When Ariya Jutanugarn lifted the Silver Vase as winner of the Women’s British Golf Open this July, she took her rightful place in sport’s history as the first Thai golfer ever to win a major international title. This was of course, a phenomenal achievement for any 20-year-old, but it also marks an important milestone for Thailand as a golfing nation and as a world-class destination for women players.
Golf has a surprisingly long history in Thailand and was originally popularised by King Rama V the Great who became passionate about the game during visits to Europe. The first golf course in Thailand was established at the Gymkhana Club in Chiang Mai in 1898 and the first ever 18-hole course, the Royal Hua Hin Golf Club, was opened in the seaside town in 1928. This is still the most famous course in the country and over the years has attracted world-class players and played host to many major Thai tournaments.
Women became keen players very early in Thailand’s golfing history with wives often joining husbands on the kingdom’s increasing numbers of greens. But it wasn’t until the year 1978 that the Thailand Amateur Lady Golfers Association (TALGA) was registered. This was important as the TALGA initiated what has become the premier event for women golfers in Asia and Thailand – the Queen Sirikit Cup.
The Queen Sirikit Cup gave women golfers the chance to raise their game by playing at a higher level against other golfers from across Asia. It was also a tournament that helped unify countries in the region through tight bonds of sport and friendship. The Queen Sirikit Cup is now hosted annually by countries in Asia as well as Australia and New Zealand, and many of the tournament players have gone on to become professional. And while the cup has yet to be lifted by a Thai player, there’s no denying that the Queen Sirikit Cup competition has done more to raise the profile of women’s golf in Asia than any other tournament.
More recent years have seen Thailand become a world-class destination for international golfers. There are over 300 stunning courses all over the kingdom, fee greens are low and standards are high when compared with other countries. Little wonder that the kingdom now attracts big tournaments and the world’s best known golf players. This is why the World Golf Travel Agents Association recently named Thailand as the “Best up and coming Destination for Golf Vacations.”
Thailand is now the third largest golf tourism destination in the world, with some 700,000 golfers coming here each year.
And if you look around the courses, you’ll find that many of these golf tourists are female. It seems that women are no longer content to wait by the pool while their husbands are on the greens. Thailand as a golf destination really appeals to women who appreciate that as well as an amazing round of golf, where there’s always a caddy to do the heavy lifting of clubs.
What’s more, Thailand boasts many other attractions – world-class spas and massages that can ease away the aches of a day’s golf, amazing shopping opportunities, and wonderful food and cultural experiences, too.
So women-only events like the TAT’s recent Lady Golf Challenge 2016 are becoming more common. They allow women to compete against their peers, make friends, and enjoy a few days pampering and sightseeing. The inaugural Lady Golf Challenge saw 110 women golfers from all over Asia play at the Alpine Golf and Sports Club near Bangkok. They were also able to pick up tips from professional golfers including Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum and India’s Number One, Vani Kapoor.
It is events like the Lady Golf Challenge that will see women’s golf in Thailand go from strength to strength, not just cementing the country’s reputation as one of the world’s best golf tourism destinations, but also as a source of great female golfing talent. Young Ariya Jutanugarn recently made Thailand proud again by maintaining a strong lead against strong competition at the Rio Olympics, until she had to withdraw due to a painful knee injury. But with her talents, the future looks very bright, as it does for women’s golf in Thailand.