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RELAX / Golf

Golf is one of the most popular sports in Thailand. The game arrived in the county a century ago and was quickly taken up by the elite and the fashionable. Among the first sponsors of the game were the armed forces and government institutions, which built and continue to own some of the finest courses in the county.
About 350,000 visitors are believed to have played golf in Thailand in 2002, generating an expenditure of nearly 6.2 billion baht. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is planning to raise these figures to one million golfers, generating an estimated 18.45 billion baht by 2007. In 2004 alone, the plan is to attract 400,000 golfers. Who will generate an estimated 7.1 billion baht, an increase of 14.29% over 2002.
There are over 200 high standard golf courses nationwide, many of them championship standards. The world’s top designers have made a significant contribution. Jack Nicklaus, Roboert Trent Jones Jr, Pete De Gar Player and many others have perfected modern layouts, using the best grasses and latest techniques.
The result is some of the most attractive courses in Asia, with excellent facilities, memorable signature holes and regular maintenance to keep them in top-class condition. Every course has its caddies; it's mandatory to empoly one caddie for your round. They are Thailand’s secret weapon in making golf such good fun. These brightly clad ladies, in smart uniforms and straw hats, know lots about the course, smile almost all the time, and very good at reading putts.
There are at least a few courses in or within easy reach of all major cites. Most of the newer courses offer accommodation on site or nearby, plus recreational facilities for the whole family.
For the more adventurous, there are older, natural courses in remote areas around the courses in remote areas around the country owned by the Royal Irrigation Department, the Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand, all offering good value. So for golfers who not only appreciate a challenging course, but an exotically different one too, there is an extraordinary choice.
The best time to plan a golfing trip is the cool season, from November to March. From April to October it is hot and wet, but even in the rainy months the downfall usually comes in the afternoon, and for only a few minutes. Most courses have good drainage systems, and the rains should not interrupt your game for long. At some facilities you may need to book ahead, through your club or your hotel, and advance booking is recommended for weekends. Greens fees continue to be very reasonable, as are the fees for caddies.
As most of the golf courses are located in the provinces, promoting golf also furthers the TAT policy of ensuring that throughout the provinces.


Bangkok & the Central region
 
There are many championship standard courses in Bangkok and around the city perimeter, while the neighbouring provinces of Pathom Thani to the north, Nakhon Pathom to the northwest, and Chachaoengsao to the east, each boast a number of world-class facilities.
 
This region is the major rice bowl of the county, and many of the courses have been carved out of rice paddies, compensating for the flat terrain with beautiful layouts and lots of water hazards. The older courses have shadier fairways, with mature vegetation, making it pleasant to play even in the most torrid months.
 
Eastern region
 
The provinces on the Eastern Seaboard are major agricultural and industrial producers. In the past decade, recreational golf has grown in step with the industrial estates, with new courses springing up to serve the expatriates and local enthusiasts. Some of the most famous names in golf have created impressive layouts with first-class facilities out of rocky and sandy terrain. Some cater to serious players, others fall somewhere in between
Golfing action is centred around Chon Buri and Pattaya. Just two hour’s drive from the capital, the area is ideal for day trips, though most courses, if they don’t have their own hotels, are within a short drive of good accommodation.
 
Western region
 
Golf in the Westerm region is centerd in the Hua hin and Cha-am area, and around the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi. Hua Hin and Cha-am are both resort tower on the Gulf of Thailand, with excellent hotel accommodation. The Royal Hua Hin Golf Course is the oldest course in Thailand. The weather on the coastline here is pleasant for most of the year, with cooling breezes offering respite from the sun even in the hottest months.
Kanchanburi, which like the two resort towns is around two hours by road from Bangkok, is know primarily as the site of the historic Bridge Over the River Kwai. Now, however, it is becomingly known as an attractive destination for recreational golfers, with several world-class courses in picturesque settings. The courses have their own accommodation onsite or nearby the river but few in the town itself, so reservations are advisable.
 
Northern region
 
The North is ideal for a golf holiday, with its long mountain ranges, wide valleys and spectacular jungle scenery within easy reach of culture rich cities, and pleasant weather year-round. Because of the altitude it is cooler than other regions, with temperature in the single digits in the cool months of December and January.
The regional capital of Chiang Mai, 700 kilometrwes from Bangkok, has the biggest number of golf courses, most with magnificent views of surrounding hills and valleys. Chiang Rai, three hour’s drive further north, boasts a number of championship courses in picturesque settings. Around the region are game of courses owned and run by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, in areas surrounding its dams, with moderate albeit comfortable accommodation nearby.
 
Northeastern region
 
Golf in the Northeast is centred around the Khao Yai area in Nakhon Ratchasima, gateway to the region, about three hours’ drive from Bangkok. Khao Yai, the largest protected area in the country, enjoys the status of a National Pack. The area is at fairly high altitude, so the weather is pleasant all year round, with temperatures averaging 7-8 degrees Celsius lower than in Bangkok. It is possible to drive to Khao Yai, enjoy a round of golf and then return to Bangkok within the day, but there is first-rate accommodation in the area if you choose to stay for a few days.
 
Southern region
 
The major resort towns on the southern peninsula, know for their pristine beaches and first-class facilities, are also home to some of the best golf anywhere. The island of Phuket off the western coast has some of the country’s coat has some of the country’s best courses, including the Blue Canyon, host to the Johnnie Walker Classic in 1994 and again in 1998.
 

Neighbouring Phang-nga, also on the coast of the Andama, has one of only a handful of links-type Samui has the country. The island of Samui has the Samui Golf Club & Driving Range, with professional golf instructor. The southern courses have been carved out of tin-mine workings and coconut plantations, and are set against spectacular backdrops of ocean, mountains and wooded hills.


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