Twenty years ago, I saw Tiger there,” says Setaphan Buddhani, a local golfer who has been playing at the oldest club in Thailand—the Royal Hua Hin GC—for over two decades. Buddhani points to an area of thick undergrowth behind one of the greens on the front nine. “Really?” responds a perplexed member of our group, adding, “I know his mother’s Thai, but I didn’t realise he’d been playing here since he was so young!” “No, no,” says Buddhani in exasperation. “I don’t mean Tiger Woods; I saw (a) real tiger there!”
Not hard to imagine. Royal Hua Hin, which opened in the 1920s, is still surrounded by a lush verdant forest and has a very old-style parkland feel to it. We’re exploring golf courses in Hua Hin, the small resort town on the west coast of the Gulf of Thailand, which has, over the past couple of years, become the tropical country’s hottest golf destination.
Hua Hin is Thailand’s oldest seaside holiday town. It’s been the preferred haunt of the royal family since the latter part of the 19th century, and has several palaces built by erstwhile kings. Both King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current monarch, and Queen Sirikit now mainly reside at their summer palace in Hua Hin, called ‘Klai Kangwon’ (‘far from worries’). In the 1980s, the town saw a development boom catering mainly to affluent Thais from Bangkok. The first to come up were condominiums along the seafront, and then came the golf courses.
The jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the Black Mountain course, designed by Australian Phil Ryan and the scene of this year’s dramatic capitulation by the Asian team to their European counterparts on the final day of the Ryder Cup-styled Royal Trophy. Set in the shadow of the Black Mountain, and dominated by rocky outcrop, this is one of the newest additions in the area (it opened in 2007). Black Mountain is a modern layout characterised by large greens and peppered with bunkers (highlighted by red pampas grass, very common on courses in Thailand).
Among Black Mountain’s features are rock faces set in to the mountains, and natural creeks that run through the course. The par-3 11th is Ryan’s signature hole: it has a green cradled by a wall of white stones and protected by an expanse of water. The course also has dramatic elevation changes, which make for interesting tee shots,