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The Emerald–A Jewel in Ban Chang

by Steve Mascari

The Emerald Golf Course was designed by two eminent golf architects: Nick Faldo and Desmond Muirhead. Before he died in 2002, Muirhead designed well over 200 courses world-wide, including his collaboration with Jack Nicklaus on Muirfield Village in Ohio. Faldo, of late, has focused on high-end golf locations and physical sites such as the recently opened Laguna Land Co at Danang in Vietnam.  Muirhead left a fascinating description of the trials, troubles, tribulations and ultimate triumph of completing Century–Rayong, as the Emerald was initially known, in an article he wrote for Executive Golfer.

The course was chosen as a qualifying site for the 2007 Asian Tour. Many repairs and improvements were made at that time to bring it up to a new standard. That care, concern, work and maintenance has been on-going and it shows. Ownership and management are to be congratulated.

This course is a gem of 5500 metres (6024 yards), from the white tees. It will tease and tantalize you with some seemingly short holes. The second hole is a drivable par-4. The par-5’s are reachable in two shots, if you have a good drive and are willing to take on the risk of a second shot to the green. And many say the course has the best par-3’s of any golf course in the area.

From the moment you tee off and start to walk down the lush green fairway with a hilly, mountainous backdrop Emerald does what a golf course is supposed to do; usher you away for a few hours of golfing hopes, dreams and seductions.  Few houses or cars can be seen or heard.

One school of golf design says par-3’s should be the first holes to be laid out. Take the most difficult and unusable terrain to route and turn that into your par-3’s. This will then offer the golfer the most demanding and picturesque challenge. If this was the thinking then mission accomplished. Just try to play these four holes and walk away with four net pars, it is a good bet you will fall short. However, the beauty and challenge of these holes is such that you never felt so good after being demoralized and beaten, left to ponder what happened to your round.

Take the first par-3, the fifth hole. At only 146 metres (160 yards), mountains in the background, an elevated tee, and a wide green inviting you, how much can go wrong you may ask? Well, most golfers miss their shots short and to the right. Do this here and you will confront the nine-metre high ‘Wall of Doom’, a vertical hill that blocks out any view of the green, fellow golfers, the flag stick, and the scenic hills. Think green because that is all you will see and it is all right in front of you.  If you do not possess a Phil Mickelson cut-lob shot in your arsenal you are going to be down there for a long time. Thank Buddha for Stableford scoring because the scorecards do not have a scoring box large enough for a three-figure outcome.

A quote by Muirhead states, “a satisfying round of golf should embrace all the trials and tribulations of a lifetime, lived in a single day.” Okay, but all that on one hole? I guess that is why the hip flask was invented.

This is followed by one of the most scenic, challenging and intimidating par-4’s in all of Pattaya. The sixth hole requires the player to hit a good drive while avoiding the elephant grass on the right and a pond on the left. Accomplishing this, the player faces a long iron or fairway metal to a well-bunkered elevated green. This hole will set the stage for the remainder of the round.  Most golfers will treasure a par-4 here and gladly walk away with only a bogey.

Most golfers have heard of Rhythm – Balance – Sequence, but only in terms of their own swing. You may wish to think of these terms as to the routing of a golf course. What do we mean by this? Routing is the sequence of holes, the challenges demanded, shot expectations and values as well as the increasing demands from the holes and the golfer as the round progresses. Without realizing it, this flow gives the golfer a subtle and sublime sense of the greatness of the game and that particular golf course. Too much and a golfer is overwhelmed and likely not to return any time soon. Too little and the day seems flat and uninteresting. This is never a problem at the Emerald. You play shots in your head the night before. Talk with fear and reverence about the ‘Wall of Doom’ and pray you are not short on any of the par-4’s elevated greens or find yourself cursed with a new-found hook when there is trouble on the left.

After you make the turn there are three relatively short par-4’s you hope and to score well on. They all have false fronts and elevated, beguiling greens.

The short 12th (335 metres; 367 yards) is the number one handicap hole. A good drive will leave you between two bunkers facing a difficult (two club adjusted) uphill shot. Fall short on your approach and you have a very demanding and testing steep uphill chip. The ball will keep rolling back to you until you get it right. Try to chip with your wedge, your 8-iron, your utility wood and finally your putter. Or just pick it up and babble your way to the next hole.

The 13th (par 3 – 144 metres; 157 yards) has its own ‘mini-Wall of Doom’ falling from the left side of the green. How do you cure a slice? Put trouble on the left. “But I never hook the ball!” Except when there is trouble on the left. A left-sided mistake here could leave you looking at a snowman. Better to enjoy the view of the pond and hillside scenery and contemplate Rhythm – Balance – Sequence.

The closing stretch of holes 14 - 18 starts with a tough but fair uphill par-5. A tree in the middle of the fairway, 220 metres or 240 yards distant, is your aiming point. There are 46 metres (50 yards) of fairway to land your ball in, but from the elevated and recessed tee it appears more like 14 metres (15 yards). Avoid the jungle both left and right and you are on your way to the largest green on the golf course. Getting there may have not been too difficult but getting down in two putts is an achievement.

A downhill par-3 follows, featuring a two-tiered green slanted left-to-right and back-to-front.

The 16th offers a moment of respite and is one of the easier, shorter holes with an elevated green and steep drop offs both front and left.

The 17th welcomes a fade or smallish slice. A good drive leaves a mid- length-to-short iron shot from a plateau to a two-tiered green. A precise shot is demanded, especially if you wish to leave your ball on the correct level of the green. A short shot is punished by rolling down the hill into one of the two well-placed bunkers.

The final hole, a closing par-5, will reward a well-placed drive and is a birdiable hole. Mango trees right and a pond left will punish a loose shot. Do not let down your guard.

I spoke with Desmond Muirhead in 1994. At that time, prior to the economic crisis of 1997, he said Thailand would, someday, have over 2000 golf courses. At this time there are more than 200 courses. Of these 200, Emerald is a gem.

As Muirhead said, “we cannot always design a great golf course, that takes time, tournaments, shots and history, but we can always design a unique course, an original course, a course that is different.”

The Emerald is all that and more. A memorable, must-play course in the Pattaya area.