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Thailand: Songkhla
David Simons

There are those who like to travel and there are those who dont. And amongst those who do, there are those who like to travel to places already known, and there are the others, folks who in the manner of pioneers,  like to discover something considered new. If you feel you fall into this second category, then maybe you might want to read this.

Now you all know where Thailand is, of course,  and many of you will have some idea as to what it might be like. Hot weather, spicy food, friendly people. A kind of exotic paradise, perhaps. Until

you get there and start to find that, as in most other commercially developed tourist spots, you are getting ripped off far too often and,  worse than that,  you are missing out on those more idyllic, more virgin and more mysterious  nearby places that your travel agent knows absolutely nothing about. Thanks a lot, Mr Agent, for selling me a holiday that only  sheep would enjoy. All that being herded around gets real tiring, and ask the guide what interesting things there are  to do, and all shell do is present  you with a pile of brochures about the zoo, the bus trip to the local point of fame, or , God forbid, the boat trip around the island. Baa! ,Baa!, all together now.

You want something better? Then try this. South of Thailand, specifically Songkhla province. 

Golf vacation for the guys? Try Songkhla.

Been there, done that. This oft  used phrase is almost never heard in context  with the golf area Im going tell you about. Yes, okay, Im like a local now, since Ive been living here for four years, so obviously I like it; but why should you? What is there to recommend this, basically,  hilly piece of coastal jungle to someone looking to spend their hard earned money on a golf holiday? I can tell you the answer to that question, and the answer is easy. Its the character of the place, that s what the recommendation is.

 And of course, the choices. The choice of which one of six courses in the immediate vicinity to play this particular day, the choice of which inexpensive but excellent hotel to stay in, the choice of which gourmets-delight restaurant to eat in tonight, the choice of what else to do today as well as play golf, the choice of which other easily accessible, interesting part of Thailand to visit for a day or two. Thats  a lot of choices, eh? And choices are what makes life, and therefore your holiday,  interesting.

Songkhla? Wheres that?

Where is it?,  you demand,  and how do I get  there?. Easy there, big  fella, just go book a flight to HatYai,  deep in the south of Thailand. Your ticket will probably require you to change planes in Bangkok, but thats no hassle. One piece of advice though, dont be tempted to stop in Bangkok for a while and take advantage of some of the courses they have there. The traffic, you see. Three hours to travel 6 kilometers, in the back of a cab, in the traffic jam,  in the pollution, in the chaos and the stifling heat and incessant noise, that is not  a holiday. No thank you, maam, better to take that  50 minute connecting flight and get straight down south. And once in HatYai,  from the airport to the center of town, no problem. After collecting your luggage, fifteen minutes later your driver will be dropping you off in front of a fine hotel.  Therere a lot of them in the HatYai/Songkhla area: for example the JB hotel is in the upper price bracket, as is the Regency, the Central Sokothai  (all excellent hotels) and a few others, but there must be a total of twenty or so hotels in the lower price range that offer excellent service and accommodations. Some of them offer minibus rides to and from the golf courses, but if the hotel you choose to stay in doesnt, well no problem, the local form of taxi, referred to as a tuk-tuk, can be arranged.  Alternatively, if you want to get about under your  own steam,  you can rent a car for around $25 U.S. per day.

So here you are, all nicely tucked up in bed on your first night, air conditioner keeping you cool and cable TV on, watching this weeks  tour event thats being bounced of a satellite, and youre thinking about tomorrows golf. And where is it youre playing tomorrow? At the HatYai Exclusive Resort, thats where. 18 holes of amazingly scenic golf, set amid the rolling hills just 20 minutes west of the town center. Another world, though, compared to the hustle and bustle of the town. Nothing to see but mountains, a waterfall, rubber trees, coconut trees, palm trees, the water and its pondlife that fill the many small lakes that dot this course.

 Imagine that ten years ago, there was this palm  and rubber tree plantation. Some enterprising local golfer comes along, decides he wants a golf course here,  proceeds to carve a track through all this vegetation, digs some very big holes and fills them with water. Then he  gets a well known course designer to lay down 18 holes of what can be either sheer golf terror or soothing golf strollabout, depending on  which tees you like. If youre a fan of, ah,  challenging golf, then the back tees here are going to make you shed joyful tears of pure golf  masochism, but if you like to smell the roses on your way round, play it from the whites and be amazed at what nature has surrounded you with. And after you finish the eighteen, if youre feeling less than satiated, then please, sir, continue teeing it up until you drop. Some of the holes you might want more of include the 464 yard par 4 eighth, which requires you to hit  your most accurate drive or youre in the water, follow that up with a long iron approach even Hale Irwin would be proud of should it hit the green and then stay there, and then putt on a green that  you know is full of bumps and hollows, but jeez man, which way does this whole thing tilt? And if you feel hurt by what this innocent-looking stretch of green  can do to your score, then when you get a look at  the tee shot on the next hole, that pain you start to feel in your chest  might well be  your heart imploding.

 Looking into the distance from the backs, you can see the fairway. Thatll be it, that narrow sliver of nicely manicured grass between the OB posts on the left (God knows whats beyond them) and the area on the right that, should you foolishly enter it to look for the results of your slice, you might well find Tarzan  pacing anxiously around in, studying the script  for his next movie. And if I were you Id keep my eyes on that fairway, because should  you drop them a little, youre gonna see something real ugly; all swamp, trees, water, maybe even snakes and who knows what  else. And thats two hundred  twenty yards of it, son, and you gotta carry it, so make your best pass at the little white rock and if you dont catch it a full 100%, stroll forward and, like the man you just became,  take your drop in the designated area, right next to the white tees.  Fun, isnt it?  Yeah, right.

 In this part of the world, once youve paid your greenfee for the day, only sunset can prevent  you from playing more. And as a result of too much golf in one day, how about those aches and pains, are they gonna prevent you from playing the following day? I dont think so, not if you take advantage of a traditional Thai massage, either at the course or back at  your hotel.

The evening can bring a wide variety of entertainment, from wandering through the congested shopping area in town to Karaoke bars or Thai dancers, classical or otherwise, and entertainers performing on makeshift  street stages. Coffee shops are a favorite place where people  sit and shoot the breeze, and  you might well bump into a few of the local golfers you saw (and more importantly, who saw you) earlier in the day. Do not , however, be put off by their open friendliness, because its all genuine and they just want to see  you  happy, whatever that might take. Believe it, Thais are great  hosts, and are proud to prove it to you.

More of the same?

Wake up call, time up to you. Big hotel breakfast and then itWherere  we gonna play today? Same as yesterday?  If you like, but maybe you want to try one of the other gems in the area, Southern Hills. A  Dye Designs course featuring, you guessed it, a par 3 island-green penultimate hole followed by a water-curving-all the-way-down-the-left last hole. When you square up on this final tee, its up to you   to decide how much of the doglegging water you want to try and bite off. Can you hit controlled draws with your driver? No? Then take care, big guy, because if you dont flush it with the long one, youre gonna have to start dipping in your bag for more balls. And you might need another Titleist, too. Course condition is excellent here, and though not so much of a terror as yesterdays field of broken dreams can be, it still requires you to hit it straight with reasonable distance, and good short game and putting skills will undoubtedly help you shoot the kind of score you enjoy. Biggish greens mean you either often face some long putts or your approach game needs work. Possibly even more scenic than you envisaged a golf course could be, the average golfer will probably enjoy this one, and not feel like tossing his clubs in the pond when hes finished. This course is located on the road going south  to Malaysia, and if on the way back to town you wish for a little more golf, then stop off at  Ban Lai and whiz round its rather short nine holes. Located just around the corner from Southern Hills, it is known as a beginners course and as such is not  very stimulating.

Maybe golf everyday is making you feel a little tired, or maybe you just want a rest from it for a day. You know, fly all this way and not see anything else, bit of a waste really. So what are you gonna do? Time to make one of those choices again, Mr Happy Holidaymaker. How about a twenty minute early morning plane ride to the exotic island paradise of the rich and the not so rich, Phuket. Its only gonna cost you 38 dead presidents to get there and  back, and you know what, if you feel like it  theyve got some great, though expensive,  courses there too. Just stick the clubs on the plane and off you go again.

Whaddya think, guys, you wanna hack it in Phuket?

Hey, I thought this was a rest-from-golf day! Whoooa, boy, hold on there a minute, no need to get all torqued up. This,  remember, is a beach island paradise,  so go swimming or snorkeling or diving or water-skiing or pony trekking or rock-climbing or .or …… , jeez, its got it all,  you decide. Sound a bit too touristy for you? Dont blame you, Im not much one for herding either. So how about some of the other exotic  islands nearby, places that dont really attract their share, fair or otherwise, of tourists. Plenty of boats to take you out to them, though if  you dont enjoy boat rides,  just hang out on the beaches on the mainland.  Whatever, just like you see on the pages of National Geographic,  youll  witness sheer cliffs dropping straight down into turquoise ocean water, tropical green picking out bright  highlights of splendor, all pasted on to an  azure sky background that just might wanna make you say Forget golf, forget  going home, forget it all, Im staying right  where  I am until the day I stop breathing.

Forget golf? Are you nuts? Why the heck did you come here in the first place! My advice, that beach paradise,  spend two days there, maybe play  one of the courses, enjoy some of the beach style playtime thats available in spades, then  hotleg it back to HatYai whilst  your wallet is still intact. Once home from home again, plan your next days golf to take place at the Black Forest Golf and Country Club. Extra excitement value here, its located right on the Thai/Malaysia border, sort of in no mans land. No mine fields, though, so all you gotta worry about is choosing and purchasing all those take-home  gifts at the one-stop stop  duty free shopping complex that is situated just  down the road from the clubhouse . Convenient, eh?

 Kind of an open view, expansive style of  golf course, Black Forest is always in excellent condition and has some fine holes. Beware though, of that old golfers companion, the paradox, which exists in the marked difference between the deceptively  similar-looking-from-the-clubhouse-balcony  first and last par 4  holes. Up on the first tee, looking down the freeway - heck no, thats the fairway! Man its wide - youre thinking I cant miss, really, I cant miss! And guess what, youre right ,  you cant . If you miss this fairway, you shouldnt ever wonder how much a good club golfer could make a year on the senior tour. Then, joy of all joys, that green just down there at the end of the fairway, its only about 350 yards away from the tee. So big, so near, all you gotta do from the tee is knock it reasonably solid down the slope and just like that old TV star, its gonna keep going and going and going. Follow it down there, chip it with anything you like out of your bag across the flat green, and if the guys dont offer the gimme, well,  change the guys you play with if theyre that mean. One under  already, man its gonna be a great day. Get back to the clubhouse and everybodys gonna go, Say, isnt that the guy who kept it under par all day?

You fool.  Forgot about the paradox, didnt you?  A few hours later youll be standing on the eighteenth tee, saying to your caddy,  Up that slope? I gotta hit up that slope to that green?  That weird looking green?  And then  your caddy, her smug reply.  Yes boss, and keep it left of that  red stake in the middle of the fairway.  Red stake? You mean, theres water where I cant see it? And right in the middle of the landing area too? Jeez, you wont know where to aim here. Still, it probably wont matter too much by then because unless you know exactly how much a good club golfer can make a year playing  the senior tour, by this time you wont be  marking a card that  youll be taking home to show your buddies anyhow. The other sixteen holes will have seen to that.

Great day out, though. And back in the town, some more much appreciated R & R. Traditional Thai massage, hot steam bath and then bed.

Your last act?

So, todays your last day, eh?  Want some fun? Then step right this way sir, and Ill show you  one of the  most devilish  nine hole courses ever to bless Gods spikes ( soft, of course).

Khor Hong Golf  Club has been here for around forty years, and when you play it, remember that  bad lies should be considered a normal part of the game. These fairways look as though theyve been cut by goats, and frankly goats might do a better job than the old gang mowers they actually do use. If you go in a bunker and find the sand raked  nicen all, maybe you ought to take a picture of it, because they might not believe someone could cause such a blasphemous act upon the  hallowed old ground. This is what golf should really be about, nature itself creating the hazards, and just because you hit  your one and only accurate tee shot of the day, it doesnt necessarily mean youre gonna find your ball sitting  just so in the fairway. Yeah, you get good lies too, but the fun here is you dont know when youre gonna get them. The layout is so well thought out  and executed that you can go round and round this golf course all day, and then still lie in bed at night dreaming of more tomorrow, plotting your strategy  of  revenge even. Ever see a 600 yard uphill dogleg par 5 before that forces you to lay up off the tee? And then with your second shot too? Its gonna take all of your best  four-wood for your third to be on the dance floor.  Anyhow,  youre gonna see that  here, and a few other rare sights to go along with it.  Put it on the peg on the ninth tee, stare down the center of the fairway, and youre gonna have to stare down eleven trees too. Big trees,  through which you need to thread your shiny new ball. But dont expect it to be still shiny when you go find it for your second, because only miracle balls dont  touch the trees somewhere on this tee shot.  And heres another thing for you.  Even though Im not sure how to say  cruel, sadistic bastard in the local dialect, there must be a translation. I cant think of any other way youd describe the guy who put the bunkers around the greens. Monster or marvel, I cant work out why he would want to do what  hes done to anyone who, quite simply, just wants to take a walk round on a sunny afternoon  and enjoy the feel of a few well struck golf shots. This guys laughing somewhere, probably the middle of the Sahara, happy as a pig in shit with all that sand around him. Gonna waste him if I see him, number of times my ball almost made it over the bunker.

Well, there you go anyhow, holidays over and youre sitting on the plane wishing you werent going home, or at least working on a plan to get you back out here asap. Didnt spend a whole lot of money, got  totally golfed out on some excellent courses, made some great friends and had a great time with them, and of course, got satisfyingly soothed by all that local hospitality. Massaged muscles feeling good with the mental and emotional states in equal shape. Jeez, look at that view out of the plane window. Must be the island you took a visit to, and boy does it look even more inviting from the air. Memories, flashbacks and visions of the last week or so flood your mind, and you can recall each smell, taste and scent  as  if you experienced it just a second ago. And then, sitting there dozing in your seat,  you gotta think it.  Could it get any better than that?