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Over the top by Meraj Shah: Till kingdom come

Is it too early to say ‘post-covid’? I thought about it while thinking about the title of this piece … and decided not to use that phrase. As the pandemic enters its third year and we wake up to news reports of even newer variants, there is a pervasive sense of fatigue with the virus and the way it has narrowed our lives. From traveling to and playing some of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, your columnist, like everyone else, has been pretty much at home since April 2020. So last month when I was asked by Thailand Tourism if I would consider taking a golf trip to Phuket, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation.

Phuket, the picturesque tropical holiday destination, has always been a no-brainer: as a book that you enjoy reading and then reread – discovering new facets of the plot every time – getting to know Phuket’s diverse faceted charm takes time and repetition. The purpose of this trip was to play golf, and although I certainly wanted to play golf on the island’s great golf courses, it was the carefree beach atmosphere, the perfect for snorkeling in aquamarine water and the street food that I really longed for. to. For a little piece of life as we knew it. For moments of normalcy – whatever that means today. Bottom line: As an antidote to over 24 months of sequestration to the wider world, Phuket made a watertight case. And it was clear that golf, on this occasion, was to be the vehicle, not the raison d’être, for the trip.

For itinerant golfers, like all potential travelers, the primary consideration is that they are easy to travel. So how hard is it to travel to Phuket from India? Things have changed since I came back. Now, Thailand has removed mandatory tests before arrival and reduced the health insurance amount by half. You still have to sign up for a Thai passport online, but it’s a breeze. What should be noted, however, is that Thailand’s test protocols are more exhaustive than those at home. People who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 a month or so before the trip are likely to be tested positive if they decide to be tested, and would do well to wait another month before traveling.

In 2019, 1.4 million visitors arrived in Phuket. A month ago, Phuket looked and felt like the city it could have been as in the decades before its height as Asia’s tourist center. Indians, for whom life has largely returned to normalcy in the cities, will be a little surprised at how quiet Phuket and even Bangkok seem. Nothing to complain about, especially on the golf courses, many of which have not had golfers from the subcontinent tee up in the last two years. You will not find any groups breathing down your neck or a hurry to book tee times at the five or so golf courses in Phuket – whose caliber is well established. Two of these – Laguna Phuket GC and Blue Canyon GC – have hosted Asian Tour events in recent months. Crucial, and this will appeal to those of us who have paid exorbitantly high green fees in Phuket – to tee it here in 2022 is surprisingly reasonable. Playing golf in Phuket was never cheap, but it is not ridiculously expensive anymore. At least until the world returns to the status quo. This frugality extends to the jewels of Phuket’s golf heaven – Red Mountain GC and Blue Canyon GC – which are consistently ranked among the best courses in our part of the world. In the same league as, for example, Black Mountain GC in Hua Hin, or Suwan GC outside Bangkok. Right now there is a serious slash in the standard prices, which used to be in the range of THB 4000 on weekdays and THB 5000 on weekends and a further THB 1200 for caddy and cart. It’s still a good idea to bring your own clubs, but if you are not, then rental clubs are easily accessible. Both of these courses are a must-play layout on any golfer’s itinerary here: course management rewards strategy and ball placement over length on both layouts. This is why Blue Canyon GC and Red Mountain GC are best played once you get into your groove. Start with the newest layout in the region – Aquella GC – which is not on the island but on the adjacent province of Phang Na on the mainland. This course is much closer to the airport than Phuket’s popular beaches and towns (where you are likely to stay) and is best played first, (or last) on your journey. Mission Hills GC, another beautiful layout, has the most spectacular ocean views. As it’s usually the smartest way to go on championship layouts, teeing it off the white tees is the best way – no matter how clichéd it sounds – to enjoy not just the golf, but the whole experience of playing it up.

I flew Thai Airways, which has a generous allowance of 30kg – enough to cover luggage and the golf set. In any case, as far as I’m concerned, Thailand is by far my favorite golf destination in this part of the world, and probably the only place I would not mind warming up the cheap seats for a golf trip. For a golfer, the country’s abundance and diversity of championship layouts, first-class hospitality and value for money appeal are just too overwhelming to resist. Should you go now … in light of Covid cases rising again? I can not answer that for you; I would go back to Phuket … in a heartbeat.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game.

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