The 10 Best Thailand Golf Courses
Golf in Thailand:
The 10 Best Thailand Golf Courses
Written by Mark Siegel; Photos by www.golfasian.com
Golf tourists who come to Thailand from all over the world never fail to experience the unique attractions that make the Land of Smiles one of the top three global golf tourism destinations. There are many reasons why a golf holiday in Thailand is so enjoyable and why visitors come back again and again – including the warmth and hospitality of the Thai people, cost competitiveness with other destinations, after-golf entertainment and the country’s unique culture.
There’s another reason too: the quality of Thailand’s 260 courses, all but a few of which are open to visitors. As everywhere, the top courses stand out from the rest and rank among Asia’s great layouts. As somebody who has long been immersed in Thailand’s golf scene, here is my choice of the Kingdom’s top 10 golf courses, listed in alphabetical order.
Alpine Golf Club, Bangkok
As the designer of more than 100 courses in the southern USA, Ron Garl understands the needs of the tropics and was engaged to create Alpine’s Bangkok layout. It has all the elements that have made Garl a sought-after designer in many countries, especially those with hot climates.
Opened in 1996, Alpine Golf Club is private, but visitors can play by booking with a licensed Thai golf tour operator. The course and facilities have a special feel of exclusivity and authenticity. It is beautifully manicured and cleverly uses its natural surroundings.
Alpine is regarded as the most challenging golf course in the Thai capital by a wide margin, playing 7,100 yards off the back tees. It is extremely well maintained and features lightning fast greens and undulating fairways. Most greens slope from back to front, so keeping the ball below the hole is the key to shooting a low score.
Banyan Golf Club, Hua Hin
The seaside town of Hua Hin, on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand and about 200 kilometers south of Bangkok, has become a popular destination for both Thai and international visitors. The preferred holiday destination of the Thai Royal family for more than a century, the Hua Hin region boasts eight excellent golf courses, of which Banyan Golf Club and Resort is one of the standouts.
Pineapple patches, bougainvillea beds and, of course, Banyan trees come into play on this hillside course, which is nestled in a mostly-enclosed, bucolic bowl without a home or resort in sight. The clubhouse, situated on the highest part of the property, offers stunning mountain vistas, especially at sunset. The layout itself provides golfers an undulating journey as difficult as they wish.
Four sets of well-spaced tees mean the course can be played from 5,087 to 7,361 yards. Four types of grasses have been used on this remarkable layout, which is exquisitely presented even though it has been open for only four years.
Black Mountain Golf Course, Hua Hin
Black Mountain, named as the best course in Thailand and best championship layout in Asia Pacific in 2011 by Asian Golf Monthly, opened in 2007. It quickly picked up many awards including best new course in Asia (2007) and second-best course in Thailand (2008).
Playing a whopping 7,550 yards off the championship tees, you had better bring your best game with you. Even the third set or “low handicap” tees measure almost 7000 yards. Black Mountain uses natural features to great advantage, including creeks that run through the course and stunning mountain backdrops.
It has numerous wonderful downhill and uphill holes, and several with difficult water carries. The clubhouse and expansive dining terrace is the perfect perch from which to watch golfers close out their rounds. Black Mountain opened a challenging new par-3 course, not far from the main layout, late last year.
Blue Canyon Country Club, Phuket
The island of Phuket, one of the world’s top tourism destinations, also has a worthy reputation for golf. For the past 20 years, Blue Canyon has been a highly sought-after golf destination for visitors.
Cradled in a 720-acre verdant valley, Blue Canyon's original Canyon course was opened in 1991, eight years before its sister Lakes layout. The walking-only Canyon course (carts are available on the Lakes layout) is a challenge for most players, with many difficult carries, especially on the back nine, and some scary green placements.
The clubhouse is perched high above the Canyon’s 18th tee, with views over the course and surrounding countryside. Playing 7,179 yards off the black tees and a more manageable 6,664 yards off the blues, Blue Canyon is a memorable golf experience.
Chiangmai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort, Chiang Mai
Chiangmai Highlands is one of Thailand’s golfing gems. Few courses anywhere in Asia have the scenic beauty, combined with challenging golf, as this layout. Magnificent sweeping downhill holes to lakeside greens, valleys and hillsides provide an exceptional experience.
Opened in 2005, Chiangmai Highlands was immediately awarded one of the three best new courses in Asia Pacific. Playing 7,062 yards from the black tees and 6,621 yards from the blues, it is immensely playable and enjoyable for all levels of golfers. The 18th hole, a 558-yard par-5 (531 yards from the blues), is one of the great closing holes in Thailand. Sweeping along the edge of the course, it plunges to a fast flowing stream, with a bird’s-nest green perched high above.
Laem Chabang International Country Club, Pattaya
Laem Chabang is the best of the six courses that golf legend Jack Nicklaus has designed in Thailand. This 27-hole complex offers three lake, valley and mountain nine-hole layouts. Each is a close-to-nature experience that is visually appealing and, at times, quite challenging.
The Valley nine in particular, which at 3,619 yards is 200 yards longer than the Lake and Mountain nines, features water on many holes and demands requires precision shotmaking off the tee and into greens that are well guarded by water and sand. The Mountain course begins as a jungle-like experience, before opening up to wider fairways and excellent fast greens.
Laem Chabang has hosted numerous championship events, including the 2001 Volvo Classic, the 2002 Thai Senior Open and more recently the 2010 Thailand Open.
Red Mountain Golf Club, Phuket
Red Mountain, located near Patong, is one of the most dramatic courses in Thailand. Opened in 2008, the 6,900-yard sister property to nearby Loch Palm Golf Club winds its way through a stunning former tin mine in the heart of Phuket's central highlands.
The course cleverly takes advantage of a huge variety of landforms and dizzying elevation changes. The landscape from the tin mine era has been imaginatively incorporated into the overall scheme, creating a unique character, while establishing an indelible link with an important era in the Island's past.
Among its many memorable holes is the 169-yard par-3 17th hole that plays from a tee elevated some 40 meters above the green. Although Index 18 on the scorecard, it requires a precision shot to hit the putting surface.
Santiburi Country Club, Chiang Rai
One of the world’s great golf designers, Robert Trent Jones Jr, designed the Santiburi Country Club, 7km from Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. One of five courses in his Thai portfolio, it is also his best.
Established in 1992, Santiburi Chiang Rai presents a memorable golf experience. The cool morning air in winter makes an idea time to experience the course when the first few holes are often shrouded in a light fog that forms a transparent blanket of white.
A relatively flat outward nine, with five holes from the second to the sixth playing around a large lake, changes character to a hilly inward nine with long fairways and water only on the last two holes. Playing a comfortable 6,982 yards from the back tees and 6,435 yards from the middle tees, the Bermuda fairways and greens are a delight to play.
Siam Country Club, Pattaya
The twin layouts at Siam Country Club will soon be joined by a third course, also designed by Lee Schmidt. Undoubtedly, it will also be among Thailand’s best. In 2007, Schmidt-Curley redesigned Siam Country Club’s Old Course that was originally designed by Isao Mazumi and laid out in 1970.
It was the first privately-owned course in Thailand and the first Thai course to ever host an LPGA event, the 2007 Honda LPGA Thailand. This 7,162-yard stunner shares terrain with fruit trees, creeks, lakes and 101 sand traps. The immaculate greens are huge, elevated and contoured, meaning even the best putters will need the guidance of a well-trained caddie.
Thai Country Club, Bangkok
This championship course at Thai Country Club on Bangkok’s outskirts opened in 1996. It has hosted six Asian tour events including the Asian Honda Classic in 1997 (won by Tiger Woods), the Johnnie Walker Championship in 1998 (won by Vijay Singh) and four Volvo Masters Championships between 2005 and 2008.
Rated the number one course in Thailand for seven of the past eight years, the layout has many intricate design features including plenty of water, strategic mounds on the side of many fairways, undulating and often fast greens, and perhaps the best clubhouse facilities in Thailand.
Playing 7,097 yards from the back tees, it is rated 74.2 at its longest and 71.6 from the (6,520 yards) blue tees. Its signature par-3 sixth hole is rated as one of the best in Thailand, while there are many other memorable holes on the course.
The writer, Mark Siegel, owns Golfasian, the largest pure play golf tour operator in Thailand. His company alone books 100,000 rounds of golf each year exclusively for golfers visiting Thailand.