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Zen Golf in Thailand

SAMUI
Once upon a time in the sixties, this small island was a backpackers’ paradise where a bungalow on the beach and a puff of Thai stick could be had for a song. Now the turquoise waters and moonlit vistas are hogged by five-star resorts and the country roads are lined with tacky tour operators. Those who crave a more natural setting can take a ferry to nearby Koh Phangan—known for its wild "full moon" parties.

Where to Play
Santiburi Samui Country Club This hilltop course is the only choice on the island—and the only choice in the country for golfers seeking that rugged "Survivor" experience. The sweeping sea views from tee boxes are almost too distracting, as are the jungle snakes. Even the cart rides around the steep switchbacks are thrilling. 12/12 Moo 1, Tambon Maenam, Koh Samui; 011-66/07-742-5031; www.santiburi.com. Yardage: 6,932. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $65–$90. Architects: Pirapon Namatra and Edward Theile, 2003.

Where to Stay
At the Santiburi Resort (from $333 per night; www.santiburi.com), individual beachside villas offer all the amenities. Its sister Bo Phut Resort & Spa (from $235 per night; www.santiburi.com) will be less crowded and more restful than raunchy Chaweng, Samui’s main town and beach.

Where to Eat
These days Samui has its own Starbucks, plus enough pseudo-Italian fare to send you scurrying back to Sicily. Better to stick to steamed local catches, dipped in fiery sauces, along strips like Fisherman’s Village.

KHAO YAI
The region around Khao Yai National Park is among the country’s loveliest. Daylong jungle treks to view awe-inspiring waterfalls—and perhaps spot a stray elephant—are easy to plot from the park’s mist-shrouded visitor center, while hotels offer guided adventures. There are also numerous spas and several of Thailand’s best wineries.

Where to Play
Kirimaya Golf Club Kirimaya is the best-maintained and most challenging course in the area. The massive layout, meandering just beneath the national park boundaries, seems to go on forever until a magnificent final three holes curl back along water settings toward tented villas. 1/3 Moo 6, Thanarat Road, Moo-Si, Pakchong, Nakorn Ratchasima; 011-66/044-426-000. Yardage: 7,115. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $30–$90. Architect: Jack Nicklaus, 2005.

Where to Stay
It’s hard to top the two-year-old Kirimaya Resort (from $240 per night; www.kirimaya.com), superbly outfitted and designed in cutting-edge rustic minimalist style. The luxurious tentedvillas come with huge sunken tubs and a range of spa services.

Where to Eat
Kirimaya’s in-house restaurants are surprisingly first-class, but some trendy Bangkok eateries have opened outlets here, including the infamous Cabbages and Condoms. Also try Vinocotto, an excellent Italian joint overlooking a Lotus pond.

Caddies

Nearly all of Thailand’s caddies are women, chosen for their "kindness and patience with older people," in the words of one course manager. But, rumors to the contrary, don’t expect them all to be go-go dancers in cleats: Most are rugged country girls who remain heavily cloaked. They are always solicitous and sometimes quite bossy about club selection. As in the rest of the country, the main problem is language.

When to Go

In winter, many courses are overrun by Koreans on weekends. April and May are the most scorching, then come the monsoons of summer. So visit in the early spring or fall. Nearly year-round, even the elite courses are empty and accessible during weekdays.

Tour Operators

For custom and package golf tours in Thailand, check out GolfAsian.com. Also visit thailandgolfzone.com for playing conditions, course profiles and more.

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