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Waterford Valley Chiang Rai

Story & Photographs By Kim Inglis

A lazy 50 minute drive from the Anantara, Waterford Valley Chiang Rai serves up an interesting array of golf holes. This is a local golf experience and more like what one may expect to find near the antiquity-rich city of Chiang Rai. Nevertheless, the laid back and casual ambiance that the course exudes is all part of its character.

Waterford Valley is designed by Mark Rathert (whose creations have featured in American Golf Digest's top 100 resort courses and top five public courses in state) had this to say about the course: "The site had some hills and elevation change that not only provided gently contoured holes, but also some up-hill and down-hill holes for the players to experience. The incorporation of water on many of the holes, offers an exciting challenge, while providing great tranquility and beauty for the players." The course has some very difficult holes, and even from the more friendlier white tees, can present quite a tough test of golf.

A bunch of good golf holes are sprinkled throughout both the A and B nines, and in typical Thai (not-so) common sense, the B nine is usually played as your front nine. The fairways are a little rough in places, but the small greens are kept in very acceptable condition. Your short game will be called upon often and most of the greens slope from back to front so keeping the ball below the hole is the key to avoiding some very difficult downhill putts.

The course winds its way around one of the many mountains in this beautiful area and even when the course is full, most of the holes are played away from each other giving you the feeling there's only a handful of players out there. The 390-yard signature 9th (367 from the Blue Tees) doglegs sharply left and up towards the clubhouse. The approach shot is over a large ravine and onto a large green that slopes severely from back to front. If you happen to be unfortunate enough to leave yourself a downhill putt on this green, your only chance to get the ball close is to hole it.

The second "A" nine starts dramatically with a short down-the-hill Par 5 that plays much shorter than it's 505 yards. The drive, while from an elevated tee, is quite intimidating with Out of Bounds left, trees right, and an (albeit short) water carry to contend with. The long 226-yard 6th is the best Par 3 on the course, bunkers and water guarding the left front of the green. Players can bail out on the right, but you'll be left with a very difficult chip or pitch to an undulating green. The finishing hole is a fun little short Par 4 littered with fairways bunkers and the cone shaped green will erase any doubts you might have about this game being fair. The back nine at Waterford Valley features a variety of challenges and while the fairways are wide, some ball-losing natural vegetation awaits for hitting the ball a long way off line.

The clubhouse has stunning views out over the Chiang Rai mountains and the 9th and 10th holes. If you play during the low season (April-Sept) you may like to bring along a snack as there was only a two-dish buffet available during my visit. This might have had something to do with the fact that my playing partner and myself literally had the course to ourselves (the other reason why you should play this course). Upon finishing we were somewhat disappointed and shocked to find another car had pulled up and spoiled our fantasy of having our own private course for the day. While not an everyday occurrence, the caddies didn't blink an eyelid when telling us that the course had been overwhelmed the day before with a total of six golfers gracing its fairways.

The layout is actually a little tougher than it's more refined sister Santiburi, and at 6,961 yards, is also a little longer. There are plans for another nine holes, which in addition to the hotel on the property should help it increase business and allow it to invest some money on course improvements. Waterford Valley Chiang Rai doesn't claim to be anything that its not and with an interesting mixture of exciting and challenging golf holes, makes for a very enjoyable stress-free golf day.
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