Mention Ayutthaya and the first thing that comes to mind are the well-restored ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to what some regard as the golden era of the Siamese Kingdom in the 17th and 18th centuries.
As Ayutthaya is located just 80km north of Bangkok which is about an hour and 20 minutes’ drive, many treat it as a day excursion out of Bangkok. However, in addition to its historical treasures, there is a lot to see and do in the picturesque city built at the confluence of three rivers – the mighty Chao Phraya and its tributaries Pa Sak and Lop Buri. For golfers, this includes some excellent golf.
A pleasant introduction to golf here is Ayutthaya Golf Club (www.aygolfclub.com), a wide open and friendly layout located about 20 minutes from the city centre. Designed by local architect Attanon Yomchinda, the par-72, 7095-yard layout is dominated by water but most of which is not really in play if you strike the ball reasonably well.
Off the tees, the fairways are generally wide and accommodating so you’ll be able to use the big stick quite often. The greens are rather uniquely shaped so do pay attention to your caddie’s advice.
An odd feature of Khun Attanon’s design is that most of the water on the front nine is to the left, while the homeward stretch is the exact opposite. There is a fair amount of mounding off the fairways, dotted with trees which are still not mature enough to be really penal.
Standout holes include the par-three 7th, which plays 211 yards over water, and the long and straight par-four 13th which is rated as the toughest hole.
One of the best golf courses in Ayutthaya is a newbie, the Royal Bang Pa-In Golf Club (www.royalbpgolf.com) about 30 minutes’ south of the city (just over an hour’s drive from Bangkok). Crafted by the renowned American design firm of Schmidt-Curley and opened for play in 2017, the visually stunning par-72 course features dark green Paspalum on the fairways and Champions Bermuda on the greens.
Playing 7,058 yards from the black tees, the layout is intelligently routed through marshland and former rice fields. Bunkering is minimalist but well-positioned for both visual and penal purposes, while much of the swampland has been retained to create a natural look and feel. The large greens are undulating and fast, so getting on in regulation is no guarantee of par.
Each hole provides a memorable experience but some really stand out. These include the 9th which is a double dogleg par-five demanding two water carries, the par-three 14th with its island green, and the short par-four 16th where long hitters can go for the green by cutting across the marsh.
Royal Bang Pa-In represents Thai golf at its very best, from the playing experience and caddies to the service and F&B. The ultra-modern clubhouse is a study in excellent flow, boasting spacious changing rooms with full-length lockers.
Other golf courses in the Ayutthaya area include Ayodhya Links, Bangsai Country Club, Northern Rangsit Golf Club, Rachakaram Golf Club and Wang Noi Prestige Golf Club.
In stark contrast to Bangkok, Ayutthaya has a slow-paced and relaxed feel. The riverside Ayutthaya Night Market has to be one of the prettiest in the country, with many of the vendors dressed in traditional Thai costumes from the Ayutthayan era.
Like all of Thailand, food is plentiful. Highly recommended is an early dinner at Sai Thong River Restaurant along the banks of the Chao Phraya, not only for the delicious food but for Instagram opportunities with the ancient Banyan tree growing through the middle of the restaurant.
Another Instagram-friendly place to visit is the Bang Pan-In Royal Palace, dating back to the Ayutthayan era but with most of its current structures built by King Rama V in the late 19th century. The beautifully-landscaped 19-hectare complex features ornate buildings in various architectural styles of that period, ranging from Thai and Chinese to French and Victorian England.
For more information on Ayutthaya, click here
Text and photos by Jonathan Ponniah