The Buddha is Watching

Thailand’s newest course carves a path to enlightenment.

Ask anyone who’s read Golf in the Kingdom or watched the successful pros known as “Tiger” and “Barn Rat.” Golf may have emerged from Scotland’s Presbyterian shorelines, but the mind-body training needed to succeed at a sport requiring such prolonged periods of extreme concentration borrows heavily from Asian principles.

Meditation, mindfulness, visualization, breath awareness, being in the moment—all apply to Buddhist teachings and sports psychology. So what better place to put them into practice than under the beatific gaze of a 360-foot-tall Buddha? Inlaid with gold leaf and visible from every hole at Thailand’s Chee Chan Golf Resort, the Chee Chan Buddha was laser-cut into the 424-foot-high Khao Cheejan escarpment in 1996 to honor the 50th anniversary of King Bhumibol’s coronation. “Buddha Mountain,” located some 90 minutes from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport and 13 miles south of the glorious beach resorts of Pattaya, ranks as one of Thailand’s most popular tourist and devotional attractions.

Chee Chan Buddha overlooking Thailand's Chee Chan Golf Resort

Last December, devoted golfers began arriving to play the course created by David Dale and Kevin Ramsey of Golfplan, a California- based firm with a portfolio of 218 original designs in 32 different countries (including such unlikely ones as Uganda, Georgia and Mongolia). Enjoying 80 feet of elevation change, panoramic views and a championship length of 7,345 yards, the par-72 layout presents a “stunning tableau,” according to Dale. Enormous limestone karsts ring the course, giving it an amphitheater- like quality. Rather than competing with the dramatic landforms, the holes melt over and between them.

Six holes play directly at Buddha Mountain, beginning with the opening par 4. “We couldn’t afford to miss that opportunity—to start golfers on their spiritual journey under the watchful eye of Siddhartha Gautuma,” says David Dale, referring to the founder of Buddhism. “We have much to learn from the Buddha, who taught a ‘Middle Way’ between sensual indulgence and uncurbed asceticism. For golfers the larger message is unambiguous: Relax and keep it in the fairway.”

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