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Lido Club gets new life in Thailand

By |  December 4, 2020 0 Comments
The 14th hole at Ballyshear Links, centerpiece of the Ban Rakat Club in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: Ban Rakat Club)

The 14th hole at Ballyshear Links, the centerpiece of the Ban Rakat Club in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: Ban Rakat Club)

The Lido Club has been gone some 80 years. This mythic 18 from Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Raynor opened for play on Long Island, outside New York City, in 1917. It closed during World War II. In between, it was considered the equal of any course on Earth and its premature demise only enhanced that reputation.

Come 2021, its spirit is reborn in Thailand.

Architect Gil Hanse will christen the full 18 at Ballyshear Links, a remarkable hole-by-hole homage to The Lido Club, in August 2021. The new clubhouse will also make its debut that summer.

Named for MacDonald’s own estate on Long Island, Ballyshear represents Hanse’s first-ever design in Asia. It will serve as the centerpiece of the Ban Rakat Club, a members club just 35 minutes from center city Bangkok. Full membership will be limited to 400. Phase 1 of the clubhouse at Ban Rakat Club is also scheduled for completion in August 2021.

“Normally,” Hanse said, “we feel strongly that a golf course should be the product of its surroundings. But, in the back of our minds, my partner Jim Wagner and I have often wondered what we would do with a completely flat site — what can you do to distinguish it? The most famous example of a manufactured golf course from The Golden Age was The Lido. Jim and I had always wanted to do a MacDonald/Raynor, angular grass-faced bunker design. We pitched the idea to the owner at Ballyshear, and he loved it.”

Ballyshear Links will open for play on the site of the former Kiarti Thanee Country Club, which partnered in 2017 with Yokohama International Golf Club Co. Ltd. — the Japan-based golf development and club operations firm — to redevelop the property in its entirety.

“The goal has always been to create something entirely new in the Bangkok market and it’s our strong feeling that Ban Rakat Club and Ballyshear Links will do exactly that,” said Takeyasu Aiyama, Ban Rakat Club chairman.

The 600-yard 17th at Ballyshear is inspired by C.B. MacDonald's "Long" hole template and is separated from and integrated with the Alistair Mackenzie-inspired 18th (at right) by a sprawling, serpentine bunker feature. (Photo: Ban Rakat Club)

The 600-yard 17th hole at Ballyshear is inspired by C.B. MacDonald’s “long” hole template and is separated from and integrated with the Alistair Mackenzie-inspired 18th hole (at right) by a sprawling, serpentine bunker feature. (Photo: Ban Rakat Club)

Each hole at the original Lido Club was inspired by existing holes — some famous (the Redan at North Berwick), some obscure (the Channel at Littlestone), some not European at all. Several Lido holes were inspired by those at the National Golf Links of America, a 1911 MacDonald design on the eastern end of Long Island.

“I think I’ve played most all of the original templates, those that still exist,” said Hanse, adding that he’s also played and studied dozens of iterations realized by MacDonald and Raynor between 1915 and 1925. “MacDonald and Raynor adapted these templates over and over — and differently each time. Interpretation is part of the challenge. At Ballyshear, I think the 17th and 18th (holes), with their shared waste bunker between them, came out extremely well. The scale of those two holes at Lido was impressive and we were able to capture that at Ballyshear. The Redan 16th (hole) also came out real well. The Punchbowl 12th (hole) is a very moderate version and works well. I’m also really excited to play the Biarritz eighth and Leven ninth (holes). They are going to make for a really cool corner of the property.”

Each and every hole from the original Lido design has been recreated and reinterpreted at Ballyshear — almost entirely in sequence. Only the second and sixth holes were swapped in the Thai routing, due to constraints inherent to site boundaries.

The original Lido Club design was entirely man-made on flat, sandy terrain. Bangkok was appropriately flat but proved challenging in other ways. The high water table in Bangkok, for example, required the construction team to drive thousands of concrete pylons into the mucky soil — the support the towering man-made landforms created above the surface.

“The original Lido was also predicated on the ground game,” Hanse explained. “We used the new Zeon zoysia to create those conditions in Rio. At Ballyshear, we’re using a local variety of zoysia, cultivated in Thailand, that should produce the hard and fast conditions we need.”

The hard and fast conditions we associate with links play, with golf on sandy ground, is rare in Southeast Asia. The country also boasts the most sophisticated golf market/culture in the region, with some 200 courses in operation, Asia’s strongest incoming golf tourism sector, and more than a million native players.

“Ballyshear is going to be so different from anything that exists there today; it’s going to be fascinating to see how the course is received,” Hanse said. “The reactions could be all over the map. It could be a landmark project for the country — and it could be that people don’t get it or like it all! It could be fairly polarizing, which is fine so long as the owner is happy and the club thrives.”

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