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GOLF TRAVEL A Player’s Guide

WHERE TO PLAY BLACK MOUNTAIN HHHH Richard Castka/Sportpixgolf.com

This five-year-old course, a 25-minute drive from the centre of town, has received a lot of hype, thanks in part to its twice-hosting of the Black Mountain Masters, an Asian Tour event, and last year’s Royal Trophy, the annual Asia versus Europe Ryder Cup-style tournament. Swedish star Johann Edfors owns a villa here, as does Simon Yates, the Scottish touring pro. And to be frank, the hype is well and truly justified. This is a high quality venue, one that is kept in mind-blowing condition year-round. While some of the routing is a little contrived – the mountainous terrain the developers had to work with isn’t exactly perfectly suited to golf – there are a great many fun and fabulous holes out here, particularly on the scenic back nine, which rises and plunges constantly. The surprising thing about Black Mountain – and one of the keys behind its popularity among recreational players – is its playability. A number of large man-made 64

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Heavenly Hua Hin Home to Thailand’s oldest course and now two of its most notable layouts, this increasingly popular beach resort, situated 140 miles to the south of Bangkok, has well and truly taken to golf. Alex Jenkins checks out the best of the bunch

lakes make this Phil Ryan design look a lot more menacing than it really is. The landing areas are wide, the greens large, receptive and not ridiculously contoured, while the rough is kept to a minimum. Not everyone will immediately take to it perhaps – the purists out there may not appreciate a few of the more ornamental features, such as the sculptured rock creation and babbling brook fronting the second green – but the majority will salivate over Black Mountain’s lush landscaping, superlative views and five-star clubhouse – and will undoubtedly do so for years to come. Black Mountain Golf Club YARDAGE: 6,881 PAR: 72 Designed by Phil Ryan/Pacific Coast Design Contact: bmghuahin.com Getting there:25mins from Hua Hin HKGOLFER.COM

Idyllic Setting: The par-three eighth at Black Mountain HK Golfer・AUG 2011

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BANYAN HHHH

Occupying one of the greatest sites in Thai golf, Banyan is a magnificently natural layout, one that this correspondent hopes to play time and time again. Built over a former pineapple plantation, the front nine here thunders across relatively open country, while the closing stretch plays through a series of particularly lovely and heavily vegetated valleys. Mot her Nat u re cou ld have been credited with its design, but Banyan was in fact the work of Piraporn Namatra, the young Thai architect who made a name for himself after somehow carving out the spectacular – and seriously mountainous – Santiburi course on Koh Samui. Namatra’s reputation has only increased since Banyan opened three years ago – and rightly so. His routing is sublime, the green complexes have been particularly well thought out and he’s been kind enough to leave enough width on the longer holes in order for recreational golfers to open their shoulders. Signature hole honours at Banyan have been given to the 15th, a short downhill par-three with views across the Gulf of Thailand, but quite honestly, there is quality laced right through this course. Unlike most of the tracks in the region, Banyan uses local Zoysia grass on its fairways, which has proved to the right call; the turf is firm but you seldom get a

tight or “skinny” lie. It is a delightful surface to play from. Although the course is part of a larger real estate and resort concern, playing Banyan does give you a wonderful sense of seclusion. Unlike at Black Mountain, where the residential villas are in full view from many parts of the course, Banyan’s residences are located further afield … indeed, the only property you see, aside from the tasteful clubhouse, is a cliff-top home inhabited by monks. Banyan Golf Club YARDAGE: 7,361 PAR: 72 Designed by Piraporn Namatra/Golf East Contact: banyanthailand.com Getting there: 20mins from Hua Hin

SPRINGFIELD ROYAL HHHH

Before Black Mountain and Banyan arrived on the scene, Springfield was the place to play in Hua Hin. An unmistakable Jack Nicklaus design, which features more than its fair share of water and vast sandy waste areas, this gently undulating track benefits from an excellent routing and generally well maintained playing surfaces. Thanks largely to generous fairways, Springfield is very playable for all standards of golfer. The course is part of an all-encompassing resort (note the kiddies water park), which also includes a hotel and spa. A third loop of nine, designed by the prolific Schmidt-Curley firm, was added in 2005, but it isn't, in this writer's opinion at any rate, as scenic or fun to play as the original 18 holes. A busy team of on-course marshals keep the pace of play at Springfield to bearable levels. Springfield Royal Country Club YARDAGE: 7,043 PAR: 72 Designed by Jack Nicklaus Contact: springfieldresort.com Getting there: 25mins from Hua Hin

Alex Jenkins

Natural High: The demanding 10th hole at Banyan (right); the club's off-course facilities are top-class 66

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Royal Hua Hin Golf Club YARDAGE: 6,678 PAR: 72 Designed by OA Robins Contact: (66) 32 512-475 Getting there: Five minutes from Hua Hin

BEST OF THE REST

ROYAL HUA HIN HHH

The oldest course in Thailand, this is a charming little track that has stood the test of time admirably. Founded in 1924 and built by a group of Scottish railway engineers (the original Hua Hin station is situated next to the clubhouse), the course relies on its relative tightness off the tee to keep low scoring at bay. Mature trees line the fairways, which rise and fall constantly, following the natural topography of the land. The course’s higher points allow for ocean views, while a traditional Thai temple forms an almost fairytale-like backdrop at the 14th hole, a picturesque par-three. Turf conditions have been known to vary, however – RHH gets a little scruffy around the edges at times – but strangely, this only adds to its appeal. Not a great deal has changed in the 87 years the course has been open and as a result, RHH contrasts wonderfully with the newer crop of courses in and around the town.

Straight driving is required at Majestic Creek Country Club, a nicely presented course featuring plenty of water and mature vegetation, a 40-minute drive from town. The newlyopened Sea Pine Golf Course, an Army-owned affair, is one of the few courses close to Hua Hin that actually plays down by the coast and features a thrilling finish and stunning ocean vistas. Palm Hills Golf Club was the first of Hua Hin’s modern breed of courses to open in the early 1990s and is still worth a visit, thanks to its convenient location, just a few minutes from the majority of hotels and resorts, and pristine greens, which are considered among the fastest in the land.

WHERE TO STAY

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation options in Hua Hin – there are myriad hotels to suit every taste and budget here. One of the standouts of those that fall within the luxury bracket is the Hyatt Regency (huahin. regency.hyatt.com), a beautifully landscaped lowrise resort occupying 16 acres of lush tropical gardens and lagoons. The Hyatt’s rooms and suites are immaculately presented – as is the hotel’s award-winning Barai Spa, a must-visit for anyone in need of pampering. But one of its biggest advantages over other resorts in the area is its access to sand and sea. The Hyatt’s 200-metre long beach front is the longest of

any hotel in Hua Hin. Another choice worth considering is the heritage-rich Sofitel Centara Grand Resort & Villas (sofitel.com), a colonialstyle property situated within an easy walk of the town centre.

WHEN TO GO

Hua Hin is one of the driest spots in Thailand, and even during the so-called "Wet Season" from July to October, mid-afternoon showers are generally short lived. The ideal golfing time is winter, from November through February, which experiences very little rainfall and is considerably cooler than the early summer months. Turf conditions are generally at their best during this time.

Richard Castka/Sportpixgolf.com (Black Mountain)

GETTING THERE

The Hong Kong to Bangkok air route is one of the busiest in the world and a plethora of carriers, including Cathay Pacific and Thai Airways, fly between the cities numerous times a day. It's a three-hour drive from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport to the heart of Hua Hin – but try to avoid travelling on the first day of a public holiday, when Bangkok's notorious traffic bleeds out on to the southern expressway, increasing the journey time significantly. Hua Hin is also served by regular trains from the Thai captial, but with clubs in tow this might not be the most convenient mode of transport.

Thai Treat (clockwise from top left): The signature 15th hole at Banyan (top); the wonderful Hyatt Regency Hua Hin; the second hole at Black Mountain, a sumptuous par-five 68

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NEED TO KNOW

While booking rounds directly through the golf courses themselves is not usually too much of an ordeal, various tour operators offer tailor-made packages including hotels and land transfers. Bangkok-based Golfasian.com comes highly recommended. As in China, tipping your caddie at the end of the round is expected at the vast majority of clubs in Thailand. The amount is of course up to you, but THB300-500 for 18 holes is considered the norm.

The 2012 Hyatt Open For those wanting to experience Banyan Golf Club under the pressures of tournament play, consider planning a trip to Hua Hin around the popular Hyatt Open, a 36-hole stroke play tournament held every summer. The 2012 event is scheduled for July 21-22, which is when the final two rounds of next year’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes will be played. The tournament, which is open to both men and women, attracts a large cosmopolitan field, with competitors’ handicaps ranging from scratch up to the maximum of 24. This being Thailand, there are a number of extravagant prizes on offer to the winners. The 2011 event was won last month by 15-year-old Oscar Odestal, a 10-handicapper from Sweden. Odestal (pictured) fired nett rounds of 65 and 69 to claim the title by a shot.

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