Golf tourism in Thailand is more than a niche market. It’s a bona fide money spinner that is anchored by a rich history and a unique Thai experience that makes it one of world’s great golfing destinations.
There’s a rich history of golf in Thailand, with the first course built in 1923 in Hua Hin under the royal seal of approval. Since then, the Thailand Golf Association has nurtured wave after wave of aspiring pro golfers, and attracted the international elite to its courses too.
Honda LPGA Thailand is the Kingdom’s marquee tournament attracting 70 female players to its 11th edition in February 2017, including the 58 highest ranked golfers on its 2017 LPGA order of merit. Two of the Kingdom’s top golfing sisters, Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, were recently appointed ‘Thailand Golf Ambassadors’ by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to enhance international awareness of the country as a world-class golf destination.
On the men’s side, Thongchai Jaidee is considered by many as Thailand’s most successful professional golfer with Asian Tour career earnings estimated at US$5.31 million in 2015. He is also a ‘Sporting Ambassador of Thailand.
For non-professional leisure golfers, Thailand offers a diverse selection of vacation spots run the gamut from well-known and established destinations, to the more exotic or lesser known.
The uninitiated first time golf tourist to Thailand is always temped to buy a packaged golf tour to Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket or Chiang Mai before leaving home. Single destination is best, however packaged tours limit the fun and with so many courses, hotels and activities to choose from why get locked in? On every visit, there are new courses to discover and a Pattaya or Bangkok-based golf holiday can easily include three to four courses in a single visit. Some FIT golfers play new courses each day over a 10-day trip. Booking tee times in advance is a must, but remaining flexible is part of the ‘mai pen rai’ spirit of adventure that makes golf in Thailand so fun.
But no mention of Thailand golf would be complete without mention of their caddies. Yes, there are still some caddies worldwide and then there are Thai caddies. But what makes Thailand special is that the caddies are all women. Most of the better golf courses have smartly dressed female caddies who make a world of difference to your golfing experience.
Sometimes, a caddie can make all the difference on the golf course. In Thailand, caddies make the golf experience ‘Uniquely Thai’. They offer levity, advise and perspective, while smiling, keeping score, ranking your traps, repairing your ball marks and treading into snake-ridden rough to find a wayward tee shot. Thai caddies are the best because they remind you to laugh, with them and at yourself, about a game that involves hitting a little ball hundreds of yards into a tiny hole.
As one leading Thai-based golf club professional succinctly put it: “Caddies are our secret weapon in Thailand.”
Within a couple of holes, they know exactly what club you want to use in most situations, and if you are unsure they offer sound advice. It also pays to listen when they are reading putts for you, especially if they are experienced.
Most Thai golf courses are also unrivalled by the sheer size and majesty of their club houses. No other country in the world has such elaborately designed and perfectly maintained club houses serving some of the best Thai cuisine on the planet. The indulgent luxury of some of the locker rooms is breath-taking; beside superbly equipped showers and change rooms some has a few heated and ice-deep pools inside the locker room. Others often provide saunas, steam rooms, fitness and Thai massage centres just to mention a few of the many facilities on offer.
There are other Asian countries with more courses (Japan and Korea, for example), but the clear majority in those countries and others are private clubs. In Thailand, the best layouts are resort tracks open to the public – the very courses that have for decades attracted a legion of golfers on holiday. What’s more, Thai golf courses are clustered with consideration given to their location, to best serve the country’s major cities, regions, cultural offerings and tourist hubs. Golf, culture, cuisine and big holiday fun are all part of a greater Thai golf experience.
So, next time you hit a bad shot back home think of a smiling Thai caddy to remind yourself: golf is a game and it’s supposed to be fun.