This is intended to be the definitive guide for golf newbies – golfers new to Thailand and Pattaya in particular. This, the first of a two-part article, attempts to cover most things the newbie needs to know prior to arriving at the course. The second article in the series will appear next week and cover course-related matters, post-course happenings and costs. This is not about how to hit a golf ball. Rather, it’s about all those things you need to have in place before, during and after your first game in Thailand.
Welcome: The first point to grasp is that the great majority of golf venues, often referred to as golf outlets or societies, are keen to meet new golfers and have them play with their group, whatever their nationality, gender or handicap. Golf in Pattaya is set up for the visitor, whether they intend returning or not. Newbies, be they single or part of a group, will be welcomed.
New to our golfing scene?
Venues tend to play on the same day each week, with some opting for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Others will opt for Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so on. Weekend play is also catered for, but will be more expensive due to increased green-fees.
Clubhouse: Most golf venues are run out of bars which fulfil the role of “clubhouse”. It is here that golfers will sign-up on preceding days by adding their name to a list, usually portrayed on the bar’s notice board. The sign-up sheet should advise the course, date and time of play, and ETD of transport. It should also give the name and phone number of the golf organiser.
Some golf bars are owned by the golf organiser, some are not. Successful golfing venues need a clubhouse, ideally one that provides food and drink along with a warm and welcoming ambiance. Bars need custom. This marriage of convenience works well, provided golfers make some use of clubhouse facilities and services. And in so doing golfers will experience one of the highlights of playing golf in Thailand; meeting and mixing with an assortment of individuals from different countries and cultures. This melting pot of people, all sharing a common love of golf, can provide the highlight of one’s golfing day.
Membership of a golf “club”, i.e. a venue or outlet, implies some sort of affiliation. If you are not prepared to partake in the most basic of courtesies, such as being part of the presentation and enjoying a post-round chat with your fellow golfers, then do the venue a favour and stay in your closet. Whilst there, you can arrange your own playing group and transport, negotiate your green-fee rate and draw up your own local rules.
Golfers will usually meet the organiser at the bar on golfing days to confirm their entry (pay) and organise transport. Most venues meet from 0800 onwards, and plan to leave circa 0830-0930. Beware, TIT; times could change. Ninety five per cent of courses are situated within one hour’s easy drive.
Venues: With well over twenty-plus golf venues to choose from, the newbie is spoilt for choice. Most outlets are affiliated with either the IPGC or PSC. These organisations have their own website which lists their venues/outlets by name and location. Both organisations administer golf in accordance with the Rules of Golf, run a recognised handicap system and publish their own Local Rules. Whilst the focus is on the competition of the day (predominately single stableford), it is not mandatory to enter.
The IPGC and PSC also negotiate significantly discounted green-fees for their members. Membership is around 500 baht pa, which is usually offset by the size of green-fee discount received after just one round.
There are other well patronised outlets including the Traveller’s Rest, which, like the above, is a full-service provider. And more still that are not full-service providers in that they do not administer handicaps nor maintain Local Rules. Some of these offer non-competitive golf only.
Finally, there are organisations that do golf tour “packages”, who manage to attract business locally and from customers booking their holiday from outside of Thailand.
Bangpra Golf Club – one of the many fine golfing venues within 1 hour’s drive from Pattaya.
When selecting which venue or outlet to join, the newbie need not be guided by location. Simply choosing a venue because their bar is next to one’s accommodation ignores the fact that most of central Pattaya is very accessible, even with golf clubs in tow. Once local transport is understood and appreciated for what it is – easily accessed and cheap – then closeness of venue to accommodation becomes less important.
When choosing their preferred option, newbies should, in my view, select the venue that has a welcoming clubhouse – bar – and treats golf sufficiently seriously that it showcases its product on a prominent noticeboard, issues Local Rules and supports a recognised handicapping system. Next in my priority would be the perceived friendliness of my fellow golfers and the competence of the organiser. Last is the ease with which my initial introduction is completed. Of course the main criteria will soon become which venue offers the best overall value-for-money-experience, but as a newbie I won’t know that until I join up and play the various courses.
Total membership of IPGC and PSC runs well into the thousands (a factor not lost on courses during green-fee negotiations). IPGC’s handicapping system is CONGU based, whilst PSC runs the USGA’s handicap system. Both organisations are well run, providing their venues with the support needed to provide golf administration, manage course playing rights and green-fee discounts. Both regularly offer tournament play inviting participation from their member outlets. Both support local charities. Upon joining through one outlet, the golfer is free to play from any other member outlet, of that organisation. Both recognise the other’s handicap system.
The average turnout for a day’s golf from venues belonging to either of these organisations can vary from say 10 to 30 in low-season and 25 to 60 in high-season.
Handicap: Although it is not mandatory to join the day’s comp, venues that abide by the Rules of Golf will provide for competition golf. As such, satisfactory proof of a handicap from a recognised authority is required by reputable outlets. If this is not available, then golfers are asked to return cards from three rounds played with the same outlet, before a handicap is issued. If the venue does not insist on satisfactory proof of handicap, choosing for example to simply take your word, you should be worried, very worried.
Venues worth the newbie’s custom should be able to provide a schedule of where and when they are playing (visible on a noticeboard within the bar), be able to lay on transport, and give an accurate assessment as to cost.
Comp and transport costs: When turning up on the actual day of play, allow a minimum of 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, more if you’re planning on having breakfast. On meeting the golf organiser, expect to pay circa 500-700 baht, depending upon the venue. This is to cover transport costs to and from the course and competition fees which will probably include a ‘2’s competition.
Playing groups are organised into four-balls with the daily competition usually based upon single stableford. Occasional variations include par, pairs, scramble and medal competitions.
If playing numbers warrant, the organiser will split the field into equal divisions, determined by handicap. A field of 30, for example, may see 15 players with a handicap of, say, 15 and under compete in div 1, the remainder in div 2. Three divisions are not uncommon. Prize money from competition fees is divided equally amongst the podium finishers of each division. The ‘2’s comp and other technical prizes may also be subject to divisional split.
Playing partners: In the absence of any request, the organiser will probably place you in a group of similar ability (handicap). Other factors he may take into account include whether you are walking or carting, nationality, transport requirements and post-round activities.
Transport: Most venues will rely on a combination of private cars and minivans. The cars are owned by fellow golfers, the minivans usually by a local Thai operator. Minivans are capable of taking up to 10 golfers plus bags. The organiser will pay the van driver a fixed amount whether the van takes six or ten people. No-shows – people whose names were on the sign-up sheet who stated they required transport – who don’t turn up, will incur a direct cost against the organiser. If your circumstances change such that you can’t make it, advise the organiser beforehand, even if it’s on the morning concerned. Don’t, under any circumstance other than incarceration or death, be a no-show!
Items in your bag should include water and a hand-towel. Some courses are a bit remiss in that they will close an on-course watering-hole (refreshment shop) without notice. This could mean going nine holes without liquid refreshment. Keep a bottle of water tucked away, just in case.
Depending upon your physical condition, the towel becomes a necessity around Mar/Apr/May. This is the “hot and humid” season, whereby sweat will be constantly dripping, or in some cases pouring from your forehead, every time you play a shot. To those of you not used to playing in the tropics, beware it is not so much the temperature that will get to you, but the humidity. Many an expat has taken more than one disbelieving unprepared newbie to hospital, after collapsing on the course. Water and a towel are the bare minimum.
Money: sounds obvious eh? I mean money in small denominations, like plenty of one-hundred and twenty baht notes for use on the course. It has always amazed me as to how little change the on-course shops carry – about the same as motor-bike taxis, which is none. And don’t expect your caddie to have change when paying her tip.
Change of clothing. This is a basic necessity, no matter the time of year. I recommend you purchase a golf bag designed to carry golf shoes and a change of clothes – any of the many golf retailers will sell these. All courses have showers and provide soap, shampoo, towel and other toiletries as part of the green-fee. Beware, only a few provide sun-screen.
Many, perhaps most venues offer clubs for hire. You will obviously need golf shoes – metal spikes not allowed on most courses – and balls, plenty of them. Many courses have roadside golf-ball shops positioned nearby. It is a good idea to stock up with these cheap, pre-loved versions than to pay top baht for new ones. Most transport will oblige with a brief stop, especially if water is a major feature of your destination, which invariably it will be.
Next week: On-course matters, post-course happenings and cost.