Thailand is Southeast Asia’s premier golf holiday destination and like a perfectly played chip-and-run shot onto the green, golf tourism in the kingdom continues to be on a roll .
by Paul Myers.
A tantalizing menu awaits golf tourists visiting Thailand this year, with new nine-hole additions at three of Thailand’s leading golf courses and the launch of an amateur 2-ball tournament in Pattaya.
Two of the new nine-hole layouts – at Chiangmai Highlands Golf Resort & Spa in northern Thailand and Phoenix Gold Golf & Country Club near Pattaya – have opened, taking each course to 27 holes. The other, at Black Mountain Golf Club, Hua Hin, which also will have 27 holes, will be ready for play later in the year. Chiangmai Highlands and Black Mountain are in the top 10 courses in Thailand in the latest rankings by the world’s leading golf publication, US Golf Digest. Black Mountain was ranked first and Chiangmai Highlands eighth.
Already Asia’s leading golf tourism destination, Thailand’s 20 years-plus history of golf tourism has resulted in a level of refinement not found elsewhere in Asia – and one that is continuing to evolve.
“More than 700,000 golfers come to Thailand each year, many of whom are repeat visitors,” notes Mark Siegel, owner of Southeast Asia’s largest and most successful inbound tour operator, Golfasian. “People come back because of value for money, friendliness of the Thai people, an unparalleled caddie experience, excellent infrastructure and a huge choice of entertainment, shopping, food and non-golf activities.
“Although the cost of playing golf has increased in recent years, Thailand remains the best value choice in Asia. As members of the Golf In A Kingdom collective (www.golfinakingdom.com), the leading courses compare very favorably in quality and cost with those in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and other Asian markets.
“The fact that new courses are always appearing, and facilities are constantly being upgraded shows the kingdom is far from resting on its elite standing as a golf destination.” Golf In A Kingdom’s other members are Thai Country Club and Muang Kaew GC (Bangkok), Banyan GC (Hua Hin), Lotus Valley (Chachoengsao), and Laguna Phuket GC (Phuket).
The new nine holes at Chiang Mai Highlands, designed by renowned golf course architects Schmidt-Curley, opened last November to widespread acclaim. Named the Mountain course, the new layout nicely complements the original award-winning 18 holes, also designed by Schmidt-Curley, and which opened in 2005.
“Most comments begin with compliments about the playing conditions which leads to the wonderful mountain scenery, followed by discussion on strategy of how to best play the layout. They inevitably end with ‘Can we play nine more?’ or ‘Can you book us another tee-time tomorrow?” says general manager, Derek Schade. “Being a 27-hole facility makes it easier for golfers to choose Highlands for additional rounds and the courses’ wonderful scenery adds value to Chiang Mai as a golf destination.”
Chiang Mai Highlands has a popular resort on site, comprising 19 private resort villas, the Spa at Chiangmai Highlands, condominiums and a housing development. The resort was voted runner-up as best golf resort in Asia Pacific at the 2015 Asian Golf Summit in Singapore.
Phoenix Gold Golf & Country Club officially opened its new nine in January in the presence of the world’s 37th ranked male professional, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, and LPGA star Thidapa Suwannapura.
Pirapon Namatra, a noted Thai designer who also remodeled the club’s Mountain and Ocean nine-hole layouts, created the The Lakes course. Namatra (Khun Ope) designed Banyan Golf in Hua Hin, Santiburi on Koh Samui, Nikanti at Nakhon Pathom, and helped develop Siam Country Club’s Waterside course that opened two years ago.
Black Mountain has begun building a 3363m (3678 yards) nine-holes layout to complement the existing championship course that opened in 2007. The new nine, which replaces a par-three course on the site and will open in the second half of 2016, winds through a natural valley.
Black Mountain managing director, Harald Elisson, says it will offer the same standard of playing conditions as the 7500-yard existing 18 holes, with spectacular views and water hazards. “Black Mountain has built a reputation for outstanding quality golf as well as service and facilities and the new nine holes will mirror the high standards for which we have become renowned,” he said.
Black Mountain has completed a suite of exclusive three-bedroom four-storey townhouses, each with a sun terrace and swimming pool along its ninth hole, that are now for sale. Each townhouse includes a lifetime membership to the golf club, which will host the second annual True Thailand Classic, a joint European Tour and Asian Tour professional tournament, from March 10-13.
Meanwhile, the new 2-ball amateur tournament in 2016, the Mercure Pattaya Ocean Resort 2-ball Golf Championships, will be held from June 19-25 at Siam Country Club’s three courses near Pattaya and nearby Laem Chabang International Country Club.
The event complements the highly successful Centara World Masters in Hua Hin, Thailand, which will be held the week before, from June 12-18 (www.pattayagolftournament.comand or www.thailandworldmasters.com)
5 Main Golf Regions
Thailand has five main golf regions: Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. Other quality courses can be found on the island of Koh Samui, as well as near Chiang Rai in the far north and at Khao Yai in the central highlands.
On Bangkok’s outskirts, not far from the international airport, Thai Country Club is one of the kingdom’s best courses. It remains the most prestigious course in Thailand and one of the best maintained in Asia. It is the only golf course in the portfolio of the Peninsula Hotels property group, operator of the acclaimed Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong and its sister establishment in Bangkok.
The club has hosted six Asian Tour events and Tiger Woods, who won the 1997 Honda Classic at the course, has his name in the No. 1 locker. Bangkok has 36 courses in its environs, only three or four of which aren’t open to the public. Two new courses opened in the past year – Riverdale and Royal Gems City – have added to the city’s international appeal as– among many other attractions – a golf destination.
An hour and a half down the highway, Pattaya – renowned for its nightlife – has also boosted its golf credentials with some 25 world-class golf courses. It was named Asia and Australasia’s best golf destination in 2012.
The seaside town of Hua Hin, on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand, 200km south of Bangkok, has become a popular destination for both Thai and international visitors. The holiday home of the Thai Royal family is in the region, along with eight excellent golf courses, of which Black Mountain Golf Club and Banyan Golf Club and Resort are the standouts.
The island of Phuket, one of the world’s top tourism destinations, also has a worthy reputation for golf. Blue Canyon Golf Club and Red Mountain are the top golf courses on the island. Located near Phuket’s international airport, Blue Canyon became famous when Tiger Woods won the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic there, and by driving the par-4 13th canyon hole achieved a feat that amazes every visitor to the course. Red Mountain, opened in 2008, near Phuket’s main tourist location of Patong, is one of the most dramatic courses in the kingdom. For its unique location alone, Red Mountain is one of Asia’s most exciting courses.
In northern Thailand, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are also attracting golfers. There, Chiang Mai Highlands is literally a breath of fresh air. The atmosphere is cooler and crisper than in any other part of the country and the reservoir-fed course is invigorating, too. Mother Nature provided the design team of Schmidt-Curley with all the ingredients needed to create a course that is regarded by many as the best in Thailand. Natural contours of the hilly property dictate each hole, providing some challenges alongside superb vistas.