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Premier courses and luxury hotels aim to put country on world golf map

Thailand extends royal invitation to golfers worldwide

In an bid to tell world golfers what Asian golfers already know, the golf establishment in Thailand has launched ‘Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience’, a cooperative itinerary that matches the country’s top courses with its most desirable hotels.

The Kingdom of Thailand has for decades been the destination of choice for Asian golfers, thanks to its stellar courses, superb year-round climate and welcoming culture. By banding together to form ‘Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience’, these courses and hotels mean to cement a place for Thailand alongside the world’s premier golf destinations.

“I think golfers in North America have an inkling that golf is played in Thailand; Europeans have slightly more of an inkling, but I don’t think golfers on either continent fully realize that this is a country with more than 250 courses, many of them as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world,” said Mark Siegel, president of Bangkok-based tour operator Golfasian.

The Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) has partnered with eight premium golf properties, Golfasian and six of the country’s premier hotels to form ‘Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience’.

The cooperative effort has been in the planning since 2007, but its launch this month is timely. According to TAT, some 3.2 million visitors arrived in Thailand the first quarter of 2009 – a 19 percent decrease from the previous year. It’s unclear whether this drop is attributable to the peaceful-but-ongoing political disquiet in Thailand  or the worldwide economic slump.

“I live here and the reality is, the political issues in Thailand haven’t had any effect on the day-to-day lives of citizens or tourists – but the economic slowdown has surely affected tourists: prices have dropped across the board,” Siegel asserted. “I don’t think there’s ever been a more economical time to visit here. That’s not hype; it’s a fact. Launching ‘Golf in a Kingdom’ now has allowed us to offer value we could not have offered in 2008.”

In May 2009, a CNN International tourism poll asserted that Thailand, among first-world nations, represents the best value for travelers in the entire Asia Pacific region. Conducted across CNN English websites, the survey had more than 5,000 respondents globally.

“The world gets a bit smaller every day,” Siegel continued. “We hope to shrink it just enough with ‘Golf in a Kingdom’ to give North American and European golfers a taste of Thai culture and hospitality, because one visit is normally all it takes. The number of golfers who try Thailand then return for a second and third helping is pretty extraordinary.”
“The beauty of this marked shift toward high-quality lodging, which has been taking place here for 20 years actually, is that Thailand remains affordable,” said Boyd Barker, Hua Hin Marriott’s general manager. “If there’s a positive to the hit tourism has taken here, of late, it’s that prices reflect this drop in demand. There’s no better place to go on holiday, and there’s no better time than right now.”

The attraction extends beyond golf and resorts. Never colonized by foreign powers and known as Siam until 1939, Thailand remains a constitutional monarchy. But during the past half century it has managed to seamlessly blend Western influences and Buddhist beliefs, producing a first-world destination with an Old World feel.

Six distinct geographical regions – ranging from 8,000-foot-high mountains in the north to a maze of limestone islands rising out of the Andaman Sea in the south – only add to the country’s diverse allure.

“Of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand provides the greatest value,” said Santi Chudintra, Director of TAT Los Angeles. “The people are welcoming, the culture is unique and the scenery is spectacular. Thai food, which everyone wants to talk about, is just a small part of the menu.”

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