In the mid-seventies, Mary McGregor had a big hit with a song called Torn Between Two Lovers. I think of it every time someone asks what my favorite course in Hua Hin is? Because my loyalties are torn between two great choices, each with its special elements.
The beautiful 5th hole at Banyan demands an accurate tee shot and is a tricky second.
The city of Hua Hin is located some three and a half hours south of Bangkok. It is one of my favorite places in Thailand. Designated as a Royal city, it has all the hustle and bustle of Bangkok but in a much smaller, more understated way. It’s also right on the ocean and is promoted as the Thai Rivera. The city features many fine hotels, restaurants, markets, and the usual mix of tailor shops and Go-Go bars. You can get wonderful custom clothing cheap and delivered to your hotel. The seafood is fresh off the boats and just outside the town lies two great golf resorts, Banyan and Black Mountain.
The par 3. 15th offers views of the ocean and clues to its former life as a pineapple plantation.
Banyan Golf Club Was Built on an Old Pineapple Plantation
I’m here at Banyan golf club for the third time. This time I’m staying in one of the four Clubhouse villas, which look like small traditional Thai houses or even small temples made of wood with a very high pointed roof. They are gorgeous inside and out, beautifully appointed with hardwood fittings. All four villas come with a splash pool and a great view across the golf course to the mountains of Myanmar beyond. Their larger resort and real estate complex lies just outside of town and features beautiful villas built around a massive river-like pool that flows through the entire property. Regular shuttles take players on the 15-minute ride to the course or the five-minute ride to town.
Caddie Girls Are a Wonderful Feature of all Thai Golf Clubs
I am introduced to my charming caddie girl, a feature of all Thai golf clubs. Some are first-class caddies reading putts and helping you select clubs. Most are more for emotional support, and all must have gone to the same school for their few words of English rarely change from venue to venue. So, for example, after a poor hole, expect to hear such sage advice as “Never mind bogey, you birdie next,” or after a decent drive “Oh you strong man” good for the ego if nothing else, and an integral and joyful part of the Thai golf experience.
Between The Pineapples
I tee it up from the back tees between two Pineapple makers, a nod to the course’s former life as a pineapple plantation. The front nine starts with a challenging par four going steeply downhill and then up, doglegging around a water hazard to the right and with little room left, making for a tough start. The 2nd and 4th are long par 3’s both with treacherous greens, while the downhill par 5, 3rd is your best birdie opportunity on the front.
Strategic Positioning is Important
Strategic decisions play an important part on several holes. The 5th is a tactically challenging hole that goes downhill, leaving an awkward lie for your second to a narrow green guarded by a stream. Many players opt for a three wood off the tee hugging the jungle to the left for a better lie and angle. You will have a short iron into the par 5, 8th for your third, but you must position your second shot between a multitude of bunkers, and the green is tiny.
The Back Nine Is a Much Tougher Test
The back nine gets much tighter and a lot steeper, starting with the long, tight straight up a par 4, 10th. Where despite multiple rounds, I’m still waiting for my first par. There are many gorgeous holes on the back nine, I love 13. It’s a tight tee shot with a cliff face on the left and trees on the right of this slight dogleg right with a second to a partially hidden green. Atop the cliff sits a beautiful Buddhist temple, and it’s a great photo opportunity. There is a very strong three-hole finish. The par 4, 16th, is a cracking hole, a long downhill par four with a tight tee shot, and a creek guarding the right side of the green. It’s followed by a par three where I hit driver and a long dogleg right par 4 back to the clubhouse.
There’s a wonderful mix of holes going in multiple directions, and the course is always in excellent condition. From the back, it’s a substantial 7300 yards since there is little roll on the well-watered fairways, and as with most great courses, you can expect to hit every club in your bag. The fairways are plush, and the greens are as fast and undulating as any in the world.
The 16th is a long, downhill par four and one of the standouts on the back nine
One of My Favorite Pubs in the World
After your round, the Thai-style pub on the outside looks like an English pub on the inside. Outside is a beautiful deck overlooking the course with views over the entire front nine. It is incredible at sunset as the sun drops behind the mountings in neighboring Myanmar in the distance.
The pro shop, although not huge, carries an amazing variety of unique and colorful shirts, and I never leave without at least one. The food in the clubhouse is excellent, with a huge choice of local and European dishes. My favorite is the Tom Yum a type of hot and sour Thai soup, usually cooked with shrimp. As with anywhere in Thailand, service always comes with a smile.
Black Mountain North and East
I’m enjoying Black Mountain again for the third time as well, which, given my worldwide options for golf, just shows you how much I appreciate both venues. It has a couple of clear advantages over Banyan in that all their accommodation is at the course. There is a wide selection of villas, condos, and homes most overlooking the fairways for rent or sale. They also have 27 holes, with the addition of the West nine in 2016.
Black Mountain Features Lots of Water Hazards
From a playability point of view, Black Mountain is a little more player-friendly, with lots of room off the tee. However, this is balanced by the fact that there is far more water in play than at Banyan. There is even more elevation change, and the views from the snack bar at the top are magnificent. Further proof of its quality is that Black Mountain has hosted a European PGA Tour, and two Asian Tour events. It was also selected by Golf Digest as one of the top 100 courses outside the USA. The North and East combo play every inch of 7,591 yards from the back, but you can bite off as much or as little as you choose with five sets of tees.
The par 5, 2nd hole gives you plenty to think about on your approach
The Attention to Detail at Black Mountain Is Visible Everywhere
There are several stand-out holes on the front nine starting par-five 2nd, which features a tough drive between two water hazards, followed by a long layup short of the Lilly ponds, which then leaves you with a decent birdie chance with a short iron in your hands. There is also plenty of water on the 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th, with more on the back nine. The course goes up and down several times during the round, but the architect has succeeded in that rare feat of making the uphill holes just as good and enjoyable as the downhill holes.
On the back nine, the par-three 11th framed by the Black Mountain, while beautiful, has ruined many a round. From the back tees, it’s a daunting 215 yards, and long left is your only safe miss. Even from 180, it’s a scary shot. The 16th is a sharp dogleg left to a green guarded by boulders is another of my favorites.
Emergency Nine on the West
After the 18th, head over for an emergency nine on the West course. Where standout holes include the 7th and 8th in this rapidly maturing addition to the original 18 holes. It’s relatively flat so an easy walk, but with plenty of water.
Make New Friends in a Dozen Different Languages
After your round, the large outdoor bar offers excellent views across the front nine of the north course to the Black Mountain beyond. There you will marvel at the number of languages being spoken. Swedish, German, Norwegian, Dutch, and English could all be heard on my last visit, and every visit has ended in making new friends. Dining on the patio is also excellent, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The magnificent par, 3, 11th has ruined many a card.
Black Mountain offers a wide range of on-course condos, villas, and homes
If You Have to Choose – Choose Both!
Just as I’m torn between which of my caddie girls is more charming, I have a hard time picking my favorite between Black Mountain and Banyan. Ultimately the choice is simple. If you have taken the trouble to come to Thailand in the first place and made the trip down from Bangkok, it would be insane not to stay and play at both. The quality of the courses, the service, friendliness, food, and caddie girls at both clubs are exceptional. I feel sure that just like me, you won’t play either course, just once, but will return again and again.
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At a Glance:
- Two great courses, 18 and 27 holes
- Excellent conditioning
- Multiple choices of accommodation at Black Mountain and Banyan
- Both have a beautiful outside bar and dining areas
- Both courses are about 15 minutes from town
- Both have ranges and instruction available
- Both have excellent pro shops