Winter is finally over! You celebrated with Sergio in his first major triumph at Augusta and you can’t help but smell the fresh cut grass on your way to work in the mornings which means only one thing… the golf season is upon us.
As you begin to set up your weekly rounds with your usual foursomes, dust off any winter rust that may have crept in and feel the warmth of the spring sunshine cascading down as you admire your approach shot heading to flag, you realize why you love and missed this game so much.
Playing your local favourite courses brings the smile back to your face as you start thinking about the golfing season ahead and possibly where the next big adventure is that you and your buddies want to take your clubs on.
Yes, now is the time to think of your next golfing vacation. Where should you go, when should you travel and how do you create an unforgettable adventure getting the most bang for your buck?
Go East Young Man
The standard golf vacation spots for Canadians are south of the border, maybe to the Caribbean or either coast of our great nation itself. With the rise and popularity of Cabot Links, the “East” is becoming one of the best destinations in our own back yard but have you ever thought about venturing even further east, as in the Far East? Yes, I’m talking about the soul searching and spiritual land of Thailand in Southeast Asia.
When most people think of Thailand they immediately conjure up pictures of inspiring temples, Buddhist Monks, elephant camps and a magical land of enlightenment. It is true that one can find all of these wonderful things but what most golfers don’t realize is that Thailand is a Mecca for world class golf and if you plan it right, you can find yourself strolling down impeccable fairways as you admire the stunning views and soak up the ancient history with your caddie or “guru” for the day in this enchanting land for much less than you thought.
Why Go That Far?
As Canada gets ready to celebrate her 150th birthday, these Southeast Asian countries have celebrated 100,s of more birthdays and offer you deep traditions, iconic temples, stupas as well as archaeological artefacts and ruins dating so far back that our youthful minds can hardly fathom.
The warmth of the people infused with the culture, food and the sights and sounds are all a feast for your senses unlike anything you have experienced before. Thailand has some of the friendliest people waiting to greet you. In fact, they are so friendly that the country is called “the land of smiles” which local phenom and LPGA star Ariya Jutanugarn even displays in her preshot routine.
The modern comforts of home are readily available with five star hotels at a fraction of the price, delicious award winning dining options, a plentiful amount of stunning resorts and championship quality golf courses designed by all your favourite architects featuring ocean and mountain views at every turn.
The real cost are the flights but with many of the top airlines arriving several times daily you can find attractive deals if you plan ahead. You may be thinking that you would never survive the fourteen or so hour flight but with these modern aircrafts offering you a personal TV screen and your own countless amount of movies and entertainment (even in economy class) the flight actually seems to come to an end much quicker than anticipated. If you time your vacation properly the cost of hotels, ground travel, golf and other excursions are a real bargain compared to other destinations you have been.
When to Go?
Thailand basically has four seasons, however, not quite like the four seasons you are used to:
High Season for golf is the cooler (yet still tropical and warm as the term cool is relative) dry season which runs from November to April where the prices are the highest, the courses are the busiest and hotels close to the action can be fully booked. The golf courses will be in their best pristine shape and the after golf activities and distractions will be at an all time high with fellow travellers from around the globe enjoying all that is to be offered. However, these ideal conditions will dig the deepest into your wallet or purse and sometimes the crowds and locals being fully aware that this is their time to make the most from you can be overwhelming. Peak season during this time is mid-December thru mid-January and prices can surge upwards of 120 percent.
Hot Season for those who are brave will find courses relatively empty (because it is hot, I mean HOT by 1Oam) and top resorts having vacancy and deals on their best suites. The courses and hotels will have the best prices as they are desperately trying to lure travellers but you probably won’t want to venture out during the peak hours of the day. All your daytime activities will most certainly include air conditioning and cold beverages which can either be a good or bad thing. Also, note that most courses will do their aerification during this time so check maintenance schedules ahead of booking.
The Perfect Window Season is the time that runs from June to September as afternoon rains creep in cooling the days off and leaving the mornings the perfect time to play uncrowded stunning courses. The top resorts and hotels are still offering great deals and incentives and there is plenty of action to keep you entertained but not fighting for a place to stay or play. You will find some rain so make sure to pack some lightweight rain gear and an umbrella but it is usually only short afternoon showers timed perfectly after the round as you are resting and preparing for whatever the night has in store. The locals are in great spirits as the unbearable hot season has passed and most activities, excursions and nightlife adventures start gearing up but without the over bearing crowds. Discounts are plentiful and conditions near idyllic.
Monsoon Season usually occurs from the end of September to the end of November. How can I properly describe monsoon season for those who have not experienced it? Try your best to recall Bill Murray’s character Carl Spackler in Caddyshack as he is caddying for the priest and states “I don’t think the heavy stuff’s going to come down for quite a while” as the two head out in a vicious sideways rain. These conditions would seem pleasant compared to a full monsoon. Now, there is always the chance you may find a window in conditions and great discounts but you are really rolling the dice as it is not a question of if but when the heavy downpour will present itself. If you do decide to travel during monsoon season, stay close to the city center or the main resorts as smaller roads may be flooded and closed after heavy rains leaving you stranded in the countryside. If this is your first Southeast Asian experience, do yourself a favour and avoid the monsoon season as the risk is not worth a ruined vacation in this gorgeous land.
The Best Areas To Stay and Play?
Thailand is a rich diverse country in topography, population centres, vistas, cuisines, non-golf activities and will greatly depend on your own tastes where you should plan to enjoy. Think of Thailand’s size as comparable to California (it is actually 1.2 times bigger than Cali) with everything from tropical beachside escapes to interior major cities to mountainous cooler regions.
Bangkok is a very large cosmopolitan city featuring all the sights and sounds you would expect from a place with over 10 million residents. This atmosphere will offer you world class hotels and numerous fine dining restaurants plus an ample amount of shopping, cultural activities and nightlife for your time away from the course. The golf itself is excellent and you have many courses that have featured PGA, LPGA and European Tour events that will test and amaze you. I recommend beginning or ending your trip with a couple nights in Bangkok as it will most likely be your entry or exit point during your travels. Just remember “one night in Bangkok can make a hard man humble” as this city is truly a feast for your senses in every way.
Hua Hin is a small former fishing village which has now become a popular beachside town for the Thai affluent (including the Royal Family) and vacationers from all over. Located a simple three hour drive from Bangkok this quaint seaside village boasts seven high quality golf courses with two (Black Mountain and Banyan Golf Club) featuring world class designs and conditions. This is an ideal place for those looking for a little more quiet and relaxing holiday as nightlife and activities are much more subdued.
Pattaya is only a two hour drive from Bangkok and offers the highest concentration of courses as there are over 2O located within a 45-minute drive from downtown. These courses range from inexpensive to championship designs with the flagship destination being the Siam Country Club with its Old Course and Plantation Course offering you perfect conditions and award winning views. Pattaya is also known to have the wildest nightlife action which can truly be overwhelming to some. If you are looking to mix your golf getaway with a party amongst friends, then Pattaya is perfect for you.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island boasting a tropical feel, pristine white sand beaches, aqua blue waters, fantastic golf courses, countless hotel and dining options and an active nightlife. Phuket really is your best beach holiday destination in Thailand which can compete with anything you’ve experienced in the Caribbean. With its championship courses, daytime beach and boat excursions combined with ample activities at night, Phuket will make a very memorable holiday away. The island’s famed Blue Canyon course hosted Tiger Woods and several others as it featured the Johnny Walker Championship twice. Red Mountain Golf club has become the top place to play in Thailand with its gorgeous views and red hued cliffs of this former tin mind turned golf course and the Jack Nicklaus designed Mission Hills Phuket are just some of the emerald fairways that await you in this area known as “the pearl of the south”.
Chiang Mai is the opposite of Phuket as this northern city is famous for its cooler mountain climate with a culture and atmosphere that is known to be a gentle and relaxed more “true Thai” feeling. This area boasts several courses featuring panoramic mountain views with some of the top cultural sights of temples, elephant camps, tribal villages and authentic Thai style night markets. Both the Alpine Golf Club which held the PGA tour’s Chiang Mai Classic and the 27-hole Chiang Mai Highlands Resort feature breathtaking vistas and are regarded as two of Thailand’s top courses. Although it does not feel like it, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city and offers a fine array of hotels, dining options, nightlife and shopping. If you do not want sand in your shorts and like the more relaxed mountain vibe while strolling beautifully striped fairways, then you may want to visit this northern area of Thailand.
Yes, Thailand is “the land of smiles” and you will be grinning ear to ear as you tell stories and show your awe inspiring pictures of your unforgettable golfing adventure in this spiritual awakening land.
See you in the fairway.