Is it sacrilegious to suggest that an Augusta National imitation golf course can score a point or two over that hallowed golf turf? Okay, so I’m sticking my neck out a bit. Truth be told, I’ve never played Augusta National. Nor, for that matter, even set eyes on that embodiment of golf convention which instructs those who’ve lost touch with hackneyed tradition, that women have no place on a golf course, or that, no matter the weather, if you land up in shorts (pleats or not), then you could perhaps help clean the pool.
Obviously, I’m gushing a bit, but with golf’s biggest spectacle—The Masters Tournament—which is played at Augusta National barely six weeks away, it seemed like an ideal time to tee it up at the next best thing. The course at hand, The Dream Arena at the Royal Gems Golf City on the outskirts of Bangkok, is a replica layout by well-known course architect Ronald Garl (who’s designed many courses in this part of the world, including the Alpine GC, which hosted the Johnnie Walker Classic in 2000 and ’04). Besides incorporating the back nine at Augusta (which forms the back nine here as well), the course’s front nine is a smorgasbord of some of the most recognisable holes from across the planet.
So there you are: an hour’s drive out of Bangkok, in the vicinity of the old international airport, teeing it up on the first with Oakmont’s famous church pew bunkers peering from the left side of the fairway. That’s the third hole at Oakmont, and it’s similar enough to be recognizable, even if you’ve only seen it on TV. After getting through Bay Hills’ curving-around-water par-5 sixth, you come to TPC Sawgrass’ dreaded island green. Except that while it’s the penultimate hole at Sawgrass, it plays as the third at Royal Gems. A bit too early in the round, and enough to dampen the spirits if you end up in the drink.
The yardages are within five to 10 yards of the originals, as are the bunker placements, while the shapes of the bunkers and greens are spot on. Still, most holes have a two-dimensional quality to them—you know which hole it is, you’ve seen the images many times, but there’s something that’s not quite the same. Can’t fault Garl for that, though (he maintains that the holes are merely inspired, not absolute copies). Reinventing