Johan Edfors, the European Tour pro from Sweden, spends most of his winter breaks in a sprawling villa at the Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin, Thailand. Part of the European team that beat Asia at the Ryder Cup-styled Royal Trophy (which was played at Black Mountain GC in January), Edfor's enthusiasm for his tropical home clearly spilled over to teammates Henrik Stenson and Frederik Andersson Hed.
The stunning Black Mountain Golf Club hosts the best players in the world at the Asia vs. Europe event - the Royal Trophy.
"The weather is great and the facilities for play and practice are excellent. We're going to stick around for a bit to practise and prepare for the season ahead," said Stenson after the tournament. The Europe team captain and European Tour legend Colin Montgomerie was equally enthusiastic. "It is a cliché, but golf was the big winner at the Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin," he said, delighted with the course.
Golfers who frequent this part of the world aren't surprised by the pros' endorsement of Hua Hin: to them, it just reinforces the magical metamorphosis of this small resort town into a world-class golf destination. Just 200 km from Bangkok, Hua Hin and the adjacent Cha Am offer the itinerant swinger a choice of over 10 championship layouts within an hour's driving time of each other.
The vintage railway station
Hua Hin is Thailand's oldest seaside holiday town. It's been the preferred haunt of the royal family since the latter part of the 19th century and has a smattering of palaces built by erstwhile kings. The current monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit now mainly reside at their summer palace in Hua Hin called 'Klai Kangwon' or 'far from worries'. In the 1980s the town saw a development boom catering mainly to affluent Thais from Bangkok. The first to come up were condominiums along the seafront, and then came the golf courses.
The Wako science park, in the village of Huay Yang, is a perfect getaway for kids
The jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the Black Mountain course. One of the newer courses (it opened in 2007), it is characterised by a rocky outcrop and is set in the shadow of the Black Mountain. The course, designed by Phil Ryan, is a modern layout replete with large greens and bunkers highlighted by red pampas grass-a feature that is common on Thai courses-- and the natural creeks that run through the course.
The Sheraton has an idyllic pool as well as a private beach
The par-3 11th hole bears Ryan's signature with a green that is cradled by a wall of white stones and protected by an expanse of water. The course also features dramatic elevation changes which make for interesting tee shots, especially at the downhill par-5 sixth hole with its twin fairways.
Another relatively new addition on the golf scene is the striking Banyan Golf Club that opened three years back. Banyan is a long driver's delight with many holes featuring elevated tees. Water comes into play on most holes and precision hitters have equal opportunities to make up strokes via alternative routes, especially on the fifth, eighth and 16th holes, which force a decision off the tee because of a lone tree lurking in the middle of the fairway.
|Things to do|
1. Hua Hin has Thailand's largest expanse of white, sandy beaches.
2. Kitesurfing is all the rage and three-day classes set you up for a great time on the beaches.
3. For great marine life, head out to the Wako Science Park.
4. Check out the vintage railway station and the night market.
Where to stay:
Imperial Beach Resort
Very reasonably prices sea facing resort just outside the city limits. For bookings log on to http://www.imperialhotels. com/imperialhuahin/ or call +66 (0) 2261 9000
Sheraton Hua Hin Resort & Spa
The Sheraton has a choice of mid to high range rooms and suites.
Located ten minutes from the city center.
For information and bookings log on to www.sheraton.com/huahin or call +66(0)32 708 000
The Royal Hua Hin Golf Club is the oldest in Thailand and a must-play for visiting golfers. Local golfer Setaphan Buddhani, who's been coming here for the past two decades, plays a game with us here. He points out an area of thick undergrowth behind one of the greens on the front nine. "Twenty years ago, I saw Tiger there," he says. "Really?" responds a perplexed member of our group. "I know his mother's Thai but I didn't realise he was playing here when he was so young!" "No, no," says Buddhani, exasperatedly. "I don't mean Tiger Woods. I saw a real tiger here!" Well, it's not that hard to imagine; the course-which opened in the 1920s-is still surrounded by lusty verdant forests and has an old-style parkland feel to it.
While playing here, it's difficult not to make comparisons with the courses back home, as unfair as that might be. At the Springfield Golf Club which recently hosted the Asian Tour's qualifying school, your bag is taken from the car and deposited at the first tee at your designated tee-off time. All the caddies are exceedingly polite, and the club cart comes around just as you finish the front nine to ask if you need anything.
|Hua Hin golf guide|
Black Mountain Golf Club
18 holes, 7343 yards, Par 72
Designed by Phil Ryan (2007)
Travel time (from Hua Hin): 20 minutes
Green fee: Rs 4500
Banyan Golf Club
18 holes, 7361 yards, par 72
Designed by Golf East Co. (2008)
Travel time: 15 minutes
Green fee: Rs 5,300
Royal Hua Hin Golf Course
18 holes, 6678 yards, par 72
Designed by O.A. Robbins (1924)
Travel time: 5 minutes
Green fee: Rs 3700
Springfield Royal Country Club
27 holes, 7000+ yards (each 18
holes), par 72(18)
Designed by Jack Nicklaus (1993)
Travel time: 25 minutes
Green fee: Rs 5,500
Imperial Lake View
36 holes, 14,191 yards, par 72
(each 18 holes).
Designed by Roger Packard
Travel time: 20 minutes
Green fee: Rs 3,600
Majestic Creek Country Club
18 holes, 6961 yards, par 72
Designed by Sukitti Klangvisai
Travel time: 30 minutes
Green fee: Rs 4,000
Palm Hills Resort and Country
18 holes, 6890 yards, par 72
Designed by Max Wexler (1991)
Travel time: 15 minutes
Green fee: Rs 3,600
Hua Hin Seoul Country Club
18 holes, 6614 yards, par 72
Designed by Robert McFarland
Travel time: 25 minutes
Green fee: Rs 1,400
Its easy getting a tan on Hua Hin's virgin beaches
Between holes, the club manager turns up and gives you insider information on the best restaurants in town and what to do in your free time once you're off the course. The entire machinery, is geared to take care of visiting golfers.
The digs in town cater to all budgets and you can get a decent room in town for as little as Rs 900 a night. If you're looking for something plusher, then check into the Sheraton, which is a 10-minute drive from the town centre, just off the newly-constructed main highway to Bangkok. The sea-facing hotel is a favourite with Indians, especially as a wedding venue.
The first tee at the Royal Hua Hin, Thailand's oldest course
The hotel has a great spa and packages for golfers starting at Rs 8200 (for a couple) a day. Our next stopover on the trip is the Imperial Beach Resort. It is a smaller, quieter property, nestled next to the sea and quite economical. The only barrier is language. But though few Thais speak English well, it's obvious that they've dealt with the impediment long enough to find ways around the problem. And they do that rather well by using whatever words they do know and using gestures to fill in the gaps.
Thailand's ace golfer Thongchai Jaidee at the 2011 Royal Trophy
At just over five hours in travelling time from New Delhi (and less from Mumbai), Hua Hin makes a compelling case as a destination for golfers. Even better, you needn't feel (or be subjected to) the guilt typically associated with a trip to Thailand: the clean beaches, a complete absence of sleaze (the Royal connection ensures that), and the best seafood Thailand has to offer make Hua Hin an easy proposition to sell even to your significant other.