No doubt there are many better known golf courses in Thailand but there are very few as good as Navatanee, an early Trent Jones Jr. design on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Although Navatanee is within an hour of Central Bangkok it certainly does not feel it. Some traffic can be heard in a couple of corners of the course, otherwise it is like strolling through a sedate tropical park.
Trent Jones Jr. was a young course designer following in his famous father’s footsteps when he won the contract to design this course in 1969. It was a meaningful commission for him as it was the first course he designed that hosted a professional tournament. Since then he has been involved in hundreds of projects worldwide and many within Asia.
Navatanee hosted the World Cup of Golf in 1975 which was won by the US team of Johnny Miller and Lou Graham. The event did more than anything else to instigate interest in the game in Thailand – that in turn triggered the investment boom in the 1980s and 90s. It may be a coincidence but 1975 was also the year of half-Thai Tiger Woods’ birth.
In his book Golf by Design, Trent Jones Jr. speaks often about courses requiring heroic characteristics and heroic shots. Both full length shots at the 6th and 9th are straight out of this canon.
Golfing here is an immensely pleasurable experience. The rough is kept low for everyday play, the trees are not very densely grouped and the fairways are pretty generous. This is a subtle classic course that has moved gracefully into maturity.
Re-produced with kind permission from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia & Australasia by James Spence.
Oops I did it again; I got sucked into playing an overly expensive Asian golf course that rates fairly highly within the country. In the case of this course, Navatanee, likely based on two factors: it stills clings to the World Cup 1975 tag and the fact that it's an expensive and mostly private club. However, it's a flat, parkland or even resort style layout that quickly became repetetive. If it wasn't for the photos and notes I took during the round I'd scarcely be able to recall a single hole 24 hours later. Additionally, it was very wet underfoot and most balls plugged on the fairways and surrounds. Whilst it had rained the night before, the addition of sprinklers had kept everything far too wet and really, this course is in tropical Asia where rain is pretty much a constant. If the conditioning can't cope with a small amount of rain I'd hate to think what it was like after a real downpour.
Really surprised that this course is rated anywhere near the top 10 to 15 in Thailand: as a club, sure it has a nice clubhouse and lots of staff (more staff working on the course than golfers playing midweek) and it looked tidy enough, but if I really consider the key points of the course design, conditioning and aesthetics, it was pretty average. Another word comes to mind: confected. A course confected from flat floodplain.
There must be better and better-value golf in Bangkok and I think this course would be more accurately rated 3.5 balls.