Members of the new Ban Rakat Club, home to the Gil Hanse-designed Ballyshear Links, endured an exquisite form of torture during the month of August.
Their new 18-hole course, world golf’s most anticipated project in a decade, was entirely ready to play. But Covid-19 restrictions issued by the Thai government on Aug. 1 kept the members from playing Hanse’s stunning homage to the most famous “lost course” in golf history.
This fraught anticipation came to an end here Sept. 3, when restrictions were lifted and members were free to enjoy the Ballyshear Links at Ban Rakat Club, in all its considerable glory.
The new clubhouse, designed by the world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma & Associates, remains on schedule to open in December, according to Takeyasu Aiyama, Chairman of Yokohama International, Ltd., the development/management company behind the Ban Rakat Club project. A formal grand opening has been scheduled for early 2022.
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to the members of Ban Rakat Club — for their patience,” Aiyama says. “The core of our membership belonged to the private club that once occupied this property — so they’ve been without a home course since 2017! The Covid restrictions in August of 2021 were difficult for everyone to accommodate, but all of Thailand has suffered in this way.
“The course is so beautiful. To see it right there, so distinctive and manicured, and not be able to play it? Very difficult. But the good news is, soon these delays will be but a memory. Thanks to Mr. Hanse, Ballyshear Links is a project of great stylistic and historical significance. In the months and years to come, that will far outweigh what day it happened to open.”
The founding members of Ban Rakat Club were all members at Kiarti Thanee Country Club, a successful private club with an ordinary, somewhat tired, 25-year-old golf course whose chief attribute was location — just 35 minutes from centre city and 20 minutes from Suvarnhabumi International Airport. In 2017, these members approached Yokohama International about transforming their property in several radical, innovative respects.
“They sought to bring something completely new to the marketplace,” Aiyama says.
Hiring the team at Hanse Golf Design was Step 1. Gil Hanse is, after all, the most sought-after architect in world golf, the man chosen to renovate three of four U.S. Open venues on the trot: Winged Foot for the 2020 championship, The Country Club for 2022, and Los Angeles CC for 2023.
Hanse outdid himself with Step 2: The architect proposed designing and building at Kiarti Thanee an entirely new layout, an 18-hole homage to The Lido Golf Club, a mythic layout from the hand of early American course architecture pioneers Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Raynor. The original Lido had been flamboyantly carved from similarly featureless ground in 1917, on seaside property outside New York City; it closed quietly and without ceremony during World War II. In between, The Lido GC was considered the equal of any course on Earth.
MacDonald and Raynor operated in a specific way. They based the design of each and every golf hole on established “template” holes — the famous Redan at North Berwick, for example; the Alps hole across Scotland, at Prestwick; the infamous Biarritz par-3 in southern France. The original Lido featured 18 such template holes.
The Ballyshear Links, centerpiece of the rechristened Ban Rakat Club (BRC), will feature the same 18 templates — each reinterpreted by Hanse and adapted to the Thai landscape. But for the swapping of holes 2 and 6, Hanse also produced The Lido routing entirely in order.
As Aiyama asserts, such overtly “classic” or vintage design projects are rare in Southeast Asia. Most golfers in this market are accustomed to modern course design. They may not recognize the names MacDonald or Raynor — though the Hanse brand is already strong in Thailand, and will only get stronger.
“There is risk to our approach, naturally,” says Aiyama. “However, we are determined to create something unique in the market place and accept the risk. As a private club, we need only appeal to the existing members and attract new ones — and that process is going very well.”
More than 160 Kiarti Thanee members are partners in this new venture, having transferred their memberships to Ban Rakat Club. These members and others have been playing the back nine at Ballyshear since early in 2021. New memberships are selling briskly for between US$50,000 and US$70,000 apiece, Aiyama reports. They may well be capped at 400 before opening the Grand Opening in early 2022. Limited memberships will be capped at 200, he adds.
Yokohama International has exhibited notable skill and savvy when it comes to repositioning clubs via the renovation process. It performed a similar exercise at 36-hole Yokohama CC, in Japan, where the company recently oversaw a vintage renovation of the club’s West Course. The architects at Coore/Crenshaw directed this work, finishing in 2017. The 60-year-old West Course had never before been considered among Japan’s top courses. Today it is ranked among the country’s top 10, according to Golf Digest.
“Gil Hanse has created for Ban Rakat Club a vintage-style course that all the members — and their guests — will love,” Aiyama says. “We are certain of that. What’s more, because we are the first to leverage this particular style of golf course here in Thailand, Ballyshear will stand out as utterly unique in this market. In our experience, that type of differentiation is rarely a bad thing.”
The stunning new clubhouse at Ban Rakat Club represents another audacious departure. While Kuma’s reputation and signature work are extremely high profile — his portfolio includes the new Japanese National Stadium in Tokyo and the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Group’s Japanese headquarters — Ballyshear will represent his first golf clubhouse commission.
Yokohama International has also reserved space next door to the clubhouse, on adjacent club property, for future hotel development. Aiyama says his firm is now entertaining proposals from a range of 4- and 5-star hotel brands. However, nothing will be announced on that front until after the December 2022 grand opening. The hotel and a state-of-the-art practice facility will be the centerpieces of Phase II, he says.