PATTAYA, Thailand – The shift has been subtle in places, not so subtle in others, but the golf world is slowly moving its focus solely from the continents of North America and Europe to Asia, where, as usual, Thailand commands the center of attention.

Women’s once-and-future golf sensation Michelle Wie will inaugurate her 2010 competitive season in Thailand at the Honda PTT LPGA Thailand, to be played Feb. 18-21, here at Pattaya’s Siam Country Club. The Golf Channel has reported that Wie, fresh off her first LPGA victory at the close of 2009, has committed, along with some of the LPGA’s biggest names, including Lorena Ochoa, Shin Jiyai, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Ai Miyazato and Suzann Pettersen.

The Old Course at Siam CC will host the world’s top female players in 2010. Last year the club’s Plantation Course played able host, as world #1 Ochoa took the title. Both tracks at Siam CC are members of Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience, Asia’s premier pairing of resort courses and luxury hotels (www.golfinakingdom.com).

No word of commitment yet from Aree Song, the popular LPGA pro who was spotted playing a casual round at another Golf in a Kingdom track, Chiang Mai Highlands, in early January, with her brother Chan Song, a member of both the Asian and Japanese tours. The Thai-born professional, formerly known as Aree Wongluekiet, is set to continue her LPGA comeback after missing the 2008 LPGA season with health problems. In 2009 she competed in only 11 events; her current World Ranking stands at 54.

It used to be LPGA sightings in Asia were comparatively rare, as the richer, better established North American-based LPGA lured players from Korea, Japan, the British Isles and Scandinavia to weekly tournament dates in the United States and Canada. But the balance has shifted. In 2003, LPGA legend Jan Stephenson was roundly criticized for claiming that Asian players were “killing” the LPGA Tour. Not they are propping it up – through their fine play and their internationalist outlook.

The LPGA Tour may start in Thailand this month, but it will subsequently visit Singapore, Jamaica, Mexico, France, Japan and China. Indeed, with as many as 35 Japanese LPGA events planned for 2010, 26 individual Ladies European Tour stops, and some 20 more Korean LPGA tour events, it’s possible that some players with dual membership might decide to make the LPGA their “other” tour instead – that is, if the LPGA doesn’t start serious negotiations with the JLPGA, Korean LPGA, and LET to jointly sponsor more events and coordinate their schedules – so the best players in the world can play in each tour’s major events.

“Obviously, both men’s and women’s professional golf have taken notice of the fantastic destination Thailand provides to host their events,” said Gerry Norquist, head coach of the Thai National Golf Team and a former Malaysian Open champion. “The recent announcement of the European Senior PGA Tour coming to Royal Gems Golf club in Bangkok, in March, along with the Honda-PTT LPGA at Siam CC, bear witness to this. It won’t be long before other major tours look to follow suit, as there is no shortage of quality venues and facilities waiting to host them.”

As Norquist noted, the 2010 European Senior Tour campaign has been further strengthened with the announcement of the inaugural Chang Thailand Senior Masters 2010 presented by ISPS March 12-14, 2010. Royal Gems Golf & Sports Club, in Bangkok, will host the $400,000 event, according to Charles Perring, deputy managing director of the European Senior Tour.

“This event will be a welcome addition to the Senior Tour’s early season schedule on the back of our second visit to Brunei,” Perring said. “We’d like to thank Royal Gems Golf & Sports Club and Lars Londal for helping to create this tournament which will showcase Thailand and Bangkok to an international television audience.”

The LPGA’s Wie, who also plans to stay and play in the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore the following week, should boost attendance at the Honda PTT LPGA Thailand. Some 16,000 fans watched the final round at Siam Country Club last year and attendance is likely to be much bigger with the presence of Wie and such strong field.

Major tournaments are routinely held at Golf in a Kingdom courses, which should come as no surprise, according to Mark Siegel, CEO of Bangkok-based tour operator Golfasian, “because these are the best courses in the country, and the various tours don’t hold their tournaments just anywhere.” On the men’s side, he pointed out that the Asian Tour will visit Santiburi Samui Country Club, on the island of Samui, for the Queen’s Cup, Aug. 12-15, 2010.

This fall, Thai Country Club was named “The Best Championship Course in Asia,” according to Asian Golf Monthly magazine, while Santiburi Chiang Rai CC was site of the 2008 Singha Thailand PGA Championship. Both are Golf in Kingdom members.

For more information on ‘Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience‘, or to make golf travel plans in Thailand, visit www.golfinakingdom.com, or send email to info(at)golfinakingdom(dot)com

 

About Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience

From the mystical Golden Triangle above Chiang Rai to the breathtaking beaches of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, ‘Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience’ takes in some of the most lush and varied terrain on the planet. That sort of real estate – linked by Thailand’s enviably modern transportation infrastructure – translates into the Kingdom’s stunning golf properties, which include Banyan Golf Club in Hua Hin, Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort, Muang Kaew Golf Club in Bangkok, Santiburi Chiang Rai Country Club, Santiburi Samui Country Club, Siam Country Club’s Plantation and Old courses in Pattaya, and Thai Country Club in Bangkok.

Thailand also harbors the Asia’s newest and broadest collection of 5-star accommodations – at prices North Americans and Europeans may not believe at first. ‘Golf in a Kingdom’ embraces that development by bridging rounds of golf with nights at posh, brand-name resorts, including the Anantara Phuket, Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa, Anantara Golden Triangle, Anantara Hua Hin, Anantara Koh Samui, and Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa.