Living just outside New York City, and without the funds necessary to join a private club, playing a round of golf on a public course can be a frustrating experience. There have been wars fought in a shorter amount of time than it takes to get a round in at the local Jersey muni.
That's why on a recent trip to Thailand (that's me on the left, in the blue shirt), it was great to be reminded of how fun a round can be. A round of golf should be a relaxing experience, and the Thai people go out of their way to make sure that goal is achieved. I played eight courses in 12 days, and I didn't have one instance where my blood pressure reached "Judge Smails."
I wasn't sure what to expect when I got the assignment. I knew of a few LPGA and Asian Tour events in Thailand, and, obviously, Tiger Woods had made a few stops in his mother's home country. But after a few rounds, it was hard not to feel like I had found a little slice of golfing paradise that everyone else was missing.
It's easy to figure out why golfers, especially in the U.S., don't have Thailand on their radar. It was a 24-hour journey from JFK to Bangkok, a heck of a long trip, especially for someone like me, who can't fall asleep on planes despite multiple doses of Ambien.
But if you like a little adventure with your golf trip, Thailand is hard to beat. Also hard to beat are the prices. Yes, airfare is expensive, but once you get to Thailand you'll be shocked how far the dollar can go. Green fees were as little as $25; a room with an amazing view of downtown Bangkok went for $150; and a full-body massage will only set you back about $10-20.
Caddies were required at all the courses I played, but the fees were usually around $10, plus a tip. It's $10 well spent. My caddies, who were all women, were very well trained. Most of them could figure out my club selection by the third hole, and all of them were excellent at reading putts. Which was good news for me. Reading greens has never been one of my strengths, but with an extra set of eyes I magically started draining birdies from all over the place.
While few of the caddies spoke English, they were fluent in golf. On the tee it was usually a simple, "200 yards over bunker, right side bad, left OK"; In the fairway, "126 yards, pin front"; And on the green, "Outside left."
In between shots I always tried to pick up some Thai phrases from my caddies, and I passed along some language tips as well. I'm also now solely responsible for increasing the popularity of Animal from the Muppets, since he's the headcover on my driver and each of my caddies got a kick out of it.
Learning a little about new culture made the round much more enjoyable, and if I happened to shave a few strokes off my game, it made the day even better. And that was usually the case. I'm afraid next time I play a solo round in the States I'll notice a big difference on my scorecard. The best part about playing golf in Thailand is once the round is over, the fun doesn't stop. All of the courses had amazing locker rooms, complete with showers straight out of an HGTV dream home.
After cleaning up, it's hard to pass up a drink or three and a little Thai food in a laid-back, tropical environment. Also hard to pass up are deep-tissue Thai massages, another great post-round activity. Since I had a lot of golf to cram in, plus an already-sore back, there was nothing better than having a daily massage.
While lying on the massage table I couldn't help but think, "I'm not in Jersey anymore."