Pars, Parties and Ping Pong in Phuket
Last May I was invited, along with golf tour operators and journalists from around the planet, to the launch of , a collection of the top courses, hotels and resorts throughout Thailand.
Just minutes after landing at the Phuket Airport, we were teeing off at the Blue Canyon Country Club’s Canyon Course. Playing a round of golf here entails following in the footsteps of such legends as Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els as many of Asia’s top tournaments have been hosted on this lush course by Japanese designer Yoshikazu Kato.
Carved into the edge of a canyon, the fairways unfold across a verdant valley dotted with freshwater lakes. Number 13, the 390-yard signature hole, is also christened “The Tiger Hole” as Mr. Woods blasted 270 yards across the canyon from the black tees to the green.
My favourite is number 14, a drop-dead gorgeous par-three that plays onto an almost-island green in the shape of Thailand from hugely elevated tees.
Blue Canyon’s Lakes Course, also by Kato, features water on all but the 17th fairway. It’s a gentler test than the Canyon Course with gigantic greens and generous fairways.
In Asia, caddies are mandatory and almost all of them are women. If you’re a high roller, you can hire three—one to select and clean your clubs, one to carry a parasol and stool, and one to light your cigarettes and give shoulder massages. One caddie is really all you need. At Blue Canyon, my caddie told me to call her Lek. Soaking wet she probably weighed about 67 pounds. After a few holes she asked my age. “Fifty-something,” I mumbled and then hit a career drive. Lek clapped. “You very old but strong,” she noted. At the end of our round, she patted my butt and exclaimed, “Very healthy, madam.”
Not speaking another’s language, except for a few words, can sometimes be the most direct and honest way of expressing oneself—like it or not. By the end of the round Lek had remarked that I was fat-assed and ancient. For this I tipped her a few baht and headed to the palatial clubhouse for another addictive Thai massage
The new Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach Hotel proved to be a true cliffhanger. Somehow the architect managed to tuck 277 state-of-the-art rooms into a steep hill. Guests are transported around the resort and to nearby Naithon Beach by modified golf carts. I took a stroll along the beach strip and encountered droves of Russian tourists, who must find the Thai climate to be quite a change from their homeland
Kudos to the Pullman’s culinary team. The Italian restaurant serves authentic recipes and wood-fired pizzas. The breakfast buffet is well worth getting up for. You name it; they’ve got it—from mango smoothies to spicy Pho soup, omelet stations, French-style pastries and lattés that put Starbucks to shame
After a dip in the hotel’s dreamy infinity pool we were ready to tackle the Red Mountain Golf Club that bills itself as “the most exciting golf course in Phuket.” I might add the most dramatically beautiful and the best I’ve played in all of Thailand. Designed by Jon Morrow on what was a former tin mine, Red Mountain dips and dives to take full advantage of the dizzying elevation changes and red rock outcroppings. It’s a challenge but there are all sorts of risk and reward options along the 6,900 serpentine yards.
Natural waste bunkers, towering precipices, deep ravines and flooded gullies are all seamlessly integrated. And as you weave your way through Red Mountain, you are rewarded with panoramic views over Phuket before heading back down another gully lined with tropical forest. The elevation changes so drastically on this layout that golf carts are compulsory. Every aspect of Red Mountain ensures that players are captivated by the exciting diversity of play and the spectacular natural scenery.
The par-threes on Red Mountain are most memorable. The third requires a carry over what looks like an excavation zone; the spectacular signature 17th has elevated tees and a postage stamp green. Pick the right club and a birdie is yours.
After our round we spent the evening in Phuket’s party town, Patong. The rooftop Sky Lounge at The Kee Resort & Spa serves east-meets-west tapas and creative cocktails. Just a seven-iron away, the Bangla Road night market is choc-a-bloc with Go-Go bars and “ping pong” sex shows with such menu items as whistles, catfish, hamsters and bananas. Use your imagination.