Wondering about what you can do to help the tsunami-ravaged country of Thailand?
No need to send a check, money order or food - just go ahead with your golf vacation plans, if you've already made them. If you have been wanting to go, don't let the country's troubles dissuade you. In fact, government officials, tour operators and golf resorts are pleading with tourists not to ignore them now in their time of need.
"The worst punishment would be not to go back," French Association of Tour Operators Rene-Marc Chikli told the Associated Press. "If we succeed in re-employing just one person, we keep a family alive. Governments are saying, 'the wave punished us, don't punish us again by depriving us of our economic activities'".
Obviously, you should check first to make sure your destination isn't one of those areas still recovering from the tragedy. Thailand, of course, was one of the countries devastated by the Dec. 28 earthquake and the resulting tsunami, which have prompted governments world-wide to send millions of dollars in relief aid. At least 5,000 are dead and another 4,500 are missing, according to published reports.
The series of giant waves that crashed ashore mainly on the coastline disrupted the country's vital tourism industry, which accounts for six percent of Thailand's gross domestic product.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand in a study said the tourism industry stood to lose more than $256 million a month. Already, officials have noted a 27 percent drop in passengers arriving at Bangkok International Airport for the first three days in January, compared to the same period last year.
Thailand has many wonders that draw tourists, and golf is one of them. It has emerged as a hot golf destination in the last years, ever since its golf construction boom took place nearly three decades ago.
Thailand has around 200 golf courses, around 65 of which could be classified as outstanding and another handful might be considered in the "world-class" variety.
Some of the country's areas that have golf resorts escaped, while others were seriously damaged. Bangkok, for example, has a high concentration of golf courses and escaped serious damage.
"Fortunately, while some very minor tremors were felt in Bangkok, the earthquake and the resulting tidal waves did not have any effect on the city of Pattaya or Jomtien Beach," said Terry Patterson, the CEO of Sunny Golf Holidays, on his company's Web site.
Pattya, a seaside resort three hours southwest of Bangkok is one of Thailand's main resort areas and is surrounded by mountainous terrain, sparing it damage from the tsunami.
Even Phuket, one of the prime tourism beach resorts that was devastated by the earthquake, has recovered to an extent. Kata Beach Resort, for example, suffered little damage and is back up and running.
Phuket is one of six coastal provinces in the Andaman Sea that was hit hard - more than 12,000 hotel rooms were damaged. Of the 10 million foreign visitors last year, Phuket alone had 2.8 million, pulling in around $2 billion in tourist-related money.
Hua Him, another seaside resort area with a high concentration of golf courses, was not hit hard either.
Other areas were not so lucky; with information trickling in, there is quite a bit of bad news. The worst hit province of Phang Nga includes newly developed and now destroyed Khao Lak, which was affiliated with two nearby courses: the Thai Muang Beach Golf and Marina and Tublamu Royal Navy Golf Course.
The Thai government is already formulating a plan to try to keep tourists from avoiding the country because of fears about disease and other problems.
Some European governments are still advising travelers to avoid the region, while others are not. French charter flights to the Maldives, for example, are scheduled to resume Jan 16, and Italy lifted travel warnings to the Maldives last week.
Thailand has a potpourri of golf options, with courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, like Santiburi in Chiang Rai, the President Golf Course and Green Valley in Bangkok, and Eastern Star near Pattaya.
Jack Nicklaus has designed courses in Mission Hills in Kanchanaburi/River Kwai and Khao Yai National Park, and there are good courses at Natural Park Ramindra in Bangkoj, Laem Chabang near Pattaya and Springfield Royal in Hua Hin.
Other designers like Pete Dye, Ronald Fream and Roger Packard have courses in Panya Park in Bangkok, Natural Park Hill near Pattaya Imperial Lake View Cha Am/Hua Hin.
The foreign architects have Thai counterparts with top-notch courses like Chiang Mai Lamphun, Rose Garden, Phuket Country Club and Majestic Creek in Hua Hin.
Japanese designers have courses like Thai No. 1, Blue Canyon at Nichigo River Kwai, Pinehurst, Bangphra, Natural Park Resort near Pattaya and the Siam Country Club, which is credited with starting the Thai golf boom nearly 30 years ago.
Golfers are drawn to Thailand not just because of the courses and other sightseeing opportunities - golf in the country is more relaxed than in many Western countries, with most courses having bars every three or four holes serving Thai food and drinks.
Green fees are reasonable, and with a few exceptions, caddies are required even with a cart; most are young females who caddy for a nominal fee. Most courses have nice clubhouses and restaurants and offer rental clubs.
There is no monsoon season in Thailand, with November through March being particularly dry and cool. Tourists from most Western countries do not need visas for stays up to 30 days.
January 5, 2004
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
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