Inside: Thailand: Heat with a Cool Heart
After you blow your approach over a green and turn a shot at birdie into double bogey, your caddie at Prestwick, say, might try to alleviate the pain by pointing out something like, "Old Tom Morris took a double 'ere. Cost 'im the Open, it did." Turning to your caddie in Thailand for consolation, you're likely to find her touching up her makeup.
There the differences begin. In Thailand, as is fairly common throughout Asia, women do the hauling and club cleaning and sand-trap raking on the golf courses--dressed here in a uniform of long pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat and often, to combat the heat, wet towels around the face, open only around the eyes. That mask discloses perhaps the essential fact of golf in Thailand: the heat. It's a scorching, humid heat that insinuates its way into your game, your heart, your character. Locals have umbrellas made of a silvery Mylar-like material rather than nylon, but the help the umbrellas give is mainly psychological. Going without sunblock here is virtually suicidal.
Walking is still the norm, but the pace is understandably deliberate. The brisk three-hour round is an invitation for heat stroke. Instead of one snack stand at the turn, here there is a kiosk every third or fourth hole. Most golfers stop at each to rehydrate. It all adds up to five-hour rounds, some even longer--this despite the fact that nearly every group plays "ready" golf.
All that said, Thailand is a kind of golf heaven. The courses listed here would be in the $200 range in Hawaii or Scottsdale; only one Bangkok-area course tops $75. A round costing two thousand Thai baht (about $45 this spring) is considered expensive. There are around two hundred courses in the country, and among the forty or so courses just around Bangkok, only two are closed to visitors: the venerable Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the recently opened Rajpruek Country Club. Reservations are recommended for weekends, but it is common to drop in unannounced on weekdays and get right on.
One word of caution: Though all facilities listed here (roughly in order of quality) have shoes and clubs available to rent, the rentals are poor at many of them. So when it comes to sampling the top courses in Bangkok or Phuket--which is to say some of the best of golf in Southeast Asia--it would be worth the effort to bring your own.