The Buddhism of Thailand is an eclectic faith, borrowing freely from neighboring cultures. One of those borrowed concepts is feng shui, the Chinese emphasis on design that promotes harmony and serenity between people and their environments. The influence of feng shui is beautifully evident at Thai Country Club, a golf course about an hour outside Bangkok. It's one of the top courses in Thailand. But it would be one of the top courses just about anywhere in the world.
That's not surprising, given that Thai Country Club is a joint venture between a wealthy and well-connected Thai family, the Phataraprasits, and the Chinese company that operates the famed Peninsula hotel chain, a chain renowned for luxury and meticulous service. It's a successful hybrid that combines the best features of the two cultures.
The feng shui at Thai C.C. begins with its conditioning. The fairways and tees, which have a grass called Seashore Paspalum, are immaculate playing surfaces. The greens are Tifeagle. They have grain, but they roll true. The same attention given to the turf is lavished on the plants and trees that trim the course. They're clipped and molded to compliment the curves of the fairways and greens. The design, by Denis Griffiths, is a gentle one. Contours have of course been shaped on ground that probably once held fields of rice. But the work was done subtly. The result is a course that, while less than twenty years old, looks mature and mellow.
The course achieves a certain harmony with nature. Heron and egrets fly gracefully over its ponds. You might even see a five-foot Thai lizard, its forked tongue flickering from its mouth, waddle across a fairway and into a pond. On many holes, contraptions made from green buckets dangle from trees. They are, I was told, artificial habitats to encourage the presence of bats, which come out at night and devour bugs. I didn't look into any of the buckets, so I can't say for sure that they hold bats, but I also noticed that even though it was a hot, humid day in the tropics, I didn't need insect repellent.
I did, however, need to hit pretty good shots. Thai C.C. isn't a course that challenges the player with long forced carries and enormous bunkers, but it's no pushover, either. From the back tees it can stretch to 7097 yards with a respectable slope rating of 133. From the whites, it's 6034 yards with a slope of 122. The course has hosted occasional professional tournaments, including the Asian Honda Classic in 1997, won by Tiger Woods, and the Johnnie Walker Super Tour of 1998, won by Vijay Singh. If you believe that one criterion of course quality is the quality of the winners who emerge when the course hosts a competition, Thai C.C. deserves respect.
When it's set up for member play, with broad fairways and forgiving rough, pars are not hard to come by. But bad shots are penalized, either by bunkers or the numerous water hazards on the layout. Missing a green can leave an awkward chip, and it's best to stay below the hole. Downhill, down-grain putts are slippery.
The par threes at Thai C.C. are an impressive collection, each with a water hazard for the golfer to negotiate. I particularly liked the beautiful third hole, a mid-iron hole with a back pin location on a segment of green perilously close to a lake.
In other countries, a course like this could, I suppose, be a little stuffy. Thai C.C. members are mainly Bangkok businessmen, both Thai and expats from Asia and the West. (The course is open to visitor play, with rates ranging from about $100 to about $200, depending on the season and the day of the week. Golf packages are available to guests of the Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok.)
But I found the ambience at Thai C.C. to be relaxed and happy, thanks largely to the caddies. Like many Asian clubs, Thai C.C. employs uniformed women caddies in coveralls and enormous bonnets that protect their faces from the sun. There are clubs where the caddies are polite and smiling, but they greet their golfers with bowed heads and hands pressed together. At Thai C.C., not so much.
The Thai C.C. caddies, who drive the carts, rake the bunkers and read the greens, are a giggly, happy bunch. They don't mind rolling their eyes if they're stuck waiting behind a slow group, and they'll give a player a light punch on the bicep to celebrate a good shot. Waiting for a tee to clear, they flop down under a palm tree and chat with one another. I suspect that if I spoke any Thai, I would have heard a good joke or two.
Even without speaking Thai, or playing particularly well, I left the course happy. That's what good feng shui will do.