Les Walsh is one of Thailand’s foremost golf experts. His company, Yamira Golf, is a boutique marketing and business development firm focused on improving the bottom line through the creation and execution of effective strategies for clients involved in property/resort/golf course development, private equity funds, public relations, corporate aviation, and automotive hire-purchase.

For over 35 years Les has also been involved in the golf industry as a course manager, golf marketing and business development consultant, and event organizer. He has also been involved in training administrative, sales, clubhouse and course staff to ensure that exceptional levels of customer service and experience standards are developed, measured, and maintained.

Additionally, he has done feasibility studies, created media campaigns, written players’ guides and course reviews, developed and implemented marketing programs, written detailed business and financial plans, managed operations, developed/planned/managed events, and undertaken the design and development of golf websites and other collateral materials.

banyan estate  golf club

In the following article, Les takes us on a tour of Thailand’s best courses:

During the1980s and 90s, Thailand saw a rash of course-building by land developers who figured incorrectly that they could easily sell the property surrounding the course. The disastrous results from that era brought had two silver linings: 1) the creation of a whole new attitude in golf course management in Thailand, and 2) these now-experienced local course construction and design firms have  risen to world-class level.

For the tourist golfer and local alike this means that the whole experience has simply gotten better – many older courses have been superbly re-vamped, and the new courses that have recently been built are simply superb in every facet.

Thailand is broken into five main golfing regions, where a comprehensive infrastructure of golf, hotels, non-golf activities, entertainment and lifestyle are all interlinked. Here is a rundown of my personal favourites by region, including some really off-the-wall picks.

BANGKOK & CENTRAL THAILAND

Bangsai

This is flat-out one of my favourite courses in Thailand. Home grown designer and developer Pirapon Namatra took his family’s pancake-flat land north of Bangkok and created a challenging layout of 18 very different holes that dips, moves, rises, challenges and motivates on a layout that features huge exposed sand ridges between fairways and plenty of water. The course is always in great shape and offers exceptional value for money.

The clubhouse is adequate and the food is edible but not spectacular, so if you are looking for opulence and chandeliers to round out the day, forget it – this hard-working family puts its money back into the course, and renovations were undertaken earlier this year.

This is a friendly, unpretentious, inexpensive, challenging course, with great design and maintenance.

Don't leave without testing your machismo on hole #2, a sweeping uphill bend to a green guarded by bunkers front and back, and water at the bottom of a hill that falls away to the right. Big dogs can get on in one – or blow their card out.

Muang Kaew

Muang Kaew was recently re-built by the superb Schmidt-Curley team and features long and/or tricky par 3s, lots of water, challenging greens and Lee Schmidt’s signature high-front bunkers that are fair but tough. Birdie opportunities are pretty much limited to 5 or 6 holes, where a strong game off the tee needs to be combined with a deft touch with high irons. Tough, but flat layout and good pace of play. The 4th is a very long, tough par 5 that features a blind, fenced corner to hit over, if you wish to give it a go. Mess it up and it will eat your scorecard in one big, bad bite.

Honourable Mention and Other personal favourites in the area: Legacy, Subhapruek, Vintage, Lam Lukka

NORTH

With cooler temperatures and tall trees, this region offers some great golf, including beautiful layouts and scenery.  Many courses there have changed hands recently, so I am unable to offer a personal assessment at this time. Here are some of the old courses that continue to draw rave reviews. Chiang Rai’s Waterford Valley and Santiburi are top-quality courses while in Chiang Mai, Green Valley and Chiang Mai Highlands offer up local branches of top quality Bangkok-based course developers.

If, for whatever reason, you find yourself in Thailand’s northwest and want to go local, check out the EGAT-run Bhumibol Dam course which is located near the town of Bantak and is set in what has to be one of the most beautiful natural settings I have ever seen. It is a funny little course, with 6 par 3s, 6 par 4s, and 6 par 5s set in undulating hills that take you up, down, and around hills. The greens are small and flat and the maintenance is iffy, so if you take your golf very seriously, then this lazy, friendly place is not for you. Part of what makes the trip special is staying at the nearby Bantak House, a cozy 4-bedroom riverside B&B run by a golf-mad Dane and his Thai wife. (www.bantakhouse.com)

SOUTH

Santiburi is presently the only course on Samui, and what a course it is! Carts are mandatory and absolutely necessary as this course takes you up, down and around, in the process offering picture-postcard views at every turn and challenging you to keep your mind on the game. Great design is combined with top-quality grasses to create a memorable day on the links. It is very tough as you are continuously playing from uphill, downhill and sidehill lies, and has played host to at least one professional event.

Phuket has some great courses - the Blue Canyon Lakes course (the Canyon Course is private), Mission Hills, Loch Palm, Phuket CC and Laguna. However, the one that is drawing all the headlines and rave reviews these days is Red Mountain, the 6,900 yard sister course to old stalwart Loch Palm that opened in 2008. This piece of spectacular craftsmanship from Ron Morrow and Al Tikkenen has become a local favourite for its scenery, quality, and difficulty. Measuring 434 yards off the whites and 451 from the tips, the par 4 sixth is rated as the #1 stroke hole, and common wisdom is that that this is a monster of a hole, where the play from tee to green must be both long and carefully controlled to avoid strategically-placed bunkers.

EAST

There are simply too many great courses there to go into great detail, so here are a few personal recommendations:

Rayong Green Valley: picturesque but tricky, Green Valley is always in great nick and a pleasure to play.

St. Andrews: Physically right beside Rayong Green Valley, it is a long, links-styled course that features tough shot-making, some unfairly difficult greens, 2 par 6’s and with the long walk between holes, has been built for S&M fans. Patience and skill will be sorely tested, particularly if the wind is up. They recommend you don’t play if your handicap is over 18. They’re not joking.

Phoenix: a bit short and easy for the big guns, but this very well-managed and maintained 27-hole course offers the casual player a good test and a very pleasant walk.

Laem Chabang: This 27-hole layout has won numerous awards as the most popular course among tourist golfers.  I love the layout, the scenery, the great conditioning, sneaky greens, mature trees and every single dip and swale, but I personally dislike the mandatory golf cart policy.

Siam Country Club – Plantation Course: This is a fairly new course and it is a real stinker for the weekend player. Your long and straight tee-to-green game had better be on form so that you can be in a position to negotiate the testing greens. Nice clubhouse and great practice facilities. There is a lot of up and down to this course as well as long hauls between greens and tees, which has led to a mandatory single-golfer-per-cart-which-must-stay-on-on-the-path rule, which personally puts a twist in my shorts.

Other personal favourites: Burapha, Bangphra, Soi Dao, Eastern Star. Too bad the Old Siam Country Club is now private. The Emerald; new owners are bringing out the best in this absolutely fantastic natural layout that had been operated by the previous owners as a cheap cow pasture.

NOTE: If you intend to play golf in the Pattaya area, the first thing to do before coming to Thailand is to join the Pattaya Sports Club (www.pattayasports.org). This local organization has negotiated up to 50% discounts at virtually every course in the area on behalf of their thousands of golfing members around the world. Pick up the Pattaya Mail when you get there to find out which golf group is playing where on which day.

WEST

Without a doubt, one of the best regions to play golf in Thailand is the Hua Hin/Cha-Am area, where a number of great courses are located and a few new ones have recently been built. The area boasts many of the world’s premier hotel chains alongside small boutique properties and a large number of independent hotels that cater to every golfer’s taste and budget.

Springfield

The Grande Dame of the area is Springfield, the 7,000 yard Nicklaus-designed layout that is always in great shape. The course, clubhouse, facilities and staff are all superb, making the entire experience at Springfield enjoyable.

The hills make this a really lovely layout to play, with very good greens, excellent caddies, and good food. It is very professionally managed and maintained, offering superb practice facilities - it is also home to the Heartland Golf School.

I suggest that good players should play it from the back tees, or may go away feeling that the course is a bit wussy. For fun, try making birdie on the ninth hole, which features an island green and demands that you play strategic tic-tac-toe from tee to green on this 500-yard, par 5. Misplay the drive or the 2nd shot and you will face a difficult approach shot to get on in 3.

Banyan Golf Club (photo top of article)

This course was opened in October 2008and features 18 holes that incorporate outstanding mountain and ocean views  into what is being heralded as the best layout in the area, if not the country.

It caters to all levels, offering 6 tee boxes and allowing the player to select his or her own skill level in going to battle against a course that throws up pretty much every kind of hazard you could imagine, include pineapple groves. Zoysia fairways are a pleasure to hit off, and the challenging, clever greens use tifeagle Bermuda that are a pleasure to hit into and putt on. This is a new course that will get even better with age.

Wait until you get to the 12th, a 610 yard, par 5 monster that is all uphill. Think you’re a big dog? Here’s your chance to prove it.

Others: Imperial is an old favourite, and I have heard nothing but great things about Black Mountain.

Before you set your itinerary for Thailand, do your homework - go to a website like www.thaigolfer.com to get other players’ ratings and reviews, some of them brutally frank. Firstly, eliminate the following Bangkok-area, private, member-only courses that you can only get on if you know a member or if your tour operator has a special arrangement: Alpine, Krungthep Kreetha, Thai Country Club, Amata Springs, and Navatanee.

Training Centres in Bangkok

1. Wilding Golf Performance Centres – Interchange Place (Asoke/Sukhumvit Intersection) – the new hi-tech kids on the block with simulators and a large roster of experienced and well-trained professionals of many nationalities.

2. Doug Hood Golf School – top floor Dusit Thani. One of the most experienced and professional teaching pros around, Doug is very patient and is great with everyone, from beginners to touring pros.

3. Heartland Golf Schools – several locations – main office is in Thaniya Plaza. They are great with kids

4. Thana City – new management there will soon restore and improve this once-excellent training centre

Les Walsh Contact Info

mobile:  +66 81 919 7639

email:     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

skype:    leswalsh


 

 

Find me on...

facebooktwitterinstagram