Where to golf in Thailand: The kingdom’s most beautiful and exclusive courses
No country in Asia has embraced golf tourism for as long as Thailand, and it shows.
From the mist-shrouded mountains of the north to sun-kissed tropical enclaves in the south, high calibre play can be found in any number of enticing environments.
Thailand ticks all the boxes off course, too. Its beaches are up there among the best on the planet and the fiery cuisine is an irresistible draw.
Here are some of our favourite options around Bangkok and further afield.
ALPINE GOLF AND SPORTS CLUB, BANGKOK REGION
Connoisseurs of the game consider this as the pick of the layouts around Bangkok and it’s not difficult to see why. The course, which is located about 60km north of Bangkok’s city centre on a rolling chunk of tropical real estate, is an absolute beauty that more than holds its own among the best tracks in the region. Atypical of courses near the Thai capital, Alpine features various elevation changes – making for an ever-stimulating playing experience. The long 7th and par-4 11th stand out due to their twin “island” greens, but standards are elevated throughout. We love the way that the beautiful landscaping, tranquil lakes and verdant jungle enhance the excellent holes. The clubhouse, meanwhile, is as plush as you might expect at such a prestigious venue.
BALLYSHEAR GOLF LINKS AT BAN RAKAT CLUB, BANGKOK REGION
One of the most exciting courses about to be launched in Thailand will also be one of the nation’s most exclusive. Famed architect Gil Hanse – whose works include Castle Stuart in Scotland and the Rio 2016 Olympic Course in Brazil – will unveil his first original design in Asia when the Ballyshear Golf Links at Ban Rakat Club opens for play in early 2020. The members-only Ban Rakat Club is now taking shape some 35-40 minutes from Bangkok’s city centre and tee-off times at the club are destined to be highly sought after. The layout itself is inspired by Lido Golf Club – a near-mythical US course that was ranked among the world’s best before it was bulldozed during World War II. Off course, Ban Rakat features a clubhouse designed by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma, whose signature work includes the new Japanese National Stadium in Tokyo.
CHIANG MAI HIGHLANDS GOLF AND SPA, CHIANG MAI
No extra effort is needed to conjure up positive vibrations at Chiang Mai Highlands Golf and Spa. The course is built on a ‘power spot’ – the hermitage of Kuba Sivichai, the revered monk who founded the famous mountain temple on Doi Suthep just outside Chiang Mai. Designed by famed course architecture firm, Schmidt-Curley, the layout – which is located 40km east of Chiang Mai’s city centre – poses a number of problems for even the best golfers, not least the presence of over 100 fairway and greenside bunkers. Course highlights are plentiful. The downhill 1st sets a highly inviting tone for the round and there are a number of other killer holes. The best is saved for last, however, in the shape of the par-5 18th, a snaking gem that involves a water hazard and demands prime accuracy.
NIKANTI GOLF CLUB, BANGKOK REGION
The layout at Nikanti Golf Club – masterminded by Thai architect Pirapon Namatra, responsible for a string of top layouts around Asia – is unlike any other in Thailand, and indeed the world. Instead of the usual emphasis on par-4s, the unique ‘666’ set up makes room for an equal number of par-4s, par 5s and par-3s. Located around an hour west from Bangkok in Nakhon Pathom province, the course itself is a beauty. The opening hole, a narrow, snaking par-5 that features water to the left of a shallow green, sets an exacting tone. However, the course soon eases off to a friendlier, yet still challenging, pitch. Highlights include the 13th, a long hole that plays to a green at the edge of a lake and the 16th, an uphill par-3 where the tee is positioned in a giant waste bunker that extends all the way to the front of the putting surface.
RED MOUNTAIN, PHUKET
Golfers are spoiled for choice on Phuket. The so-called Pearl of the Andaman is one of Thailand’s best playing destinations and has a portfolio of top-class layouts. None, however, are more spectacular than this one, which has established itself as the island’s most challenging and most beautiful course since opening in 2007. Winding its way through a former tin mine site in the heart of the island, the course has garnered plaudits both for the standard of golf and the stunning scenery on offer. As you might expect from its name, dramatic elevation changes are a feature of course architect Jonathan Morrow’s design: Most notably at the short 17th, a plunging downhiller played to a postage stamp green surrounded by lush jungle foliage. Another downhill roller-coaster ride awaits on the closing hole, which requires canny strategic placement from tee to green.
THAI COUNTRY CLUB, BANGKOK REGION
For the Tiger stamp of approval, head to Thai Country Club. The course, a favourite of the aforementioned Mr Woods, is a private members club but visitors can arrange a game in advance. Cunningly designed, picturesque and beautifully maintained, it’s well worth making the effort to play. Even better, it’s within easy shouting distance of Bangkok with the journey time from the centre of the city to the site on the southeastern outskirts typically taking less than one hour. One of Thailand’s most prestigious clubs, everything about TCC screams class. The caddies are gracious and knowledgeable, the clubhouse is one of Asia’s most luxurious and the course itself is impeccably maintained. While the terrain is largely pancake flat, frequent water hazards and imaginative landscaping keeps things fascinating. Our pick of the holes is the short third, which features an exacting tee shot over water.