I had heard of a Bangkok course that had replicated some of the great holes of the world on the front nine, and for the back they had just lifted the most famous stretch of holes in golf: the back nine of Augusta. So when my wife and I had to go to Bangkok, I had to play these holes.
Some quick searching came up with “The Dream Arena at Royal Gems Golf City.” The website didn’t offer much more, but there was an email address so I got in contact. Their director of sales quickly replied that while it was a members’ course, they’d be happy to give me a tee time on a “special trial rate” for 4000 baht (about $125) which included green fee, buggy and caddy fee. Renting clubs would be another $45 and a pair of shoes would cost me $15. I took my own shoes, but used their clubs: Nike Machspeed forged in an R flex. Maybe I could have asked for S-flex when I booked, but they really only made a difference with driver and 3 wood. It was too hard to explain once the caddy had arrived with them.
The course was in great condition: All the fairways had a very even coverage of Platinum Paspalum, although there was rarely a flat lie. The greens had been cored a fortnight prior, but still ran pretty true (only one putt was noticeably affected) and fairly quick — but obviously not Sunday-at-the-Masters quick. I should also commend RGGC for letting me know in its first email reply of the coring. How frustrating is it to turn up at a course to find you are playing sand greens? The course is still young: The trees are not the hazards of the original, but watch out in 10 years. I was asked to play the back nine first, so no easing into it — straight to what I was here for!
I have never been to Augusta, but apart from the blue dye in Rae’s Creek and greens that stimp at 14, it seemed to be pretty much all there. In fact, it’s more than all there, because the Eisenhower pine remains on No. 17. Knowing the standard first reaction to Augusta, I was prepared for some big elevation changes and that is also there at Royal Gems. It’s particularly downhill on Nos. 10 and 11 and uphill on No. 18. The finishing hole was also into the wind and had a back pin location, making it a driver and a 3 wood for me.
Now, I know you are a golf junkie if you’re on GolfWRX, but I’m not going through all 40 shots (do you like how I snuck that in there? Pretty happy with that for a once-a-month golfer), but allow me to take you through a couple of my favorite experiences: Nos. 12 and 15. Even in replica, I think I would be happy playing these two holes the rest of my life.
No. 12 (pictured above) was all it’s cracked up to be. Downhill. A fair bit downhill. A fluctuating breeze from right to left, slightly into players. Length: 155 yards. Ten percent off is 140 meters, which is right between an 8 and 9 iron. It was downhill enough to be a 9 iron, but I didn’t want to be in the creek like so many I had seen in 30 years of watching the Masters. But I didn’t want to be in the back bunker, splashing out downhill, downwind to the pin and the creek when the breeze dropped. Definite 9 iron now.
Quick, get up there. No, the breeze is back. Ok, wait for it to drop again (fortunately, I had no one with a stopwatch on me, so not only did I avoid a penalty, I got the caddy to take a photo of me at the top of a dummy swing). Right, the breeze dropped off again. The pin was right, but I aimed for the middle of the green. Middle of the green. Hit. Oh yes, please be the right club. Bang. Middle of the green, right where I was aiming. Piece of cake this hole.
But my caddy was having none of this percentage golf: “Second ball, go for pin!” as she tossed me another pill. “Ok, Toohey, same deal. Hit it straight where you’re aiming.”
Again I made good contact, but there was just a tiny bit of pull/fade, it was just a tiny bit higher, there was just more headwind. “Nooo, in the wat-terr.” She could have at least waited for the splash. Or for the Titleist to reach its apex. But before it had crossed the red tees, she knew. And I kind of did, too. But it started just left of the pin and was sliding gently right, gently right, right at the pin…
We golfers live in hope: “C’mon, be the stick!”
Hey, who really wants to make a hole-in-one with a second ball?
My birdie putt? Not enough borrow (I gave it a foot left on a 12-foot putt) and 3-feet past, but I rapped in the comebacker for a pretty satisfying par.
I had a similar amount of fun on No. 15. I managed to leak my drive just into the rough (or should that be “first cut?”) 200 yards out. Like No. 12, again it was downhill, into the wind and with water at the front. I was hitting off a downhill lie, out of the rough (but sitting OK) and with clubs I didn’t know. I would have loved to hit a 3 iron, but my choices were hybrid 3 or 4 iron. I suspected the hybrid was too much (and I didn’t really like them), but that the 4 would be flirting with the pond. So gripping down the hybrid a little, I ripped it. Straight at the pin. It took one hop on the green, popped up on the fringe and rolled over the back… about 20 yards. Oh man. I’m not Phil so I was not going to try hitting some massive flop into the 10 feet between the pin and collar. But I couldn’t run it too far past because that green runs and runs into the front pond. Anywhere but the pond is good.
Of course I chickened out and bunted it too cautiously into the bank, so it stayed on the top. I very nearly holed the next, but no one cares about nearly so I tap it in and walked off another victim of the intricacies of Dr. Mackenzie. With a big grin, bring on No. 16!
The front nine was nearly as much fun, playing spot the hole: there was the church pews (Oakmont No. 3), a big par-5 around the water (Bay Hill’s par-5 No. 6), Sawgrass No. 17 (pictured below. It doesn’t look quite right because it’s a mirror image!), the Road Hole (sans Hotel), the Postage Stamp and No. 18 at the Blue Monster. It was fun identifying them, and then trying to navigate them.
At the finish of the round, I found a typically elaborate clubhouse for this part of the world with big, soft, fluffy towels, a “press here for service” button in the shower (I didn’t press it, and I didn’t ask) and very reasonable prices for food and drinks in the restaurant while the Masters Par 3 tournament played on multiple TV screens. Since I got home, it has been fun to see the pros play Augusta from similar spots as I had — and I am very glad that the Royal Gems greens are a lot slower!
All in all, it was a very enjoyable day. I will definitely be coming back — next time with a mate or two, my own clubs and we might even try to get a two-day booking!