Si Bourirak (The Agriculture) Golf Club, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

As mentioned in previous blogs Sam the guy who had become my Khon Kaen golfing bezzie (I had probably forced this upon him) had took me under his wing and in the brief time I had left here he was gonna make sure I played all the courses around this lovely city, the ones worth playing anyway. Every Monday and Friday there were a lovely group of gentlemen who called themselves Issan Golf who met up at Si Bourirak also known as “The Agg”. Sam admittedly said it wasn’t the top notch course like Ubolratana Dam and no way near like the standard of Singha Park (yet to blog about) but he said it would be a nice relaxed round of golf at a local golf course with some good chilled out guys and that’s exactly what it was. As you drove into the car park of The Agg it had a similar feel to the underwhelming Sri Thani Forest in Udon Thani, the caddies all gathered in a mere shed the clubhouse was on open sided shack and the shop was also a less than overwhelming building. My first thoughts were “oh no not another Sri Thani Forest”, but first thoughts were to be quite deceiving. This course albeit  9 hole was full of charm, personality and funnily enough greens to die for, so much better than Dancoon, the only down side really were the horrific bunkers, and if only they smartened the bunkers up this little 9 holer would be quite the charmer.

The first hole was a fairly simple dogleg right over water quite uninspiring really if you hit a good drive you would have a very short chip into the green, but after the first this charming little 9 hole course really came to life, the second being a good testing long straight par 4 with a couple of trees down the left hand side of the fairway and if you were prone to a fade or slice you must be careful of the water to the right (for right handed golfers). Then for me came the most charming par 3 I had played in a long time, whether it was the rather ugly looking lake in front of the green, or the rickety bridge over to the green that looked as if anytime soon it could collapse there was something about this par 3 that you had to love. The green would be one of the hardest I have ever come to putt on, with a severe down slope back towards the water and especially second time round after the sun had baked this green it became a very testing par 3.

The quite uninspiring 1st hole, then the charms of this course came to life with the bridge to walk over to the par 3 3rd, the par 3 3rd green and the approach shot into the 2nd.

The fourth would then become a really testing but quite open par 5 with a selection of tall trees down the left hand side of the fairway that guides you to the green, after this you had to take a slight walk past the first tee, around the shop to the lovely quite short par 4 with plenty of traps including a tall yet narrow lovely looking tree that bears down on your tee shot, pick left or right of this tree, left for safety, right for the greedier golfer, if you go right beware of the water trap down to the right. The 6th again is a tricky yet shortish par 4 with a dog leg to the left and if you hit a good 200 yards you’d be at the corner of the dogleg with a mere 130 in. For me though the conclusion to this par 9 course is fantastic the 8th was a stunning quirky par 5, but you got to keep it straight, go left and you are not finding the ball and if you go right you’ll probably end up in some water, and perfectly positioned about 150 from the green is the tail of the water so you’ve either gotta be brave and clear it or if your game is a bit shorter be a wimp and and lay up. The 9th is the signature hole, although for me the 3rd is  ore interesting, like the third it had water to the front of the green, but this par 3 9th looked more man made and crafted to be nicer on the eye, which is probably the reason I preferred the more natural setting of the 3rd. It’s a bigger hit in and the green is generous in size. All I can say about this course (barring the bunkers) is if you are in the Khon Kaen area you must play this course, it costs about £10 and for me was the best course in terms of being so charmingly quirky, but if you want the picture perfect standard 18 hole courses you generally get here in Thailand don’t be expecting too much. If you also fancy joining some lovely guys here look up Issangolf.com and they will greet you with open arms.

The lovely approach shot into the 5th green par 4 and the testing par 5 8th.

Looking back from the large 9th green towards the tee box.

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Ubolratana Dam Golf Course, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

Well coming off the back of a great experience of playing at Dancoon Golf Club, golfing around the Khon Kaen area just got even better when I was introduced to the lovely Ubolratana Dam Golf Course. Again meeting some great guys here in Khon Kaen Province a friend of a friend called Trevor Edge had arranged for a guy called Sam to pick me up for a round of golf about 50km north west of Khon Kaen. Funnily enough as coincidences happen Sam picked me up and we had already met playing golf in Pattaya a mere 525km away and as it went on Sam became a good friend and we had arranged to play Dancoon, Singha Park, Si Borirak and Ubolratana together. Sam another great down to earth guy from Carlisle was reaping the weather and cultural benefits of becoming an expat here in Khon Kaen proceeded to tell me that he played every Monday, Wednesday and Friday switching between the 4 best courses up here in Khon Kaen (oh what a life). The drive from Khon Kaen city to Ubolratana Dam GC is about 45 minutes but if you want to add 20 minutes on your drive through Nam Phong National Park and along the side of the waters of Ubolratana then it’s definitely worth it, Sam being the gent he was took me this way and it was awesome, some of the best views I have come across here in Issan so far.

After arriving at the course to a more down to earth setting than that of the courses in the more touristic parts we got changed and proceeded to get on with the game. Fortunately I was lucky enough to be grouped with Trevor Edge, Trevor Sherman (the bloody nice Aussie guy from Pattaya who was up here visiting Trevor Edge)  and Sam. What a fourball, full of Thai stories and what was to be a completely relaxing round of golf. The first hole was a picture of beauty with the morning dew rising and two absolutely cracking big trees on the fairway and with the sun rising from behind the green on this particularly hole it was a picture of complete serenity. The hole itself was a really tough opening par 5 with water before the green so no chance of being close with the addition of the two trees on the fairway made it even more difficult.

The beautiful looking opening tee shot with the early morning dew.

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The rest of the course did not disappoint, with no two similar holes and so much more beautiful than Dancoon but with the beauty became the difficulty, as a big hitter I couldn’t get away with the wayward shot, anywhere of line meant you were in a hard place or behind tree life therefore a few times I became unstuck. To add to the beauty of this course there was also a lovely positioned Buddha statue in the hills that always cast an eye down on you.

Although again I must apologise for my awful photography you can understand the feeling you get with this beautiful looking Buddha watching your game.

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The front 9 slightly easier than the back followed up with a slightly simple hole 2 par 4 with a dog leg right hitting the second over the water onto a slightly raised green and then followed up by a 170 yard par 3. The highlight of the front 9 is the 6th par 3 although not difficult this is where you get the best view of the Buddha and adds to the tension as you try to hit your drive straight, and a good straight drive should leave you with a fairly simple 100 yard chip in.

The back 9 therefore starts with quite a simple dogleg left par 4 and like the caddies here they are very keen on just pulling the driver out for you on every hole and this is where I came unstuck flying the ball straight through the dogleg to leave me a difficult chip out of the rough to get near the green. Then comes your signature par 3 on the 14th although this course doesn’t posses the island green it does posses this par 3 with plenty of water in front of a very tricky uphill green. Once completing the par 3 14th you then have arguably one of the toughest finishes in golf I have come across here in Thailand, luckily I can hit a reasonable drive therefore getting the length needed on the long par 5 15th but most guys aim to get there in 4, similarly the 16th is a good par 5 although slightly shorter than that of the 15th, the 17th again a nice par 4 with water in front of the green, by this time the caddy was understanding I can hit quite big and sensibly made me play my hybrid to leave me a nice 100 yards into a difficult green. The 18th then becomes the hardest hole on the course it’s a long straight narrow fairway some guys happy to be on in 3 but the difficulty comes on the green with slopes that make you hate golf especially as by time you’ve reached this green the sun has baked it to its quickest, on in two I made a 6 hahah that’s golf for you.

The 14th par 3, 17th par 4 and another from the approach shot of the second.

Dancoon Golf Club, Khon Kaen, Thailand.

At last a blog worth writing, a course worth playing and a completely relaxing day worth remembering. My progress through Issan had been a bit dismal to say the least, I had been completely fobbed off by Victory Park, and although I was glad for the game at Sri Thani Forest in Udon it was completely underwhelming, so I was fortunate enough to meet a wonderful chap called Pete Hartley, a down to earth Yorkshire-man who was the owner of two lovely resorts in Khon Kaen (ChaiSiri Resort and Sara’s Boutique Resort). Peter himself was a keen golfer although very relaxed in it’s approach, every Thursday he participated in a round with his friends at Dancoon Golf Course, about 10 km outside Khon Kaen, he invited me along.

The morning of Thursday 11th January we proceeded to Dancoon Golf Club, it was a very cold morning, something I was not accustomed to here in Thailand, I even had to fork out £20 on buying myself a sweater (travelling lightly I had limited clothes). The approach to the clubhouse was something I was used too although a little less grand than the courses down in Chonburi, Bangkok or Rayong, but nevertheless a lovely clubhouse backed up by very comfortable changing rooms. I was introduced to my caddy by Peter who being a expat chose me an absolute cracker, this caddy was enough to put anybody off there golf, although extremely pretty she was to be one of the best caddies I had here in Thailand, only after a couple of holes I didn’t need to speak to her much she already had the correct club out for me just giving me the vital information of yardage and green slopes.

The beautifully comfortable changing rooms at Dancoon.

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My playing partners Peter and Lawrence, I’ll tell you something this was to be the most relaxed round I had for a long time, Lawrence and old guy, full of laughs, a bit of a lad if you know what I mean, and as I had mentioned Peter very down to earth, relaxing and pretty much a lovely bloke. The beers did flow, as you can imagine there was no competitive edge whatsoever only on the par 3’s where we agreed to bet a few baht and the winner had to give it to the caddy which I thought was a lovely gesture to these 3 lovely caddies.

Right enough of talking about my experiences of being introduced to some great people and lets talk about this course, and before I make it sound like the best course ever, it wasn’t a touch on the beautifully crafted courses in the more touristic areas, but value for money this was right up my street, a great local course the greens very slow but having work done which was nice to see, and if I was to settle as an expat in this area then I would be extremely happy to pay the prices to play Dancoon regularly.

The opening hole was quite a simple par 4, teeing off over water was know to become the norm and with a good drive you would be left with a simple chip onto the green, not a frightening opening hole to say the least, in fact the course is very different to what I was used to here, if you sprayed the drive a bit and didn’t land in water you almost definitely would be in a safe hitting position, there was very little tree life on this course. The par 5 3rd was the next notable hole worth mentioning almost having two dogleg rights in it, very testing for a short hitter but was right up my street birdie first time round, I knew I was going to enjoy this place. The holes were quite simplistic up to the 7th where you then come across your signature Thailand par 3, a nice 145 from the whites but from the blues a more difficult 170 with water all the way up to the front of the green with bunkers all the way down the right of the green, so you can get carried away with the quite simple first 6 but then the course comes to life, The 8th a beautiful long straight par 4 with well positioned bunkers and then the par 5 9th is an absolute belter, its long, if you hit a good drive you still have to lay up short because only Dustin Johnson could carry the water in front of the green in two, once you got round the dogleg left you were introduced to the wonderful sight of the slightly raised green behind a the water that carried through from the opening tee shot and would maintain its flow through to the 18th green and behind the 9th and 18th greens was the sight of the lovely restaurant and hotel.

The early morning mist looking out on the course from the restaurant.

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The opening hole at Dancoon a fairly straight forward par 4, then where the course starts to get really interesting with the par 3 7th.

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The back 9 is a completely different challenge to the front 9, its more of an exciting longer challenge than that of the front, more suitable for you big hitters. It starts with a lovely par 4 over water, dog legs to the left but if you were greedy enough to cut some of the water out you were left with a chip albeit a difficult chip onto a raised green, then came the what I would call the signature par 3 with the island green and lovely scenery around the big lake, as I mentioned Dancoon is in comparison to the touristic courses very flat and has very little tree life and its on this par 3 where you realise this with the lake and the surrounding flat banks almost make it look a little like a dessert course with water obviously. Following this par 3 is a long hard par 5 with a suitably placed tree to catch you out on that second shot, with an approach shot onto a raised green and if the flag is at the back don’t be going long as it falls away at the back. The finish to Dancoon is quite difficult with long par 4’s on the 14th, 15th and 16th then again although similar to its approach the slightly shorter par 5 is the perfect ending to what a lot of people would call quite an easy course, very relaxing, easy to walk although with its limited tree life I could imagine in the hotter months here this course could boil you up a little bit.

A pano of the 11th par 3 you can see the small amount of tree life compared to that of  the other courses I’ve played in Thailand. The 18th approach with the hotel in the background. The lovely 17th par 3 and the approach to the very difficult 15th par 4.