I am writing this having just returned from my stay in Thailand and I can only say that it has been an incredible experience. Whilst the golf was only meant to be a small aspect of my trip, I can honestly say that I have never been made to feel as welcome and important as I was made to feel at the Phoenix Golf Club.
The Phoenix consists of three sets of 9 holes, each of which offers a different challenge. Needless to say, the 18 that I played were in excellent condition and represented a fairly stern golfing test for a high handicapper like me.
On arrival though you are made to feel truly special. The welcome in the pro shop was exceptional and within minutes I had hired my clubs and they were taken down to the 1st tee in readiness for my arrival. I should point out at this stage that my hire set were a pretty decent set of Callaways and not the usual selection of 20-year-old mis-matched clubs that you sometimes find available for hire over here. It was also nice to note that, should I have brought my own clubs, I would have been met at the car and they would have been taken to the tee for me whilst I got ready.
The next stop was the locker room. Again, facilities were superb with soap, talc and towels ready to be used in the showers and sun cream available should it be required. Little touches like these make the experience that little bit better.
Where my golfing experience varied here from anything that I had ever tried before, however, was when I arrived at the 1st tee. There waiting for me was a buggy loaded with water, towels, sun screen, the works and for the first, and possibly only, time it was to be driven by my own caddie.
Certainly with the courses that I looked into playing, all green fees include the cost of the buggy and the hire of a caddie. Most caddies in Thailand are women and, as was the case here, dress in brightly-coloured dust suits and wide sun hats. The look is quite striking but not unlike a bee-keeper.
I was passed a tee by my caddie who asked that I tee my ball up at my desired driving height. I did so and was then told that she would be teeing the ball up for me on each hole. She also let me know that she would be marking my ball up on each green and setting the alignment aid up to her suggested line. I was free to let her know if I would rather do this myself but I was happy for the advice. She would also be offering me yardages throughout the round.
Trust me, these companies that are selling golfing sat navs stand no chance in Thailand, my caddie was spot on with every yardage she gave me and believe me when I say that she had to give yardages from some fairly obscure positions.
With all of this luxury to take in, I duly stepped up to the 1st tee. It was at this stage that the high handicap inferiority complex kicked in. Surely this person was used to caddying for decent golfers so my hacking efforts were sure to be an embarrassment. True to form, the slice that I had recently learned to control came back and my drive disappeared into the rough. I turned to my caddie who calmly stated that my choice of shot was generally popular with tourists and assured me that my nerves would calm down.
We trundled off down the fairway and, again, I was caught by surprise. Apparently it was also no longer my job to go traipsing through the rough to find the ball. My caddie was off out the buggy and had it located within minutes. To be honest I had heard rumours of the beasties that lurk in the rough in Thailand so was quite happy to have someone go in first.
In all honesty, I cannot say that I played the finest round of my life that day but it will be the one that lives longest in my memory. For four hours I was treated like a king. Nothing was too much trouble and once you get used to letting your caddie do her thing, the whole experience becomes exceptional. Having spoken to a number of locals and ex-pats on my trip, I am assured that most of the courses in the country offer a similar experience and that there are even more stunning tracks to be played.
I have not played any of the top courses in this country so cannot comment on how the experience ranks alongside them. What I can say is that the whole day, including club hire, buggy hire and caddie fee cost me less than £50 and this really brings into perspective the cost of golf in this country. When you add on to that the fact that a beer is about a pound (for those going to Thailand, I will warn you that Chang beer is lethal) and a good plate of food is normally well under a fiver, it really is remarkably cheap.
The experience also remains distinctly local. Thailand appears to have, to date, largely escaped the wholesale ?Americanisation? that has been subjected on so many long-haul resorts, such as large parts of the Caribbean.
Overall, Thailand is a stunning, inviting and friendly country which I could recommend to anyone as a holiday destination. It just happens to be a bonus that you can play some amazing and affordable golf at the same time on great courses where you will be treated like royalty.
I feel that I cannot end this blog without letting you know the most important thing of all ? you can buy Golf Monthly in the Pattaya region!