Golf in the Kingdom
Navatanee has been a major player on the Thai golf scene for over thirty years. But has its standing as one of the country’s best courses been supplanted by the slew of modern courses that have emerged in recent times? We investigate. Navatanee Golf Course Yardage: 6,906. Par: 72 Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr (1973) Khet Kannavao, Bangkok Tel: +66 (0)2-376-1034-6 Website: www.navatanee.com Greens Fee: 2,500-3,000 Baht
By the region’s standards, Navatanee, a Robert Trent Jones, Jr design some thirty minutes from the centre of Bangkok, is a pensioner. Opened for play in 1973, the course was purpose built to host the World Cup of Golf in 1975, which was won comfortably by the US pairing of Johnny Miller and Lou Graham. That tournament’s impact on Thai golf is significant: at a time when 42
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Compared to other courses close to the capital, Navatanee doesn’t get a huge amount of play, which normally bodes well in terms of conditioning. On our visit, the Bermuda grass greens were running at around nine on the stimpeter and were generally smooth. The fairways, while perfectly playable, were far from immaculate however. Although recent drainage work has cut recovery time from heavy downpours significantly, the course did appear a little scruffy around the edges; the amount of fairway grass deemed GUR was somewhat alarming and not in keeping with a course which has this kind of reputation.
the Land of Smiles was known throughout the world mainly for its proximity to the Vietnam War, the success of the World Cup has been credited with igniting local interest in the game, that in turn triggered the investment boom in the 1980s and 90s. Regularly featured highly in magazine polls of the country’s finest courses, Navatanee operated a strict members only policy until fairly recently, but the club now welcomes visitors on weekdays.
Chirpy, bright and fun, Navatanee’s caddies know their trade very well. Although none looks old enough to have been caddying since the course’s opening thirty five years ago, they are undoubtedly experienced. Trust their guidance on the slippery greens: we neglected to take their advice early on and were made to look more than a little silly. They can read grain, which is something we obviously cannot. Carts are mandatory for visitors, which is a shame because come the winter months it would a very enjoyable course to walk.
Although the club is located within the city limits, it certainly doesn’t feel as if it is. Some traffic can be heard in a couple of corners of the course, but otherwise it is more akin to strolling through gentle tropical parkland. Those who are excited by the modern design concepts of vast water hazards and flashy bunkering might not immediately take to Navatanee. Like the majority of courses situated around the Thai capital, Navatanee is generally flat; but unlike, say, Thai Country Club or Amata Spring (two excellent private members’ clubs on the fringes of the city), its features are far more subtle in nature. Mature Rosewood trees and great swathes of colourful Bougainvilea flank many of the generous landing areas, while the bunkering is refreshingly modest; neither especially deep nor excessively penal, the traps here, although thoughtfully placed, don’t cause too much concern for the recreational golfer. Where water is used, its placement is purely strategic. The greens, while not outrageously contoured, feature enough movement (and grain) to keep things interesting. In terms of memorability, the sixth—a classic par-four that asks for a dangerpacked approach over a lotus-filled pond—and the ninth—a meaty par-five that wraps its way around a lake in front of the sprawling low-rise clubhouse—score highly. WWW.HKGA.COM
Large and functional, although the locker rooms are somewhat dated and could do with a revamp. The main restaurant serves up a wide variety of local and Japanese dishes (a necessity given the large number of northern Asian members), and an expansive covered veranda overlooking the ninth green is an agreeable spot to relax with a flagon or two of Singha beer. It wouldn’t appear to be the most popular of hangouts however. We played on a Saturday afternoon and by 7pm the whole place was dead.
No complaints whatsoever. The staff was friendly, helpful and eager to please us mere visitors. No snotty indifference to our needs was noted.
So, how does Navata nee ra n k among Thailand’s f inest courses? Is i t w o r t hy o f i t s perennial placing among the country’s top-10, or has its sta nd i ng sl ipped since the days when it was the only show in town? Well, it’s a tricky one. It’s clear that the club hangs on to its World Cup con ne c t ion w it h something close to desperation—every logo, sign, banner, menu , beer mat , chopstick, souvenir towel and pitchmark repair tool boasts the words “World Cup 1975.” There’s nothing really wrong with that of course, but to some this branding might suggest a club stuck in the past, unwilling or unable to move on from its fifteen minutes of fame nearly thirty-five years ago. The Navatanee of 2008 is still a fine course, but one in need of a little surgery. A nip here, a tuck there—that’s all it takes. We shall return.
Bangkok Delight (clockwise from top): Navatanee's caddies and the club's "Rolls Royce" golf cart; visitors can't fail to notice the number of references to the 1975 World Cup; the testing sixth, one of the best par-fours on the course; fairway in bloom. WWW.HKGA.COM
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Course Report CADDIES VERDICT SERVICE Navatanee Golf Course Yardage: 6,906. Par: 72 Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr (1973) Khet Kannavao,...