PATTAYA, Thailand: The course architects at Golfplan (www.golfplan.com) will unveil this spring their new 18-hole design here in the Silver Lake region south of Pattaya.
Chee Chang Golf Resort (www.cheechangolf.com) will debut its flamboyant new layout in the significant shadow of the Chee Chan Buddha, the 110-meter spiritual anchor to an existing resort complex that already includes a water park, winery and shopping district. All of these amenities are arrayed beside white sand beaches on the Gulf of Siam.
“It’s been a delight to be so active again in Thailand, home to one of the most dynamic, diverse and sophisticated golf cultures on the planet,” says Golfplan partner David Dale, who has directed the project. “Our track record here is pretty extensive; Golfplan designs like Panya Park, Panya Indra and Mountain Shadow in Pattaya all remain popular and profitable. But those were built in the 1990s.
“We’re eager to reacquaint Thai golfers with Golfplan because our style has evolved a great deal in 20 years and, frankly, the Thai golf market is uniquely discerning.”
Dale and partner Kevin Ramsey are uniquely positioned to compare and contrast golfing cultures from country to country. Formed in 1972, Golfplan is the most internationalist design group in all of golf, creating more than 217 original designs in 32 different countries (if master planning is considered, make that 85 countries). This sort of sustained, diverse productivity is one reason GolfInc magazine named Dale and Ramsey among the “Top 10 Most Powerful People in Asian Golf” for 2016.
“Golf cultures in Asia develop on different tracks, some on the American model, some on the British model — but Thailand is unique because it has created its own distinct culture, its own model,” Dale explains. “Japan and South Korea have done the same thing, but Thailand is the only such country in Asia that also serves as a golf destination, attracting golfers from all over Europe, from Australia and New Zealand. It’s also far and away the #1 golf destination for Japanese and Koreans, which speaks volumes. It’s just an amazingly diverse golfing destination and we’re very pleased to be back.”
The terrain in Pattaya along the Gulf of Siam is generally quite flat, but Dale reports that Chee Chan Golf Resort is a glorious anomaly boasting fully 25 meters of elevation change, just the right amount to create a challenging, visually dramatic and walkable resort course that measures more than 7,200 yards from the championship tees.
The property’s perimeter is further accented by a series of enormous, partly vegetated escarpments, some standing 150 meters high. It is here, on one of these massive rock faces that the 110-meter Chee Chan Buddha looms so large, as it is carved directly into these rock faces. His serene visage is visible from multiple points on the property, including the entire opening hole.
“We couldn’t afford to miss that opportunity: to start golfers at Chee Chan on their spiritual journey under the watchful eye of Siddhartha Gautama,” Dale says. “We have much to learn from the Buddha, who taught us a ‘Middle Way’ between sensual indulgence and severe asceticism. For golfers the message is clear: Relax and keep it in the fairway.”
IMG manages operations at Chee Chan GR, a stand-alone property in this active resort area. Brodie MacDonald, a Scottish national and member of the British PGA, was recently appointed general manager, joining by golf course superintendent Mike McKenna, an Englishman. Brodie and Mike both joined Chee Chan Golf Resort from one of Asia’s top tracks, Nirwana Bali Golf Club.
Dale visited the course at Chee Chan in December, by way of South Korea, where another of his designs — The Club at Nine Bridges — recently played host to the inaugural CJ Cup, the first U.S. PGA Tour event even staged in the country (in September, GOLF Magazine issued its biennial World Top 100; Nine Bridges was ranked #41). Dale says he appreciated Pattaya’s tropical heat and the proximity of The Silver Lake Vineyard, located right next door to his soon-to-open design at Chee Chan.
“I was pleased to discover a wonderful chenin blanc there, absolutely fantastic, which they serve chilled with a first-class bread stick,” says Dale, a serious oenophile and resident of Sonoma County, California, one of the finest wine regions in the world. “After a hot day out in the dust of course construction, or trudging through the mud after a 40 mm rain (in 1 hour), that was just the ticket.”