That’s certainly attained in his design for the three-year-old Santiburi Samui Golf Course (an easy forty-five-minute flight on Bangkok Airways south of the capital). So as not to disturb the hillside coconut groves, Namatra shaped holes that descend some 150 feet or roll in emerald waves to blind greens. Although Samui is a beach-ringed tropical island, the designer had to ship in the proper bunker sand on barges. Raw jungle intrudes on all sides, and, as I find on my round there, looking for a lost ball can sometimes mean an encounter with a snake. When I ask whether they were poisonous or not, the teaching pro answers: "Both."
Thailand’s ultimate golf destination just might be Chiang Mai, an ancient moated city full of temples set in a wide valley surrounded by low mountains in which numerous indigenous tribes reside. My best discovery here was the man who offered to guide me, raving about the perfect feng shui of the Chiangmai Highlands course, which is routed around the meditation retreat of the region’s most illustrious Buddhist monk. And Peter Andraes should know. A former PGA Tour qualifier, he left the Stanford University golf team to set out on a "vision quest" that has led him to become a world-class instructor, making the link between Eastern wisdom and ball-striking techniques.
It was on the advice of Earl Woods, Tiger’s father and one of Andraes’s mentors, that he moved fourteen years ago to racially tolerant Thailand. When not writing books such as Secret of the Inner-Swing and teaching in the U.S., he combines instructions in Qigong and martial arts with golf outings for Tao Garden, a health oasis that prescribes regimens of organic food along with arcane Chinese practices like testicular massage.
"Swing from the belly—iron wrapped in cotton!" Andraes exhorts, trying to bring out the inner warrior in me. For him, a love of golf and tropical beauty are a natural match with spirituality and intense self-discovery. Harkening back to his friendship with Earl and Tiger Woods and their connection to the country, Andraes says, "In Thailand, everyone can get in touch with the spirit of the tiger."
Perhaps, but simply escaping smoggy Bangkok is good enough for me. Better yet, I’ve reconnected with golf, and my image of the country I live in has been utterly transformed.