The first, and most important lesson, for itinerant golfers teeing it up at the latest addition to Pattaya’s golfing firmament—the Chee Chan GC—is not to swear. Come to think of it, that would probably hold true anywhere in Thailand—the Thais are gentle folk who don’t talk loudly in public, let alone cuss—but it’s especially true at this gorgeous new layout in Pattaya’s Silverlake suburb. Dominating the otherwise flat skyline in this region, is the magnificent Chee Chan Mountain, that, on its rocky north face, has been inscribed with a larger-than-life image of the Buddha. Officially known as the Phra Phuttha Maha Wachira Uttamopat Satsada, the image was created back in 1996 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession on the throne. Carved out of the rock using lasers and inlaid with golf leaf that glistens in the sun, the 130-metre high and 70-metre wide image is one of the largest Buddha images in the world.
Subliminally, the image, omnipresent, and visible from very nearly every hole at the newly-opened Chee Chan GC, exerts a calming influence as you take to the course—a feeling that’s accentuated by the cool breeze that blows in from bays on either side of the course that sits like an amphitheatre in the middle. On its periphery Chee Chan GC is ringed by tall limestone karsts (cliffs): the holes that play towards the perimeter rise up to the base of these cliffs and are followed by holes that play back down to the middle.
It’s a well-balanced layout, with no overwhelming artificial features, or over-contoured fairways, with the Buddha image taking centrestage. Perhaps the most crucial innovation has to do with the grass on the fairways: the hardy, yet carpet-like Zoysia has been used on the fairways across the layout to great effect while the greens are sod with the more traditional Tifdwarf.
This happens to be the first course designed by Golfplan—Dale & Ramsey Golf Course Architects—that I’ve had the opportunity to play. I was reminded, on more than one occasion of Ronald Fream, the well-regarded course designer, and in particular two of his layouts—the New Kuta GC in Bali and the Sentosa GC in Singapore. Not so surprising when you consider than Fream, David Dale and Kevin Ramsey worked together for many years. The visual aesthetic—grand and imposing without being intimidating—and the lack of say, one outstanding signature hole—is very Fream-like. And that’s a good thing, because Chee Chan GC has a collection of spectacular holes, rather than a couple of superlative ones. On the very first hole, facing the Buddha, you take a call on whether to hit a safe drive to the lower landing area on the right, and follow it up with a long approach over deep bunkers, or alternatively, take up the challenge to fly the bunkers off the tee to attack an unguarded pin on the second. Holes five, six, 11, 14 and 17 play towards the mountain; the 11th and 17th holes also give a glimpse of a Wat (temple) on an adjoining hillside. It can be a bit distracting, all the prettiness, and there’s no doubt that awareness of the image of the Buddha, makes you bite your tongue every time you flub a shot or miss a gimme.
Speaking only for myself though, a self-enforced moratorium on profanity seemed to work wonders for the temperament. I didn’t quite make the right choices when it came to course strategy at the Chee Chan GC, and paid for that by shooting very nearly twice my handicap. And yet, I felt no angst, or the coming on of a dark mood (as is wont to be the case after a bad scoring round). For that, I think I would give credit to the Buddha at Chee Chan, under whose watchful eye, I disovered something akin to the ‘Middle Path’, —a level-headedness, that has eluded me in the past.
Chee Chan GC is at the upper end of the premium spectrum of golf courses in Thailand, putting it in the same league as, say, the Black Mountain GC in Hua Hin, or the Suwan GC outside Bangkok. Expect to pay THB 4000 on weekdays and THB 5000 on weekends, and another THB 1200 for the caddy and cart. It’s always a good idea to carry your own clubs, but in case you’re not, then rental clubs (TaylorMade M4s) can be hired for THB 2000 per set. Your columnist flew a new budget carrier: Nokskoot’s business class tickets are about as dear as premium economy seats of full-service airlines, and the extra baggage allowance usually translates into no extra cartage costs for clubs. In any case, as far as I’m concerned, Thailand is by far my favourite golf destination in this part of the world, and is probably the only place that I would not mind warming the cheap seats for a golf trip.
That was last week; as you read this I’m probably poring over last night’s third-round coverage of the on-going PGA Championship—the second Major of 2019. As I write this, Tiger Woods has missed the cut, and Brooks Koepka looks like he’s poised to dominate the men’s game much like Woods did back in the day. At 12-under-par, Koepka, has set the 36-hole record for Major Championships and leads the trailing duo of Jordan Speith and Adam Scott by no less than seven strokes. Koepka won this event last year quite convincingly, and, I for one won’t be betting against him defending his title in 2019.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game