Golf In Thailand
I recently met a charming Irishman (aren’t they all charming, though) who invited me out to play golf on a course down near Rayong. I didn’t have any clubs, I explained. Not a problem, he replied heartily; I could use his. Share & share alike!
But it was the end of the month, funds were in rather short supply, don’t y’know. I wouldn’t be able to pay the greens fee or tip the caddy. Pish tush, he countered; he had a guest membership at the club and would get me in as his guest, gratis. As for the caddies and a tip, not to worry. They were all girls from Isaan, and he had buttered them up with enough blarney and beer money previously to have them eating out of his hand. They fought for the privilege of caddying for him and his companions. And their caddying services did not end when the game was over – hoo-hah! He gave me a nudge with his elbow that nearly sent me crashing into a nearby bamboo grove.
Seeing there was no way out, I had to admit to my Celtic acquaintance that not only did I not really know how to play golf, but the one time I had actually attempted the game in Thailand had been such an ego-shattering disaster that I could not recall it without coming down with the collywobbles.
It happened like this . . .
When I first came to Thailand as an ESL teacher many years ago, I was ambitious. I figured that if I worked hard, schmoozed it up with the right people, and kept my eye peeled for the main chance, I would soon brush the chalk dust off my heels and be offered a stellar position where my abilities and talent would be fully recognized, and fully compensated. (I have since resigned myself to the disquieting fact that I am pretty much a foozler in everything, and if my ship ever does come in it will immediately sink with all hands.)
We Americans believe in the gospel of golf. You play it with your cronies and you play it with complete strangers, and, most importantly, you play it with the people who are in a position to boost your career – always, of course, losing gracefully to them.
Having spent my misguided youth as a circus clown, I had not bothered to learn the game. After a full day of pies in the face and pratfalls, all I wanted to do was lay in bed on the circus train and read Ayn Rand.
But in Thailand the game was cheap and courses were multiplying like red weaver ants on a coconut palm.
I mooched a set of clubs from a friend and went out to a golf range to learn how to hit the ball.
2000 baht later I had mastered the grip and the swing – at least enough to make contact with the ball nine times out of ten. That was good enough for me.
One of my ESL students at school was from a well-heeled Sino-Thai family. They owned waterfront godowns in Bangkok and had a flourishing fish sauce factory. I knew the father liked to spend his weekends on the links, so when an opportunity presented itself during a teacher/parent conference I casually mentioned I had recently taken up the noble game of golf and was anxious to improve my skills under the tutelage of some sage.
The hint, about as broad and wide as the Mekong in spate, hit home; I was immediately invited out that Saturday to play a few rounds with him and a few other Thai movers & shakers.
So far, so good.
But then I ran into the problem of wardrobe. Specifically shoes. I owned exactly 2 pairs – one was a pair of flip flops and the other was my leather Florsheims from back home that I wore to work.
I didn’t think the flip flops would go over too big, so opted for the Florsheims, which had extremely smooth leather soles.
We began the game at nine, Saturday morning, under a sun that promised to broil our brains out by noon. My sponsor introduced me to his friends, who, as I had hoped, were all in the Social Register, and were impressed with my fluency in Thai (I had been a missionary for 2 years in Thailand long before.)
As I stepped up to address the ball my smooth leather soles betrayed me; I did a header on the dewy grass, coming up with a mouthful of Bermuda. I also managed to bend the metal handle of my (borrowed) wood. The other three roared with laughter, while I stifled imprecations in order to smile back placidly at them. An old American golfing custom, I explained gamely; we always fall on our faces at the first hole for good luck.
There is no need to weary the reader with details of my further misadventures on the links. Suffice it to say that by the time we reached the ninth hole I had lost several dozen golf balls, slipped several more times (inspiring my co-players to wonder if I had been nipping at the 285 prior to the start of the game), and managed to bounce one of my balls off a cement road marker that was not even inside the course and send it crashing into a car windshield in the parking lot. (Don’t ask me how I did it – we were on some kind of damn dogleg and my nine-iron must have been enchanted by Hanuman.)
After we were showered and changed back at the clubhouse, ensconced in comfy leather chairs and sipping ginseng tea, my golfing partners began adding up their scores and pulling out their wallets. And that is when the horrifying realization hit me that THIS HAD BEEN A BETTING GAME!
My losses amounted to the approximate national debt of Nigeria.
The ensuing dialogue, held in both polite Thai and blasphemous Anglo-Saxon, is not something I remember with pride. But at least I got out of paying anything.
And those Thai gentlemen, whom I never saw again, learned a brand-new English word.