[This piece is from Sept. 27, 2010. See more of Hal’s writing at his website, Small-Batch Journalism & Comment]
It’s impossible to discuss Thai golf without offering some manner of cost-benefit analysis.
Eighteen holes at Chiang Mai Highlands or Banyan Golf Club will run you about $75, plus a caddie fee of $10. Green fees are a bit more expensive around Bangkok and Phuket, a bit less expensive in Pattaya and Hua Hin — but you’ll never pay more than $100 a round, which stands in stark contrast to resort green fees in North American golfing hubs.
The equation as it relates lodging is perhaps more revealing. Forget about golf for a moment: Thailand is the premier holiday destination for Asians, full stop. As such, the hotel stock here is enormous, diverse, and features all the brands you recognize and trust (Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton, etc), plus a few more you should get to know (Anantara, The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental). Yet most 5-star rooms don’t exceed $150, especially as part of golf packages, and you can find very functional lodgings for less than $50 a night, if you so choose.
Our tour operator, Golfasian (golfasian.com) booked all our golf and hotels, plus a driver and van to ferry us back and forth. Our boutique hotel in Chiang Mai, The DeNaga, is an example of the high lodging standard in Thailand. Though technically a 4-star lodging (due to its lack of a full-size pool and conference facilities), it was nothing short of elegant with spacious rooms, great service and free, dependable WiFi (Fact: Starting at midnight one evening, I conducted an entire, 3.5-hour fantasy basketball draft via Skype from my room at the DeNaga, without incident). Our rooms there were but $100 a night.
It’s true that airfare to Thailand can run anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500. Yet over the course of a week, the savings on golf and lodgings in Thailand dwarf whatever premium international air travel to Bangkok might be, when compared to domestic U.S. airfare. One must ask himself this, too: How much does it cost to eat and drink in Phoenix, in Myrtle Beach, in Palm Springs? The average cost of a first-class meal in Thailand is no more than $12 per person; beers are $2 apiece. Double or triple those figures for almost any North American golf destination. Over the course of 7-10 days, that really adds up.
In Thailand? Not so much.
We could compare the world-renowned nightlife in Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket to the nightlife in Phoenix, Myrtle Beach or Palm Springs. But that’s hardly a fair fight, and not so much a matter of dollars and cents. More like night and day.