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 Im sticking my neck out a bit. Truth be told, Ive never played Augusta National. Nor, for that matter, even set eyes on that embodiment of golf convention which instructs those whove 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, Im gushing a bit, but with golfs biggest spectacleThe Masters Tournamentwhich 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 (whos 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 courses front nine is a smorgasbord of some of the most recognisable holes from across the planet.
So there you are: an hours drive out of Bangkok, in the vicinity of the old international airport, teeing it up on the first with Oakmonts famous church pew bunkers peering from the left side of the fairway. Thats the third hole at Oakmont, and its similar enough to be recognizable, even if youve 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 its 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 themyou know which hole it is, youve seen the images many times, but theres something thats not quite the same. Cant fault Garl for that, though (he maintains that the holes are merely inspired, not absolute copies). Reinventing