Sports Bag: Pattaya golf at the crossroads?


Dear Golfnutter

I am writing in response to your recent article titled: “Pattaya – A Golfer’s Paradise?” published in the Pataya Mail on April 24.

Having been involved in the golf course construction business in Asia for over 25 years I have seen many different plans and schemes being tested with various degree of success.  You stated in your article that a manager of a local golf course here has been pushing for compulsory carts on all courses for some time.  His reasoning is that he can’t accept the disparity in golf revenues between Phuket and Pattaya, and is therefore encouraging his peers to use carts as one way to increase revenues.

In response to that let me say that if an owner of a golf course applied as true and honest a business plan to the running of a golf course as he/she does to any other businesses they own, they would not always be crying about not making enough money.  However, if they applied the same type of logic to their business that they do to the golf course they own they would quickly say goodbye to the business.  Try telling your customers you are not making as much as the guy in Phuket on your building supply business so you will be raising prices as much as 35% and see how long you stay profitable.

I would also like to point out that St. Andrews Golf Course in Rayong has compulsory carts and it is a very hilly course that simply can become too slow if walkers are allowed.  It is two players sharing a cart.  Interestingly the sister course to St. Andrews, Green Valley does not require carts and if you choose, it is two players to the cart.  Plantation is another very hilly and tough walking course.  If the terrain is extremely difficult it only makes sense to make carts compulsory and allow two golfers per cart.

Golf however has always been a walking sport.  Myself and many of my golfing friends walk as a form of exercise and I will not play a course that demands cart use unless the terrain is too difficult as mentioned earlier.  As an idea, how about courses being a bit more creative and going back to the earlier times in Thailand where carts were run by an outside agency.  25 years ago there were a few courses that let out the golf cart rental business to outsiders as the owners did not think it was worth the costs to keep and maintain a large fleet.  Today, EZ Go and many of the other manufacturers are running their own leasing programs so the course owner does not have to invest large sums.  Lease a small number in the beginning and increase according to demand.  Pure choice for everyone!

I would also question the notion you brought up that local golf courses are banking on Asian tour groups to keep them afloat.  In my early days building golf courses in Thailand around the late 1980s and early 90s, the question circulating most was who was going to play all these courses when you need close to 50,000 rounds per year to run a top level course?  This comes to about 35 4-balls per day.  Weekends and Holidays this can be done.  Weekdays with a two to three hour drive from BKK made it impossible.  The standard answer was “do you know it is cheaper for a Japanese player to fly to Thailand and play golf for a week than it would be if he could get on a course at home”.  Fine, I would not argue that, but how many come?  Every course banked on the same persons.

I would say that the recent case of Phoenix Golf Club is another example of prior and correct planning in any business being an essential requirement.  Rather than deliberately going out to alienate the local farang golfers in favour of Asian tour groups, I think the new owners just never expected the total loss of daily play that their actions subsequently brought on.  Again, with proper due diligence and a complete and honest business plan, maybe many of the problems there could have been averted.

I have been playing three or four different courses around Pattaya since the Phoenix “crisis” started and except for a few weeks of large Korean groups, I see no evidence of the Asian influx you describe.  Chinese golfers are around but not yet known as big spenders while the Japanese golfers much prefer the Bangkok area.

Also I honestly cannot imagine top courses in the area such as Siam, Laem Chabang and Burapha ever allowing the two to three month Korean invasion of their courses regardless of green fees.  These groups bring their own teachers, tie up the driving range and practice facilities for hours on end, demand playing two rounds per day and bring their own food and refreshments.  Top level courses will never allow this to happen.   Day trippers yes, long term groups, no.

Yours faithfully

Bob Neylon