Chiang Mai Highlands – Just Got Better
This month I was invited by the General Manager, Derek Schade, to review Chiang Mai Highland’s new nine holes which opened to the public on November 1st. Derek had only taken up his post at Highlands recently after a successful period running Lotus Valley Golf Resort. There was a “return of the prodigal son” element as he had previously managed the Golf Club and enjoyed working closely with the inspirational owner Khun Vichai who persuaded him to re-join the Team. As I hadn’t played in the area for several years, and given Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort was in the running for the 2015 Asia Golf Awards Best Golf Resort in Asia Pacific (they subsequently won!), I took the opportunity to explore the whole facility and give readers an insight into what the complete package offers.
First, golf in the Chiang Mai area is a wonderful experience not just because of the spectacular backdrop of lush, verdant hills. It is also due to the general climate which is just that bit more forgiving than central and southern areas of Thailand with temperatures and humidity 5-20% more favourable. As its name would suggest Chiang Mai Highlands takes particular advantage of the locale and the designers Schmidt-Curley, who have delivered several projects in Thailand, notably the prestigious Amata Spring home to the Thailand Golf Championships, were eager to leave their mark yet remained sensitive to the beauty of the region. They were able to create something challenging and rewarding yet natural, sitting comfortably within its surroundings.
Lee Schmidt was the actual designer of the original eighteen and designed the new nine. Whilst subtly different in that the fairways on the new ‘C’ Course are wider and more forgiving, plus the greens much larger with distinct tiers, it is clear all 27 holes have the same DNA. Every shot requires an element of strategic thinking followed by sound execution in order to steer clear of hazards. These are natural in the form of young and mature trees or streams that meander throughout the course, plus bunkers that define the “smart” landing areas off the tees as well as approaches to the greens. These aren’t the only architect’s tools in use because the lay of the land allows for significant slopes and undulations, complemented by mounding that provides for a great or otherwise lie and/or line to the green. Many greens have severe run-offs but they are a large target so it’s not all penal.
Just like the original eighteen this nine exercises the brain and cannot be overcome by brute force alone. A case in point is the first hole; a 545 yard par 5 that doglegs left at a distance of about 300 yards from the blue tees. Standing on the tee you’ll straight away see the owner’s sensitivity to the environment because only 80 yards from the tee on the right sits a quite lovely tree that ever so slightly prevents a completely unimpeded view and on many courses would have been removed; I’m glad it’s there. Bunkers at 250 yards on the left dictate a drive that favours the quite open right hand side but then you wonder if the chance of getting on in two is out of the question. It probably is for all except the likes of Rory McIlroy because once the hole turns left the ground climbs sharply to the multi-tiered green which slopes from front to back and provides for 2 very different pin positions. Even for a layup second the left side is peppered with bunkers such that the right hand side, and far right at that, is the only sensible option no matter how alien it feels. From a hundred yards with a sand wedge in your hand the perspective changes and for the first time 2 deep bunkers guarding the right of the green stare you in the face. In essence at every shot selection your decision process must be considered and measured, weighing risk and reward. Such is the case with every hole on the nine from a long par 5 to a short par 3.
One striking feature of the nine holes was how good their conditioning was; a credit to the fact the owner didn’t want to rush the opening but rather wait until the nine holes reflected the high standards of the original A/B course. I implore you to discover all this for yourself and am confident you’ll walk away delighted.