From the low handicappers to the hackers, it's every golfer's dream to play at St Andrews. But if you are expecting a report on how mind-blowing, unique and challenging it is to play 18 holes at the home of golf in Scotland, you're going to be disappointed.
Because the St Andrews I played is in Thailand, close to the resort area of Pattaya.
But don't be disappointed; at least, not by the golf.
For golf nuts like me, South-East Asia offers a plethora of courses for a variety of experiences and a range of handicappers. In the Pattaya region alone there are 18 courses, with another eight in the neighbouring province of Rayong.
Kullatorn Meesommont, or Mike to his mates, is the marketing director of the Burapha Golf Club, which hosted the Thai Open last month.
Educated in New York, Mike left America after college for the lifestyle and golf of Thailand. Playing off a handicap of five, he explains that all the courses are ranked, with five stars the best.
But the stars aren't just awarded for the course - it's the sum of the whole, which includes caddies, clubhouse facilities, restaurant and the pro shop.
"You've come at the best time of the year," he said. "From August through October is the end of the rainy season and prices are reduced to attract more players."
Tourism in Thailand was badly hit by the unrest between the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts which paralysed Bangkok and other major tourist centres this year.
The Tourism Authority is now pushing to bring back guests, and our group - Gold Coast photographer Wayne Jones, Melbourne journalist Peter Janky, South-East Asia tourism marketing guru Ross Nicholas and I - were interested in golf travel.
Thailand is an accessible and affordable destination for Australians. We took the AirAsia cheap route through Kuala Lumpur and on the stopover met a group of 14 from the Joondalup Golf Club heading to south-west Thailand for a week of golf. They were expecting to play six rounds with an all-up cost, including airfares, of around $2000 each.
Our first stop was an overnight stay at the Pullman Bangkok King Power. Starting at $100 a night it's not cheap by Thai standards. But the Pullman hotels are five-star establishments and the top outlets for the French-based Accor group.
The buffet at the King Power is one of the best in Bangkok and changes national menus every night, attracting a host of locals.
From Bangkok we headed two hours south by road to our base at the Pullman Pattaya Aisawan, where we were welcomed with a massage. Again starting from around $100, this hotel has a private beach with a bar just metres from waves, and sunset views from the pools and restaurant, which serves an excellent Thai buffet.
But this was all just gilding for the lily as we packed the clubs on the third day and headed to St Andrews 2000, about 30 minutes from Pattaya. Built in 2000 - hence the name - by English architect Desmond Muirhead, this is one of the newer courses in Thailand. And it's a monster.
It plays 5763m off the easiest white tees and includes two par sixes for a total of 74. (Be warned: golf courses in Thailand are measured in yards.)
It was a formidable challenge, made worse by a warning on the card which read: "Golfer with h'cap over l8 is not recommended."
As the 12 handicappers chuckled, I pressed on undaunted. It was a delight of a course, hugely up and down, with water everywhere on the front nine. The highlight was Jones' eagle on the 567m par six fourth - driver, three wood, three wood, 2m putt.
You would think he was the first person to shoot two under and didn't shut up until the last, when my 2m putt won the money by one hole for the Eakins-Janky pairing.
It was also our first introduction to caddies. All players are required to hire a cart and a caddie. These women come with English that ranges from rudimentary to passable and an invaluable knowledge of their course.
After a couple of holes, they start handing you the right club while you're still trying to convert yards to metres. Fail to follow their read on the green and you'll miss - not that it made much difference to me as I continually came up short.
The greens were generally slow, a product of the time of the year as Thailand comes out of the wet season. And a lot of the fairways were damp, resulting in little run and free drops from plugged balls.
Green fees for this four-star course cost 2500 baht ($87), plus 600 ($21) for the cart and 250 ($8.50) for the caddie. All caddies are tipped their minimum fee, although, being generous Aussies, we tipped 300-400 baht ($10- $14). That's a total of 3750 baht ($130). Expect to pay another 500 baht ($17) for green fees on the weekend and even more after October.
After lunch and a couple of ice-cold Tiger beers, our group headed to the Novotel Rim Pae Resort, around the corner from Pattaya and more open to the gulf.
The next morning we headed to the Eastern Star Country Club and Resort.
With a three-star ranking, this is the easiest course we played at par 72 and 6012m, although the tiger tees stretch it to 6523m. Designed by Robert Trent Jones in 1991, it doesn't have the run and carry to match its claim of being a links-style course.
It was the flattest course we played with plenty of water, 65 bunkers, set in a coconut plantation and, like all Thai courses, beautifully presented. The major complaint was lack of variety, with a driver off every tee. Our match was halved, with all four of us winning four holes.
This was the cheapest course at a weekday rate of 1000 baht ($35) for greens fees. With extras, it was about $80.
A five-star treat awaited us the next day. The Laem Chabang International Country Club was designed by Jack Nicklaus and is ranked fourth in Thailand and 15th in Asia.
The 27-hole layout is divided into Mountain, Lake and Valley nines. Surrounded by low mountain to one side, it's a stunning course, made really tough by the rough.
You have to hit a pretty wild shot to be hindered by trees or gardens in Thailand but the second cut rough is barely cut at all. If you can avoid the water, the wispy, long rough swallows balls.
This was certainly the case at Laem Chabang, with tongues of rough poking into the fairways. A ball snared in the rough leaves few options.
We played the Lake and Valley nines at 5748m from the white tees. The blue tees stretch to 6146m while Nicklaus and his mates tee off from 6436m.
The caddies soon chirpily joined in my chorus of "Oh, Bevan" as I duffed another shot, while Nicholas played the front nine in under 40. When told he could crack 80, like most amateurs the former marketing manager and life member of West Coast went the way of his club - to pieces.
But the Eakins-Nicholas pair held it together to lead by a hole coming up the 18th. The last stroke of the tour was played by the nerveless Jones, who sank 1.5m downhill putt to halve the match. It was a fitting end as we adjourned to the magnificent club house and an afternoon of Tigers and lies.
>> Air Asia flies from Perth to Kuala Lumpur, and connects to international destinations.
>> Thai AirAsia's domestic destinations are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand; Hat Yai, Krabi, Phuket, Narathiwat, Makhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani in Southern Thailand; and Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani in Northeastern Thailand.
>> See www.airasia.com
>> For Tourism Authority of Thailand, see www.tourismthailand.org
>> For Accor hotels, see www.accorhotels.com>> Bevan Eakins travelled with Tourism Authority of Thailand, Air Asia and Accor.
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