The Laem Chabang International Country Club is near Pattaya but some way from its lurid realities. The main attraction here is a 27-hole Jack Nicklaus lay out. This is the best golf course on Bangkok's Eastern seaboard, an area of Thailand that saw a boom in course development in the 1990s when bank credit was easy to come by. Laem Chabang is one of six Nicklaus designs in Thailand completed between 1991 and 1994.
The three nines are laid out on land which is laid back from the coast by a few kilometres and contains plenty of original features – notably some rocky Nicklaus extrusions which provide plenty of visual interest. It is also possessed of some natural hilliness, so nature provides some foundation to the design, something that cannot be said about all Nicklaus designs in Asia.
You really wouldn't complain about playing any combination of nines here, but I think the Mountain 9 and then Lake 9 is the best combination and to pick one of the three alone, I would favour the Mountain 9. As the name suggests it is located on more hilly terrain toward the back of the property – though calling it mountainous would be a feat of the imagination. The 1st hole is a short teaser – the golfer is required to pop a ball through a chute of vegetation to a fairway that is at an angle and sloped back toward the tee. This sets up for a short iron to a green that falls away to bunkers on the right side. The 2nd is a conventional downhill par three across some water, nothing remarkable here. Then follows a very attractive sequence of holes, the 422-yard 3rd where the best landing area from the tee brings you close to a well located fairway bunker. The par five 4th at 502 yards is short enough to encourage longer hitters to attempt it in two but this could be foiled by some fairway bunkers that encroach on the right and a large sand area to the front and right of the green.
The Lake 9 has an equally strong start. Most of the work on the first will be done from the tee. What looks like two bunkers in line is in fact a bunker just short of the fairway and then one 20 or so yards further on in the middle of the fairway. The golfer must then go safe and left of this bunker or try to fly the gap between the two, providing the best route into this excellent 361-yard par four. The second is a straight away par five that submits to a ball flighted in either direction from the tee – beware only the sole fairway bunker on the left. The 3rd is another interesting two shotter to a well protected green. The 5th and 7th holes are not as memorable as the rest but between them lies the sixth. A 428-yard par four where the second has to be carried over water to a green set at an angle. To access the pin the drive will need to scour the edge of the left rough and be as close to the water as possible. Even from the ideal approach position it is difficult to take dead aim at the pin and a generous roll off area beckons on the left. An overly safe shot, though, will require the golfer to chip, perhaps from a downhill lie, to a green with water running behind.
Laem Chabang weathered the economic downturn of the 1990s very well – it is close enough to Bangkok to be able to accommodate day players from the capital. The course is popular with both occasional and regular players – a commendation it deserves on account of its diversity of holes and great conditioning.
Re-produced with kind permission from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia & Australasia by James Spence.
You'd think I would have learnt, after playing Navatanee near Bangkok last year and being thoroughly underwhelmed; but flight timings allowed me a 36 hour stopover at Suvarnabhumi, the main airport serving the city, so I organised a game of golf at another of the country's top ten courses.
Leam Chabang is an hour to 90 minutes south east of the airport and has onsite resort style accom rooms that whilst slightly older are fine. The 27 holes are pretty formulaic resort course golf with the typical compulsory cart and caddie. The one big advantage of this course compared to many in and around the wider Bangkok region, is that it actually has some elevated landforms, some rock outcroppings and some ability to route away from the usual water hazards / drainage ponds designed to cope with tropical downpours common in south-east Asia. It is that repetitive need for water hazards along most holes where fairways have been built up using dirt and consequent drainage ponds where it has been dug from, that are the standard fare. I find such Thai courses boring, usually overwatered and almost an afterthought behind a gaudy or overbearing clubhouse. And usually quite expensive too for mostly mediocre golfing.
Laem Chabang offers much of that, but it is the 'mountain' nine that is the exception in this case and that I enjoyed the most, because of the variety it offered in the shaping and challenge of the holes. Water was still present, but so too were ravine carries, jungle bordering holes, and great mounds rock like marbles stacked by children.
Not a bad course, but not enough to make me want to return.
Laem Chabang - Mountain and Lake nines - provide a championship experience with interesting routing, water on a lot of holes to provide the excitement and the course set up in excellent condition. After playing some of the top courses in Asia on a golf cruise from Singapore, Laem Chabang is perhaps just below Red Mountain and The Bluffs in terms of providing a spectacular day out but as a test of golf it is equal to the best.