For many years Thailand has been a popular destination for golfers, and with good reason, climate, courses and facilities are all excellent. There is a wealth of information available for visitors to research and we will not repeat it here. The vast majority of visitors play their golf near the main tourist centres such as Phuket, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Bangkok, but here we focus on North East Thailand (often referred to as Isaan), of which Khon Kaen is the centre, and the author’s personal observations (both good and not so good), having lived and played golf here for more than 5 years.
Climate. Thailand has a hot climate with 3 seasons known as hot, wet and cold. In Isaan the hot season (the time of maximum temperatures) is from February until June; the wet season (when it rains) from July until October; the cold season (when it is not so hot, relatively) from November until January. When you check the temperature for any particular month you should remember that they give ‘shade’ temperatures, out on the fairway they will be significantly higher. Do not be put off by the ‘wet season’, here in Khon Kaen it typically rains three or four times per week usually in the late afternoon, evening; if you play your golf in the morning (the best time anyway as it is a bit cooler) you are likely to stay dry, although not always. You need to dress appropriately for the hot conditions (see below) but ensure you have your head covered; I prefer a hat with wide brim but most seem to use ‘baseball caps’, so favoured by the professionals. Many people use their umbrellas to provide shade from the sun. Remember your sun screen; you will spend several hours out in full sun as you play your round. Finally make sure you take in plenty of liquids whilst on the course, you can get dehydrated very quickly.
Dress. Nearly all courses will have a dress code (similar to that found in the UK), some of which are strictly enforced, others less so. Shorts are allowed everywhere but they should be ‘reasonable’, do not turn up with the same shorts you would wear when you go to the beach. It is recommended you wear, what could be called, ‘polo’ shirts, the same as those usually worn by the professionals; T shirts are sometimes seen but are normally not acceptable. It has been known for a player to have turned up in a smart cotton type shirt (those which button all the way down the front) and been refused access to the course; unless they visit the pro’s shop and purchase the appropriate type of shirt. Golf shoes should have soft spikes although most courses will also accept people wearing trainers. In the club house casual wear is all that is required.
Courses. Detailed information on individual courses is given elsewhere. In common with many places both the standard of the course and the facilities provided will vary from excellent to adequate. All courses have plenty of ‘drinks’ stops’, usually every 3 holes or so, an essential in a hot climate; this means you can take in plenty of liquid during your round without having to fill the pockets of your golf bag. They will also have a pro’s shop where you can buy most of the basic golf accessories you may need, but they will not have the accompanying ‘professional’ that you may be used to. All courses also have a ’nineteenth’, again of varying standard. Not all courses have golf buggies available, check the detailed information if these are an essential requirement. In general it is not necessary to book a tee time, just turn up and play; however it is always worth checking that they do not have a competition on a particular day, or that they do not have a large group visiting at the time you want to visit. Courses in Isaan differ from what you may be used to in that they do not have ‘members’ associated with them, they all operate on a pay and play basis.
Caddies. With very few exceptions you will have to purchase the services of a caddie. In addition to paying a caddie fee you will also be expected to tip the caddie. Now don’t expect a course expert to accompany you on your round; in general the caddies are girls/women from the local villages who have never played golf, and their knowledge of English will be minimal. They do receive some training but I would not say they are fully up to speed with some of the finer points of golf. I do not necessarily blame the caddies for this, more the training they receive. Typically they can tell you distances and where the out of bounds is located, also any water hazards; on the green they will indicate the line of your putt, unfortunately they may do this by touching the green with their finger (see what I mean about the finer points). If you have the misfortune to visit a bunker, make sure they rake the bunker afterwards; sometimes this task does slip their mind. But do not get disheartened, they will always be pleasant, they will have an engaging smile and they will do their best to help you. As they gain more experience so they will improve, and remember if they do make a mistake it is probably not entirely their fault. Don’t get me wrong, it is not all bad news, some courses are better than others at training their caddies, and some caddies are better than others; most of all enjoy their company, even their lack of English can be the source of a good laugh.
Playing the course. In general you will enjoy your round at whichever course you are playing, however there are some situations which the falang (Thai word for ‘Westerner’) may encounter which will be different to that which you would normally expect and which you should be aware of. As you catch up to the group in front of you do not be surprised when you realise they are a 6 ball, this size of group is common among Thais (I even know of a course further afield that allows 7 balls). Obviously they will not be that quick, especially as they will probably be having a lot of side bets between themselves as they play. Hopefully they will let you through, but if you do encounter a problem get one of your caddies to phone the course marshal to resolve the situation. When playing your shot, groups on another fairway may not notice your presence and will continue with their local banter, either block your ears or wait until they do notice you. On the green the flags are likely to be colour-coded: red, pin is on the front third of the green; white, the middle third: yellow/orange, back third. Occasionally you may see a player using a ‘putting ball’ (a ball specifically used for putting) on the green, this practice is deemed acceptable over here. It is my belief that the locals over here really enjoy their golf but they treat it as a day out and tend not to rush; stopping for something to eat after 9 holes is not uncommon. Remember you are in Thailand, attitudes and practices are not necessarily the same as you would encounter back home, but that does not make them wrong. Given the choice it is always better to play on weekdays, as with most places the weekends tend to be busier. Whereas this section appears to be a list of problems it should be emphasised that these are situations you may encounter and that normally you will enjoy a relaxing round of golf. A great tip that is applicable to any situation in Thailand, not only the golf course, is do not lose your cool; if you show any outward signs of anger you are more likely to be ignored.
Away from the Course. The town of Khon Kaen is one of the largest in North East Thailand and considered the capital of Isaan. It has all the facilities and amenities that you would expect of a town of that size. Of course you will also experience what a lot of people would term ‘the real Thailand’; this is not an area of major tourism and therefore you will experience more of the natural Thai way of life and the culture that is unique to Isaan. More information about the town and surrounding areas can be found from the Tourist Authority of Thailand, or from the KhonKaen.com web site (click here for link) which specifically caters for expats who live in or visit Khon Kaen
In Conclusion. Golf in Isaan is highly recommended; yes there are differences, but that is what they are, differences. Whereas the cost of playing golf in the more popular areas has increased significantly over the years here in North East Thailand the cost is far more reasonable. Enjoy.