Door-to-door from my home in Austin, Texas, to the Woodlands Resort Suites in Pattaya, Thailand, I logged 29 hours of flights, airport lounging, customs and ground transfers.
If you're traveling this far, the golf should be first rate and the destination had better be full of sights and smells I'm not going to find while bumming around Texas - or the Western Hemisphere, for that matter.
But if ever there existed a golfing spot worthy of travel to the other side of the world, it's Thailand. The nation's golf culture blends an established environment with an exotic, "we're not in Kansas anymore" feel.
Thailand's southern neighbor, Malaysia, has good golf and attractions. Cambodia and Vietnam, other countries in the region, feature new, developing golf destinations. But Thailand has emerged as the darling of Southeast Asian golf tourism.
"Sixty percent of our Thailand groups are repeat visitors," said Mark Siegel, managing director of golf-tour packager Golfasian.com. "That's opposed to around five percent for our other destinations like Vietnam and Malaysia."
One visit here shouldn't be your last. For starters, Thailand's cuisine is delicious and often comes at laughably low prices. The next time you're in the United States or Europe and see a Phat Thai noodle dish for $10, try not to stage a restaurant coup.
Most services are also a steal. Hour-long foot or body massages cost the equivalent of a couple beers back home. We'll let you decide which is more necessary, but chances are, you'll opt for both.
Some destinations require restraint, or you'll be broke after the first day. Not in Thailand. Here, you'll spoil yourself silly on most budgets.
The culture is abundant, as are the beaches, shopping and nightlife. For groups looking to mix it up after hours, look no further than Pattaya, which is a two-hour drive south of Bangkok. The beach city is home to an incredible scene on Walking Street, where the vendors and go-go bars are worth a walk-through. Just hang on to your jaw.
Thailand makes headlines for its frequent attempted overthrows of the government. Some media reports portray the situation as if Rambo regularly leads a pack of machine-gun-toting revolutionaries into the palace. In fact, the coup d'etats are usually bloodless, even ceremonial.
Thailand is still developing in every sense of the word. But for tourists, it feels as safe as a big American or European city. In some ways, it's safer. Traffic and car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death in the country, but petty violence and pick-pocketing are near non-existent. Street bums aren't all that common, either, and unemployment is low.
The roads have few homeless, but there are countless little shops and eateries.
"Thais are good at two things, eating and shopping," tour guide Shah Hutabhaet said. "They always stop on the way home to buy presents or a meal."
Walk around a Thai city and you'll see plenty of multi-purpose shops and restaurants. Workers serve food and sell clothes in the front and offer massages in the back.
Here's a useful, if not amusing, Thailand golf tip: The Thai word used for ladyboy, kathoey, has the same meaning as hybrid golf club. Tell your caddie you want to hit the ladyboy, and you'll get handed your hybrid.
Asians have taken to golf in recent years, especially in China and Vietnam. But in Thailand and Malaysia, in particular, the game is nothing new. There are more than 300 golf courses in Thailand. Of Thailand's 65 million residents, nearly 2 million play golf - so the culture is rich.
Most locals play the government or factory-built local clubs and work at the upscale clubs. Thailand has become the go-to golf destination for the Eastern world. Japanese visitors especially covet Thailand's golf courses because of the extreme measures required to tee it up back home.
Thailand country clubs, in all likelihood, put your home club to shame. The clubhouses are as impressive as you'll find and include full locker-room facilities. (And you'll need them, too, after sweating through your clothes for 18 holes.) The restaurant menus are trans-continental, catering to the many tastes of a worldly clientele - from Japanese fare to club sandwiches and buffalo wings - while, of course, offering two or more pages of traditional Thai cuisine.
Muang Kaew Golf Club is the closest golf course to Bangkok's city center, if there is such a thing in this sprawling metropolis. It offers post-round massage service, or if you just can't wait, the caddies provide quick, on-course rubdowns. Others, like Thai Country Club, have locker-room pools. One of the newer golf courses in the country, Black Mountain in Hua Hin, includes massage tables and a sauna.
Arrive early and stay late at a Thai golf club. And you'll want a few late nights in Pattaya or Bangkok, so be sure to schedule your tee times accordingly.
November 23, 2009
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!