Golf withdrawal symptoms: Do you suffer?

How jungle course satisfied my craving

Golf withdrawal symptoms: Do you suffer?

Visiting northern Thailand for the first time last week  on an adventure holiday to study the food, the culture and the wildlife, I didn't expect to suffer golf withdrawal symptons.

I've devoted the last 20 years to the sport and the golf industry and told my wife I was happy to take a break away from the game to re-charge the batteries.

I might think about golf, I told her, but promised I wouldn't consider playing during our 14 days in the Asian outback... honest!

But suddenly towards the end of our epic trip which included washing elephants in a muddy river, a confrontation with scorpions eating fish soup and rice for breakfast I got the craving.

On the road to our hotel near Pak Chong, three hours north east of Bangkok, and on the edge of the Kao Yai national park, I spotted the irresistable, tell-tale sign of a flagstick, a green and a bunker in a jungle clearing.

I hadn't played for nearly a month and had to check it out.

Appropriately named The Jungle Golf course it features a 9-hole forest layout in the grounds of the St Stephen's International School - Thailand's first boarding school for four to 14 year-olds - and is served by a small bamboo office selling £6 green fees and £2 packs of lake balls retrieved from snake-infested waters.

Wentworth - where I had last swung a club - it wasn't! But it was golf and with permission from 'the management' she agreed that for the sake of a grizzly husband, I should satisfy my appetite to get my hands back on the clubs for a couple of hours.

The young woman behind the counter agreed to let me hire out her personal set of clubs - graphite-shafted Mizuno T-Zoid irons (5-SW, circa 1990s), Cleveland Hi-Bore driver, Bridgestone Regiment 3- and 5-wood and Odyssey White Hot putter for 200 baht (about £4).  So with a packet of plastic tees, a rusty trolley and a borrowed, moth-eaten Callaway glove we headed for the first tee.

A small crowd - well, four actually - had gathered around the first tee to witness my opening shot. It didn't take a linguist in regional Thai to know they were asaking themselves what fool would consider starting a round in the 105 degree heat of a cloudless morning other than a golf-starved Englishman? 

Fortunately, I didn't disappoint. My 5-iron to the downhill 206-yard par-3 first, coming up just short of the green as the group nodded approvingly and wandered off into the shade. I chipped and two putted for bogey but the thin blue paper scorecard identified it as stroke index 5 so two stableford points were enthusiastically recorded.

However, as the temperatures soared, so did my scores as I tried to come to terms with a course lined with jungle bush encroaching almost to the fairway.

I'd read about snakes, scorpions and other creepy crawlies in undergrowth and no way was I - or my wife for that matter - going in there looking for stray, gnarled Wilson Staff golf balls.

But while the rough was uncompromising and the fairways uneven, the greens were firm, smooth and slick and featured a 18-inch white ring painted around every hole. Very strange!

I couldn't discover (because of the language barrier) whether the mystery rings were to help with judging the pace and direction of a putt or to encourage early matchplay concessions within their boundaries.

But maybe it's an idea that more courses should adopt to speed up play and avoid unnecessary trampling around the cup. British Institute of Greenkeepers (BIGGA) please note!

The most memorable hole was the 8th - a fierce dogleg of 320-yards - it's tee little bigger than a table-top and demanding a precise 9-iron over 40-foot high trees into a small gap to set up a view of the two tier green.

The hole would have even caddie Billy Foster scratching his head but Lee Westwood would have been proud of how I negotiated the first part precisely then speared a 3-wood approach to the middle of the green and holed the 15 foot putt for a birdie.

Despite taking in copious amounts of bottled water, my wife and I were hot and dehydrated as we stumbled up the final 9th hole but gratified by the experience of jungle golf.

Apart from my eclectic score of 43 against a par of 36 using two balls on each hole, I'd satisfied my desperate need to overcome my withdrawal symptoms and we were still on speaking terms.

It was a quirky, unfamiliar challenge but one I will never forget.

Postscript: I discovered later the Jack Nicklaus had built a 18-hole course at Kirimaya Resort less than 30 minutes away but they wanted about £100 to satisfy my obsession.

But no regrets, I'll cherish my golf in the jungle experience.

Tell us on the forum - where on holiday have you suffered golf withdrawal symptoms and have had to find a place to play to get it out of your system?

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