mary, Poel­lot and his team have con­jured up a visu­ally pleas­ant, well de­signed course of­fer­ing a good test, rel­a­tive to the four tee po­si­tions, with­out be­ing overly puni­tive. De­spite per­haps not wear­ing her ‘Sun­day best' e.g. cart paths in need of main­te­nance and some at­ten­tion to de­tail lack­ing in the pre­sen­ta­tion, pos­si­bly due to the weather - Lake­wood proved to be a re­lax­ing and en­joy­able start to my tour.

THE VIN­TAGE CLUB

Vin­tage? I was in­trigued to find out in what con­text. Cer­tainly the rather grand 6000m2 Tu­dor style club­house in­vokes a by­gone era. Ap­par­ently how­ever, the de­sign brief given to ac­claimed Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect Arthur Hills, was to cre­ate a prop­erty which would ma­ture into clas­sic, i.e. vin­tage, park­land style course to ac­com­mo­date all skill lev­els. From my ob­ser­va­tion, he met the brief. Since the gates opened in Jan 1996, the own­ers, re­tail and prop­erty con­glom­er­ate the Cen­tral Group, have un­der­taken some on­go­ing im­prove­ments, mostly around drainage, but the 18 hole lay­out still show­cases Hills' ex­per­tise. Water has been strate­gi­cally placed through­out, more so guard­ing the greens than be­ing a threat off the tee but its ex­act lo­ca­tion isn't al­ways ob­vi­ous so caddy knowl­edge is im­por­tant. The ex­cel­lent graph­ics on the score­card also help. Overall, the course was very well pre­sented and fea­tured some taste­ful land­scap­ing. The roomy fair­ways, al­beit quite heav­ily bunkered, were near per­fect and the greens of­fered a con­sis­tent putting sur­face. What also im­pressed was that cart paths ran down both sides of most holes, a real time saver. Vin­tage is blessed with many very good holes, the par fours14th &15th be­ing mem­o­rable, and at 5700mts, it isn't long jour­ney. Beat­ing your hand­i­cap here, is very achiev­able. The fa­cil­i­ties are of the ex­pected high stan­dard too so the 47km drive from the city is well worth­while. The club also lies rel­a­tively close to the sea so, un­usu­ally for Bangkok cour­ses, a pedes­trian cool­ing breeze makes its pres­ence felt - thank­fully!

THANA CITY GOLF CLUB & SPORTS CLUB

The next stop on my tour was not just to a golf club but to a mul­ti­fac­eted, res­i­den­tial, sports and leisure com­plex with the golf course be­ing the fo­cal point. The en­tire de­vel­op­ment is owned by the com­mer­cially di­verse BTS group how­ever the apart­ments and sports fa­cil­i­ties are man­aged as sep­a­rate en­ti­ties. Other sports catered for in­clude ten­nis, bad­minton and squash and there's an ex­cel­lent driv­ing range/prac­tise area which is also home to a golf academy. Ini­tially open­ing in 1993 the club is now in the fi­nal stages of a ma­jor re-de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme. The golf course was first up with Greg Nor­man's orig­i­nal de­sign (the only Nor­man sig­na­ture course in Thai­land) be­ing fine-tuned by Aussie firm, Pa­cific Coast De­sign. Work com­menced in 2013 af­ter the club had hosted the Thai­land Open, and con­cluded in 2016. The out­come is a well-groomed 5800mt, par 72 lay­out, and although of lit­tle vari­a­tion in un­du­la­tion and el­e­va­tion, the greens no­tably ex­cepted, of­fers some very good holes, the par three 13th be­ing ex­cep­tional. While more water has been brought into play, although mostly de­fend­ing the greens, and sand is om­nipresent, there is still am­ple space off the tee. The up­grades to the club­house and in­te­gral ameni­ties, in­clud­ing an im­pres­sive Pro shop, were com­pleted last year and a Four Star ho­tel is planned. Dis­trac­tion or amuse­ment, Thana City is very near the air­port and sits di­rectly un­der the flight path so your round of golf will be ac­com­pa­nied by the per­pet­ual sound­track of Pratt & Wit­ney's finest.

Muang Kaew Golf Course.

Thana City Golf Club & Sports Club.

The Vin­tage Club.

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