By Anita Draycott
My conversation with the taxi driver from the Phuket Airport began with him describing his six frugal years as a novice monk eating one bowl of rice a day in a jungle temple. Then he noticed my luggage included golf clubs and began chattering enthusiastically about how he recently broke 100 using his new set of Callaway clubs. My driver had graduated from monk to hacker.
Golf in Thailand began in 1923 when King Vajiravudh The Great agreed to the construction of the first course, Royal Hua Hin. Today there are about 250 courses in the Kingdom attracting swingers from all over the world. Golf, plus whatever other Siamese sybaritic pleasures our foursome could discover, was why we’d come to the “Land of Smiles.”
Swingin’ the Blues
Just minutes after landing at the Phuket Airport, we were teeing off at the Blue Canyon Country Club’s Canyon Course. Playing a round of golf here entails following in the footsteps of such legends as Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els as many of Asia’s top tournaments have been hosted on this lush course by Japanese designer Yoshikazu Kato.
Carved into the edge of a canyon, the fairways unfold across a verdant valley dotted with freshwater lakes. Number 13, the 390-yard signature hole, is also christened “The Tiger Hole” as Mr. Woods blasted 270 yards across the canyon from the black tees to the green.
My favourite is number 14, a drop-dead gorgeous par-three that plays onto an almost-island green in the shape of Thailand from hugely elevated tees.
Blue Canyon’s Lakes Course, also by Kato, features water on all but the 17th fairway. It’s a gentler test than the Canyon Course with gigantic greens and generous fairways.
In Thailand, caddies are mandatory and almost all of them are women. Each player receives her or his own caddie and cart for the round. At Blue Canyon, my caddie told me to call her Bun. Soaking wet she probably weighed about 67 pounds. After a few holes Bun had my game sized up and knew exactly what club to hand me. These tiny gals, clad in pantsuits and oversized visors in club colours, sometimes speak little English, but invariably they enhance your golfing experience. Bun made sure I had plenty of cold coconut water, she wrapped chilled towels scented with lemongrass around my neck, shielded me from the sun on the greens with an umbrella and fanned me with her “Hello Kitty” fan. As much as I love playing golf in Thailand, I must warn you that it is usually hot and humid, so you must stay cool and hydrated. Wearing two gloves also helps with slippery grips.
Pampering at Sri Panwa
We stayed at the cliffhanging Sri Panwa resort in Phuket where luxury and a cool, hip vibe co-exist effortlessly. Their motto could be: “No jacket, no tie, no attitude.”
Our huge penthouse villa offered commanding views of the surrounding islands and Andaman Sea as we soaked in our own infinity plunge pool. The décor is contemporary and the high-tech amenities include lighting dimmer switches with the choices of “welcome, romantic, sexy and off.” The kitchen was equipped with a full-size refrigerator, Nespresso machine, soft drinks, beer and snacks.
Guests are transported around the vast resort via shuttle vans. Just call your butler and your chariot awaits. We had lots of dining options. You’ll enjoy tasty Thai dishes at Baba Soul Food. However, if you want to eat al fresco under the stars with the sea stretched out below, opt for the Baba Poolclub where tropical cocktails such as a Baba Tom Yam (vodka and lime juice flavoured with chilies and lemongrass) tempt. The extensive menu offers Japanese sushi, wood-fired pizzas, burgers, Wagyu steaks and the fresh catches of the day. Now I understand why Baba Poolclub has been named one of the world’s top pool bars. Later, head to Baba Nest, the rooftop bar for a nightcap.
At the resort’s Cool Spa, a waterfall provided soothing background music while my masseuse, Vi, contorted me through the various positions of a two-hour Thai massage. Ingredients for various exotic treatments, such as mango, coconut and tamarind are often picked from Sri Panwa’s own herb and veggie garden.
There are plenty of activities to keep you from leaving Sri Panwa, including tennis courts and boat service to nearby islands, but our top priority was Red Mountain Golf Club, billing itself as “the most exciting golf course in Phuket.” I might add the most dramatically beautiful and my favourite in all of Thailand.
Red Hot Golf
Designed by Jon Morrow on what was a former tin mine, Red Mountain dips and dives to take full advantage of the dizzying elevation changes and red rock outcroppings. It’s a challenge but there are all sorts of risk and reward options along the 6,900 serpentine yards. And in keeping with the Thai caddie experience, I had the ever-enthusiastic Sarika to help me find my errant Titleists and humour me with cheers and claps when I managed par.
Natural waste bunkers, towering precipices, deep ravines and flooded gullies are all seamlessly integrated. And as you weave your way through Red Mountain, you are rewarded with panoramic views over Phuket before heading back down another gully lined with tropical forest. The elevation changes so drastically on this layout that golf carts are compulsory. Every aspect of Red Mountain ensures that players are captivated by the exciting diversity of play and the spectacular natural scenery.
The par-threes on Red Mountain are most memorable. The third requires a carry over what looks like an excavation zone; the spectacular signature 17th has elevated tees and a postage stamp green. Pick the right club and a birdie is yours.
Thai One On
Planning a trip to Thailand? Check out the following:
Tourism Authority of Thailand: www.tourismthailand.org
Sri Panwa: www.sripanwa.com