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Phuket's Golf Renaissance

Immortalized in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, the region around the Thai island of Phuket has long attracted tourists with its winter sun, palm-fringed beaches, crystal-blue waters and first-class hotels and resorts. For years, this embodiment of a tropical paradise annually drew close to four million visitors, a good number of them with golf clubs in tow. Then disaster struck in the form of the devastating tsunami that leveled so many parts of Southeast Asia in December 2004. Although Phuket sustained significantly less damage than many other areas, because the island is the region's best-known destination, it became widely associated with the catastrophe in the eyes of the media. Tourists, understandably, started going elsewhere.

Thirteen months later, Phuket is roaring back. The number of visitors to the island, although still down from pre-tsunami levels, is rapidly increasing. What's more, Phuket is using its well-earned reputation as a golf destination to the fullest, offering discounts at all five of its courses, including the highly rated Blue Canyon Country Club and Laguna Phuket Golf Club.

Now is the best time of year to visit Phuket, as daily highs hover in the low- to mid-eighties and humidity is at its lowest from November through March.

Trip Planner: Phuket

Playing Often voted number-one in Asia, the Canyon course at Blue Canyon Country Club (011-66/7632-8088, bluecanyonclub.com) is a jungle layout featuring an excellent mix of holes framed by large lakes and tropical flora. The course was designed by Yoshikazu Kato, who also laid out the testing Kiarti Thanee Country Club near Bangkok and three dozen other courses in Asia, most of them in his native Japan. A former host of the Johnnie Walker Classic, Blue Canyon is known for its narrow landing areas and undulating greens. A second eighteen, the Lakes, is a newer, friendlier layout. Also try Laguna Phuket Golf Club (011-66/7627-0991, lagunaphuket.com/golfclub), part of the five-star Laguna Phuket resort. As at Blue Canyon, the attentive female caddies make a round here all the more enjoyable. Look out for the seventeenth, a monstrously long par five and one of the most talked about holes in all of Asia.

Staying Banyan Tree Phuket (011-66/7632-4374, banyantree.com/phuket) at the Laguna Phuket Resort provides the quintessential Thai vacation experience. Each of the 115 villas comes with its own lush, landscaped garden, while the resort's Banyan Tree Spa has become popular among Hollywood A-listers.

Dining For superb local seafood blended with the delicacy of native ingredients, try Rockfish Restaurant on the beachfront in Kamala. The baked red snapper with ginger is on its way to achieving legendary status.

Other Attractions While the majority of visitors tread a well-beaten path to the beach, bustling Phuket Town is worth the diversion for those interested in exploring traditional craft shops and local markets. The Shrine of the Serene Light in the center of town is a restored Chinese temple offering tranquillity amidst a cacophony of car horns and street vendors.

Getting There Thai Airways International has regular flights to Bangkok from New York (eighteen hours nonstop) and Los Angeles (twenty hours, one stop). It's an hour-and-twenty-minute hop from the capital to Phuket. Package bookings can be made through the airline's web site (thaiair.com/Royal_Orchid_Holidays).


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