Opened in 1992, this is Jack Nicklaus's entry into the Bangkok golfing scene, a visually intimidating 6,604-yard layout from the gold tees (6,984 from the black), featuring waste bunkers that, on some holes, measure 150 yards long. It is something of a Nicklaus trait to "plateau" fairways so they look like tabletops, with one side edged by a steep face that falls four to six feet into the waste areas. Often the best line to the green comes very close to those edges, giving the golfer the unsettling feeling that a slightly less-than-perfect tee shot would lead to big trouble. Playing away from those edges is the key. So is a good driving game on the front-nine par fives, both of which are under five hundred yards. What gives the course its bite is a slew of tough par fours, including the 432-yard ninth, the 383-yard tenth, the 390-yard fourteenth and sixteenth. The last is a dogleg right with trees guarding the left side of the fairway. The second shot must carry a small lake to a peninsular green. The 415-yard eighteenth, with water all the way down the left side, caps it off.
Location: About three miles north of Panya Indra Golf Club on Ramindra Road
This course used to be the most expensive club in Bangkok (Thai CC took that honor), with memberships available for about $5,000. From the back tees the course measures nearly seven thousand yards, but at 6,392 from the white markers it is still a good challenge for the single-digit handicapper because eight holes have tee or approach shots that must carry a water hazard. The best holes are par fours away from the water: the third, fifth, sixth and fifteenth. Each allows its unique difficulties to be judged from the tee. The short third is only 352 from the whites, but a daring tee shot near the water on the left is needed to get a clear and short approach to the green. The fifth and sixth are 390 and 415 yards, respectively; their nasty character comes from sharply edged contours and humps surrounding the greens. Four cone-shaped mounds serve as a backdrop to the 347-yard fifteenth.
Location: At the 10.5-kilometer marker on the Bangna-Trad Highway
Note: Near Windmill Park is Green Valley CC, a middling Robert Trent Jones Jr. design of more than seven thousand yards. Call 011-66-2-312-5883.
One of Greg Norman's first course designs, Thana City opened in 1993. Critics could say that the flat course doesn't have one great hole, but no one argues about the quality of greens--probably the best in Bangkok. It has only three sets of tees, with the back measuring 6,905 yards. Those wishing for a challenge will get their fill on holes six through nine: 421, 219, 462 and 440 yards, respectively. The par-four eighth, a dogleg left with a sloped fairway guarded on the left side by a nest of bunkers, is the best on the course. But the ninth and eighteenth are the toughest: Both are well-bunkered 440-yard monsters that have to be played carefully, as they sit on either side of a lake. Visitors are restricted to afternoon tee times on weekends and holidays.
Location: At the fourteen-kilometer marker on the Bangna-Trad Highway
Note: The club has a David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
The Best Of The Rest
Many consider Navatanee in the Bang Kapi area in east-central Bangkok to be the best course in the region, and it is a popular spot for Japanese golf groups. But this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design seems dated. Bunkers in the landing areas pinch down the flat, straight fairways, and the greens, though well bunkered, have little character. Not to be missed, however, is the four-story home of the club's founder, Mr. Sukum Navapan, behind the fourth green. On the scorecard is Local Rule Number 8: "It is customary practice that the founder of Navatanee (Mr. Navapan) shall have the right to play through."