The island of Phuket is fighting back after the tragedy of the tsunami and Vic Robbie discovers that the golf and sawasdee is as strong and genuine as ever
WHEN my drive plunged deep into the Blue Canyon after which Phuket’s leading golf course is named, I smiled. So Tiger Woods drove the 13th green here years ago – all of 390 yards over the canyon and right over the trees hiding the green. Okay, he four-putted but then he’s only human, or so they say. But I bet he still had a smile on his face when he left the 13th.
The next hole is just as tricky, played from a towering tee down to an island green that appears to grow smaller the longer you stare at it. Tiger? Who cares! I know I missed the island green and I grinned at my misfortune and even when we finished in the dusk and heavy rain I was still chuckling.
In Thailand, you just can’t help yourself. A feeling of jollity even encroaches onto the golf course so that it would be churlish to let normal behavior spoil the moment.
Perhaps the accompaniment of a winsome lady caddie at Blue Canyon – caddies are compulsory in Thailand – had something to do with it. More used to a weathered, veteran campaigner wearing a bunnet and with a hand-rolled cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth, it’s a pleasant surprise to be met on the first tee by a vision in blue.
Despite temperatures in the high 80s and fearsome humidity, it was a breeze. She carried the heavy bag without complaint. ‘It’s okay, boss, you play the golf and I’ll take care of everything,’ said Pateharee, whose name in English means Diamond, and she certainly was, expertly reading the lines for crucial putts and even correctly overruling my rash choice of clubs.
The feel-good factor started with a genuine and respectful ‘sawasdee’ or welcome on boarding the Thai Airways jumbo at Heathrow and continued until our return. The Thais are working hard at attracting the tourists back to their land following the devastation of the tsunami that struck with such terrifying force at 10.29 a.m. on Boxing Day in 2004.
Phuket in particular was hit hard but it is not how the locals want their paradise island to be remembered. The authorities point out that only 10 per cent of the infrastructure was affected and the message is ‘Come and visit us.’
One survey reported that even after those terrible events Thailand was second only to Dubai in Britons’ favourite long-haul destinations. It’s easy to see why – the Thais could have coined the phrase ‘Service with a smile’.
Nowhere is this smiling service more in evidence than at the JW Marriott Resort Phuket, which is ideally placed in the north-west of the island for golf at Blue Canyon’s two courses and the new Mission Hills course, which is also a must play when on the island.
The Marriott offers just the right balance of relaxed luxury in 265 rooms and suites. You can stay in the royal suite with its own 60-foot long swimming pool at $3,000 a night or like the rest of us – presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton included – stay in humbler accommodations, which are still just as luxurious, each providing indoor salas, the traditional Thai-style raised areas with twin massage mats and triangular cushions for reading and relaxing.