The good news for golfers is that the world's demand for tin has Thai officials considering opening new mines on the island of Phuket. Abandoned tin mines have been turned into three of the island's golf courses, including what many consider the best layout in Asia. A popular tourist stop, Phuket doesn't have quite the bargains of Bangkok, but golf here is still a steal by American standards.
European PGA Tour pros say Blue Canyon is one of the best courses they play all year, and it is certainly among anyone's top five or ten in Asia. Jose Marie Olazabal thought the course would be better if "they took some slope out of the greens because they have too much speed," but that, among other reasons, is why club members call it the Blue Nasty. Tiger Woods won the Johnnie Walker Classic here in dramatic fashion last January, and Greg Norman prevailed here in 1994. Two large lakes dominate this former tin mine and rubber plantation, and Japanese architect Yoshikazu Kato wisely realized the routing should make use of them. He moved only 250,000 cubic meters of earth (compared to three million for many Asian projects), and the result is a course that flows about one large, ornate garden. From the back tees it is 7,119 yards. The best stretch begins at the 440-yard twelfth, where a booming tee shot is needed to set up a long iron approach over a creek to a narrow green. The 390-yard dogleg-right thirteenth has the tee shot coming from a bluff above a lake to another bluff that turns sharply right. The 169-yard par-three fourteenth has a gut-tightening tee shot that descends to a natural island green. The double-dogleg fifteenth, at 586 yards, calls for a tee shot to carry the lake and then two more shots to thread trees to a small green. Golfers who miss Blue Canyon's fairways often go straight to jail, blocked by rubber trees planted in tight, straight rows. Members have first priority on the course, but guests of the forty-eight-room hotel also get on easily. Outside play is limited; those who make reservations through their hotels have the best chance. Another course, the Lakes--designed by Kato and Gary Player--is under construction and scheduled to be opened early next year.
Location: Next to the airport on Highway 402 on the north end of the island
Note: Fifteen minutes south in the Laguna area of the island is the Banyan Tree Phuket Golf Club, part of the opulent Banyan Tree resort. This course--the first nine designed by Max Wexler, the second by David Abell--is rather disappointing because, on this piece of land, it could be so much better. It measures 6,768 yards from the back tees, but the zoysia fairways make it play much longer. The course is dead flat, making it difficult to judge distances. The Bermuda greens have been invaded by the zoysia, which tends to knock putts off-line. Call 011-66-76-270-989.
Phuket Country Club
Another old tin mine converted into a golfing gem, the Old course at PCC seems easy enough on the card at just 6,484 yards, but then you encounter its narrow fairways, mounds, water hazards, trees and deceptive greens. Designed by Dr. Sukitti Klangvisai of Thailand and opened in 1989, the course works its way through a valley and up through limestone cliffs. Six holes play through open flatlands, six through hills and six through landscaped forest. The 557-yard tenth is an almost semicircular par five around a huge lake, but its green is reachable in one for those capable of carrying the tee shot 240 yards over water. Holes eleven through seventeen--consisting of five par fours and two par threes--are wonderful. The longish par-four thirteenth and fifteenth were more forgiving than they appeared from the tees thanks to slopes that hid large portions of the fairways. It all finishes with a wicked 563-yard par five that bends to the right and works uphill to the clubhouse.
Location: On the main road between Phuket Town and Patong Beach, about thirty-five minutes south of the airport
Note: PCC's nine-hole Country Club course is across the street, and five minutes away in Kathu is Phuket Century Country Club. The 6,335-yard course looks and plays short but water comes into play on six holes on the back nine. It isn't up to the world-class standards of Blue Canyon, nor can it compete with the immaculate Old course at Phuket Country Club, but Phuket Century is a fun round. Call 011-66-76-321-929.