Friday, 29 January 2010
Khunying Valee, whose passion for roses got the whole Rose Garden complex started, never played around in her life. Sorry, that should be 'never played a round in her life.' She wasn't a golfer. But that didn't stop her envisioning an 18-hole championship golf course as something that would complete the Rose Garden's checklist of attractions.
So in 1972, she could be seen on hands and knees planting flowers and supervising the instasllation of the grass fairways. She insisted that acacias, casuarinas, rain trees and mahogany, among others, would in the long run add a picturesque uniqueness to the course, not to mention affording much-desired shade for golfers who strayed to the edges of the fairways.
The club was opened by none other than Thailand's first lady golfer, Her Majesty Queen Rambhai Bharni, consort of the late Rama V11.
'But the idea is not to make the clubhouse like a palace,' explains Khun Kris who takes us to the club. 'Rather we want it to be welcoming enough, but focus on the athletes.' He's right about that, the red-brick clubhouse is far from palatial. He introduces us to club manager Khun Chukiat, himself a golfer who plays off a four handicap (my handicap is usually just turning up to play).
Chukiat is an affable gent who gladly piles us into a buggy to drive us around and show us his course. It's early but already a queue of buggies is lined up with their cargo of Japanese and local golfers. 'Their company pays for them,' explains Kris of the Japanese. 'It keeps them away from Patpong.' (Well, they can always go there after the golf I think to myself.)
Another thing I think to myself is that there have probably not been so many Japanese in this area since 1943 when the Thai-Burma Railway was in full swing.
Some of the club's 300 caddies, in bright yellow shirts and funny red conical hats, mill around getting things prepared. Caddy #1, who started in 1972, still works here. She'd know the course pretty well by now.
It is indeed beautiful. Nice and flat for a start, with fairways lined by palms and pink blossoms, and all those trees Khunying Valee planted are now mature and stately, lending an air of establishment to the course. British magazine Golf Monthly gushed: 'The Rose Garden course offers perfect relaxation and serenity in one of the most attractive floral settings imaginable.'
But the bouquets (geddit?) don't stop there ...
It also named this course as one of the top 25 in the world. Golf Magazine in the USA placed it in the top 24 in 1993. Conde Nast Traveller Australia in 2003 put it as one of the best 15 courses in the world. All this for just 1500 baht green fees, too.
With the whirr-whirr-whirr of irrigation sprays, and bird calls, and fragrant flowers on the breeze, it's certainly a calming course (much needed if you play like me).
Chukiat shows us the courses signature hole, a long 590m par 5 hole off the blue tees. It is a stunning vista, where one tees off across the water, down the fairway with its greenbelt either side. He then points out that each and every hole has twin greens. Jing jing!
What a fantastic idea, I think. A choice of holes, like a billiard table. Or two chances of sinking your ball. Brilliant! Maybe even a mug golfer like me has got some kind of chance. He soon cuts my fantasy short by explaining it's purely for rotation purposes to conserve the green.