Hau Hin has facilities planned down to a 'tee'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 August, 1998, 12:00am

Springfield. The name conjures images of Ohio, the heart of the American Mid West and home of Jack Nicklaus, the legendary golfer and perhaps the greatest of them all.

But, in this instance, Springfield is in Hau Hin, the quaint little Thai town about 200 kilometres south of Bangkok that retains a charm that distinguishes it from resorts on the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand which have long been engulfed by the tawdry trappings of mainstream tourism.

In this instance, too, the name Nicklaus has a familiar ring. He designed the 18-hole layout that forms the basis of the magnificent Springfield Golf and Country Club.

It provides, for many, the ultimate challenge among five courses set within a 30-minute drive of Hau Hin's hotels, which range from luxurious beachfront complexes to spartan but adequate places to sleep. Determine a budget, and your choice of a golfer's dream holiday begins to unfold.

The Nicklaus name almost certainly adds to the allure of Springfield which the master golfer-cum- designer has crafted with all his tell- tale features.

It is almost uninvitingly tough from the back. But there is no need to play from there.

A selection of forward tees provides a demanding enough challenge on a course studded with creeks and gorges that follow the natural terrain, in addition to huge tracts of sand, some that menacingly hug the full length of fairways.

Nicklaus' signature creation is the par-five ninth, a hole that requires a drive of precision and power from a depressed tee to the crest of a hill, or preferably beyond, where a huge lake assumes guard of an island green.

Eagles have been recorded but, socially at least, seldom witnessed. Most players choose the fairway for their second shot, flirting with the water protecting the right edge, then lobbing a shot with a short iron on to the island.

The other courses within easy reach are Lake View, Majestic Creek, Palm Hills and Royal Hau Hin.

Each has its distinctive charm. Go for a week, try them all and find the one that best suits your game - that's the best recommendation.

Lake View and Majestic Creek are similar in distance to Springfield from hotels in Hau Hin.

The royal course, the oldest in Thailand and, until recently, the only one in Hau Hin, is in the centre of town and adjoins another cherished landmark - the railway station.

Palm Hills is no more than a few minutes' drive north. Lake View, meanwhile, has spacious and well- appointed accommodation in the on-course country club for those who wish to eliminate any daily travel at all. Golfers can simply step out of bed, enjoy a leisurely breakfast after a splash in the pool then head for the first tee.

But that would be to miss out on all Hau Hin's creative fun.

The little town, not so long ago a sleepy backwater and still dutifully recognised as the Thai royal family's summer retreat, has 'grown up' in recent years without completely losing its laid-back charm.

Tourists do come - by the bus load, in fact. However, there is hardly a back-packer in sight.

Those who arrive are mostly the venerable breed whose idea of a night out after toasting their bodies on the beach or beside the pool then shopping for bargains at the maze of clothing and leather goods stalls that line the pavements is to dine in the reserved atmosphere for which Hau Hin is renowned.

There are literally dozens of restaurants, some highlighting the culinary delights of Thailand, especially the day's catch from the sea; others embracing an international selection of cuisine.

Take your pick. Just like selecting which golf course to play, it's hard to go wrong.