Sunday, 17 January 2010

Koh Samui -- Football Golf: A KICK IN THE (COCO)NUTS!

There's clearly something strange in the banana daquiris out Choeng Mon way. Football Golf -- what the hell is that???

Suitably intrigued, I pull up outside the clubhouse where a gigantic pile of coconuts is stacked into a ball-kicking figure: Coconaldo. OK, maybe I should just turn the car around and head home ... these folks are clearly nuts.

Turns out that Football Golf is exactly that: a little football, a little bit golf. 'It was a game we used to play as kids,' says British proprietor Tom, a Liverpudlian. 'We'd dig holes in the sand on the beach and kick the ball into it. Or use a chair in the backyard, and kick the ball between its legs, moving it 18 times. Golf football, you know.'

The bald redhead (if that makes sense) was teaching English at a hotel on Samui when the inspiration hit him. He eyed the coconut patch next door, with its corridors of trees. He spent the next few months breaking his back clearing the land (except for those trees he wanted to keep as natural hazards). The biggest problem was finding a piece of paper big enough to plan out the course. It turned out that the flip side of a shooting range target did the job perfectly -- exactly how Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus design their master courses I'm sure.)

He planted the grass. He dug the holes, inserting tin buckets in them, big enough to handle a soccer ball. Hung up rib-tickling signs featuring quotes from big names like George Best, Sevvie Ballesteros on funny aspects of life and sport. And Samui Golf Football was born. He did a Google search. There was no one else in the world offering this. Great! Up went the sign 'The world's first Golf Football course.' Which also made him worry privately -- if this didn't exist anywhere else in the world maybe there was a reason for it? Maybe, the Everton fan who doesn't play golf thought, he really was nuts.

Then a friend suggested it should be called Football Golf instead, 'because you are changing the game of golf, not changing the game of football'. Google search: one of these already existed in Sweden. Up went a new sign: 'The 1st Football Golf Course in Asia.'

The 18 course is a par 66, laid out like any golf course except you kick a soccer ball instead of golf clubs and balls. No caddy girls but you do get a drinks lady bringing you a free soft drink at the 11th hole.

Quite a few groups are on the course already: some just in swimmers and bare chest, others in ubiquitous Man U or Chelsea football strips. So it's not the snooty Royal Samui Football Golf Club then. My first attempts are on par with my golf game -- hooks, slices, multiple ricochets off the coconut trees. On one hole my ball rolled all the way back down, further back than from where I'd started. Cue cussing and cursing. But it's so damn satisfying when you sink, er, kick a putt. My daughter kicked, and hacked, and air swung, and dribbled, eventually getting it down: 'Three,' she'd proudly claim (she's learned a lot from her old man!)

The signature hole is the 17th. A long straight fairway, with a filthy big bunker right in the centre of it, and two off-putting mounds of coconuts on the front lip of the rear-sloping green. It's a par 5. I visualized my shot. Checked the wind direction. Nailed it. Down in three (a real three -- jing jing). Like some famous golfer said: I've got a simple way to cut your stroke count -- it's called an eraser.

An hour or so later. we were all done. I shot a below par 64, with my daughter on 54 by her count (or 756 by my somewhat more official count).

Cost: adults 600 baht, kids 300 including drink.

Open: daily 9am - 6:30pm

Verdict: Certainly a lot better than a kick in the (coco)nuts. A great fun activity for a beach holiday. But I still think there's something funny in those banana daquiris ...

Have you ever heard of Football Golf or played it elsewhere in the world???

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