Sunday, August 2, 2009

Golf Clubs in Thailand

The concept of clubs owned and managed by the members through a committee, annual elections and another mechanisms is completely foreign in this country.

Other than courses, of which there are very many, owned by the military and other organisations like the electricity commission, Thai golf courses are largely real estate ventures.

In the boom up to 1997, the typical business model was to engage a name designer, grab some land from the peasants, and build a course which was right in the centre of a huge real estate development with, in some cases, hundreds of blocks of building land and major apartment blocks/towers.

In the bust all this came undone. Most sales which had been concluded were never completed and the banks ended up owning dozens of courses surrounded to this day by fallow land. Many fell into neglect but a large number of others made it through and Thailand has an amazing selection of first-class courses to be enjoyed.

Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Peter Thompson, and such names have in some cases two or three courses to their credit in the country. Fine courses can be found all over the country but there are concentrations of first-class venues in Bangkok, the eastern provinces surrounding Pattaya, Phuket in the south, Kanchanaburi in the west, and near Hua Hin on the gulf coast south of Bangkok.

Many of these resort courses have excellent accommodation is available on the course or nearby. Good dining and other recreation facilities including spas, massage facilities and similar are also clustered in these areas. Excellent holidays can be built around a core of playing golf. Prices we compared with those paid in the West for similar quality venues are reasonable.

Still, the commercial nature of golf in Thailand is at times wearing especially for those of us who live here. In boom times greed means that courses can be overcrowded and prices for drinks, buggies and caddies pumped up. Memberships convey only the right to play golf free. All peripherals must be paid for and a member has absolutely no input on course management. Memberships usually take the form of a debenture which subject to the payment of a transfer fee can be sold. There is an active market for memberships in the better courses online.

As a visitor to Pattaya where I live, the best way to play golf is to use Image Golf who will arrange a round of golf inclusive of private transport, green fees, caddy fees and carts for as little as 1900 Baht (USD50.00) based on 2 golfers.

Image Golf also arranges golf holidays packages in Thailand and these provide an avenue for obtaining discounted accommodation and green fees as well as putting together an interesting schedule of varied courses in the area you wish to play in.

Thanks to my good friend Hugh for this article.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Golfing in Thailand

Though Thai golfers are alleged to follow the rules of golf as set down by the R & A and the USPGA, the truth in fact it is they have put their own unique spin on the game.

Not to my knowledge, anywhere else in the world are five and six balls quite common. It is my guess that fear of loss of face or favour means that no Thai is willing to exclude someone from his golfing group until that reaches of practical limit which locally is six people.

Rules related to playing order and use of the same ball through a hole are flouted. For people who have come to golf only recently and whose prime experience is watching golf on TV, strokeplay is the only possible choice. Everybody putts out on every hole. One can imagine with six people on the green and six caddies plus occasionally six umbrella holders as well this process can be immensely time-consuming. Added to this is the exchange of the ball used to play the hole for one reserved solely for putting and almost weeks can seem to pass.

The Thai people are innately courteous but completely oblivious, when golfers, of the practicalities of golf etiquette. As each player in the group hits off, he heads off down the fairway relying on divine intervention to avoid being hit by the remaining players. This is referred to locally as the “Thai snake”. Even if one is called through, you can imagine the chaos that ensues with maybe 20 people in the fairway all at different stages of playing the hole.

It is necessary also be quite careful about disturbing other players on the course as Thais are notoriously heavy betters on golf matches. It could be that the people who are not calling you on all are being particularly slow could have thousands of dollars riding on a putt.

Still like nearly everything in Thailand, it pays to maintain a steady and friendly demeanour and you will find your fellow players helpful, friendly and kind.

Many thanks to my friend Hugh for this article.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Caddies in Thailand

You will find in Asia generally that you cannot play golf without engaging the services of a caddy. Their purpose is multiple, first to protect the course from you which is important when there are so many novices, then to assist you in your game by doing all the heavy work which is especially useful in a tropical climate and describe the features of course to you warning of OB, hazards etc.

In most cases in Thailand the caddies are female and most likely have never played golf themselves. Still they have seen a lot of play and many are quite expert at reading greens and advising on club selection after seeing you play only a few holes. The caddy will keep your clubs clean, hover around you with an umbrella and give you a deal of unwarranted praise.

Caddy fees are around Baht 200/250. The caddy gets most of this from the club. It is essentially mandatory to also tip caddies with a range of tips being Baht 200/300. Most clubs have a large roster of caddies who are not paid any base salary and rely on fees and tips. Sometimes days elapse between engagements in the low season so it is not a lucrative profession.

Some courses differentiate between highly experienced caddies and the general run of village young women and ladies who do the job. Experienced caddies usually have a ranking, say A class and can often provide you with helpful hints about your game and so warrant a better tip.

As mentioned elsewhere in this series of notes on Thailand golfing, some clubs encourage their caddies to play and perhaps establish a career in golf as well, as being more capable in their day-to-day work with golfers. Sadly this is an exception rather than the rule.

This job is usually done under quite harsh rules so if you're caddy requests you to observe some local ruling please do so as they can lose their job easily even if they have acted on your specific request.

After a time you get very used to having a caddy so much so that when I return to Australia I keep trying to hand off the club I used to my playing partners rather than putting it back in my own bag!

Thanks to my kind golfing friend Hugh for this article

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Royal Thai Navy (Plutaluang Golf Course)

The Navy course is about a 40 minute drive south of Pattaya. 36 holes are set in a beautiful wooded valley which surrounds a substantial lake. Though this is one of the older courses in the area it is also one of the most popular.

The fairways and greens are of a coarser grass typical for courses in Malaysia and southern Thailand. Though it lacks the sophistication of the more recent resort courses it has some real strengths. The caddy corps is quite expert as the club encourages its staff to play golf. Drinks and food are very reasonably priced as the course is essentially a Navy recreation facility. Green fees are very reasonable and during the off season are substantially reduced on weekdays.

The course is currently benefiting from an extensive upgrading program extending to fairway improvements, a large fleet of new golf carts, new drink stations, cart paths and so on.

The four nines are named after the cardinal points, North, South, East and West. The first two other core of the old course with East and West having only been constructed in the last 10 years. Each has a par of 36 and generally players can select whichever two courses they wish to play subject to availability.

This is my favourite course to play. I really like the friendly attitude of the staff and the expertise of the caddies. The surroundings are truly beautiful as the courses are carved out of a military reserve which is wooded with mature trees of all types. Troops of local monkeys abound working their way through the fruits and seeds that come and go with the seasons.

The clubhouse is relatively new and well set out. There are lockers, showers etc and a modest and very inexpensive restaurant with a glorious view across the course and the valley.

The club has had a good record of sponsoring young golfers. Two members are current players on the Asian and Japan tours. It is relatively easy to find a young professional who can provide you with lessons and company through a round. The professional shop is simple and has an adequate stock. Repairs, regripping and the like can be arranged.

In summary, strongly recommended for golfers of all levels out to have a nice day’s experience at a reasonable price on a course that though not first class is very enjoyable to play.

Image Golf has weekday packages from 1800 Baht inclusive of return private transport from Pattaya, green fees and caddy fees.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Laem Chabang International Golf Club

The other day, my long time customer who became a good friend invited me to visit his condominium at Laem Chabang International Country Club. Jeremy from the U.S. use to visit Thailand once a year until he decide to move and buy a condo on his favourite course.

Laem Chabang I.C.C. is the best golf course in and around Pattaya, and rated as one of the best five in all Thailand. It is a world championship golf course made up of 27 holes on 700 acres and features three types of terrain which characterise each of the nine holes. The Lakes and Valley courses meander along pristine natural waterways while the Mountain nine provides commanding views of the surrounding area and, is the most challenging of the three nines.

I always recommend it to anyone who wants a game in this area, and particularly to any golfer booking a package. The caddies are pretty knowledgeable but they are also good fun to have around. After another relatively high scoring round, we ended up in their restaurant/bar which has a great panoramic view of the course, for a few beers and some pretty good food.

Golf carts are compulsory on this course. Our weekday package which includes return transport from Pattaya, green fee, caddy fee & cart is only 2850 Baht each for 2 golfers on a Tuesday (until 30 October).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why golf in Thailand?

Siam Country Club, Pattaya

Very simply, there are some great courses to fit every standard and every budget. It is compulsory to have a caddie, most of which are pretty knowledgeable about the courses they work on which can help keep your score down. The clubhouses on most courses have pretty good facilities including bars and restaurants that cater fro most tastes. More often than not, they have a driving range and a practice green or two.

Thailand of course has much more to offer as well, so combined with a nice hotel on or near the beach, some fantastic food and no shortage of entertainment.

The area of Thailand with the best selection and numbers of courses is around Pattaya which is a 150 kms south of its capital Bangkok. Bangkok itself has many courses, but mainly for the locals and visiting businessmen. Hua Hin, Chiang Mai & Phuket also have some good courses, but talking to most of the golfers I know, Pattaya still offers fantastic value and over 20 golf courses.

Image Golf has been organising daily packages for tourists, as well as fully inclusive packages for one golfer to groups of 70 for periods ranging from weekends to month long trips. Hotels are always carefully picked depending on requirements and budgets, and as we always get feedback from our golfers, we ensure we send our golfers to the suitable courses at the time.