Samui Wining & Dining
Football golf is great, but you won’t know how lovely the surroundings are until you try it!


Once upon a time, there were four football fans from Liverpool. They had dreams of seeing England play at the 2002 World Cup. At that time, there was a famous Dutch footballer who was afraid of flying. His name was Dennis Bergkamp and, alas, he had to drop out of his national team – he just couldn’t fly all the way to Japan. And so the four football fans formed a plan. This plan soon became a mission: they would all set off on ‘The Bergkamp Trail’ (as they named it), forging a route overland to the World Cup as a homage to the great Dutch footballer. This they did – but there’s much more to the tale, as one of those original four fans, Tom Roberts, will tell you.

        Today, Tom is the owner and manager of Samui’s Football Golf. And part of the story led to Tom now being on Samui. “When we started planning The Bergkamp Trail,” Tom explained to me, “We had no idea what was about to happen. First of all the local paper got hold of it and made a big thing about local lads heading off on the road to Japan. Then the national press turned up, plus TV crews from the BBC and ITV. We thought that was pretty neat but much later, when we eventually arrived in Japan, there was a

Japanese national TV crew waiting to meet us! They wanted to make a documentary about the crazy Englanders that they reckoned had ‘walked’ all the way to the World Cup. Quite honestly, by that time we were broke and had only enough to see England’s first game. But the TV station paid our expenses, food and accommodation, and then FIFA picked up on the story and gave us free VIP seats to each game. We ended up staying for three weeks!” And Samui? “Well,” Tom continued, “we stopped off here en route. Within the hour, I knew that I was coming back. It wasn’t just one of the loveliest places I’d ever seen, but it had a feeling like nowhere else. I eventually returned two years later, teaching English to the staff of a big hotel. That was just before the fateful tsunami hit the west coast of Thailand. Then suddenly I was sitting in an empty classroom each day. Samui was swamped with the tourists who’d planned to go to Phuket, and the staff were all run off their feet and working overtime. That was when I knew I needed find new work. And it was also when I realised that I wanted to set up something that was unique – where I had no competition.”

        Tom’s lifelong love of football goes right back to his childhood, and he remembers playing football games: kicking the ball into a hole in the sand at the seaside, or under a chair moved round the garden. And so, in 2005, he opened his football golf course. But it quickly proved to be too small; people’s games were getting tangled up and there just wasn’t the scope for what he had in mind. He found a bigger and better plot, and in the Christmas period of 2011, began again with the new and vastly superior layout that he has today.

         Here there’s a total of ten rai (that’s more than three acres) on an intricately landscaped plot that runs uphill and downhill and is full of terraces and hummocks and gullies. The ‘holes’ are very cunningly screened off so you can’t see what’s coming next, like going in and out of a maze – if you’re imagining some kind of flat-level crazy mini-golf, forget it! Playing this course is a constant series of surprises; as you finish a hole and turn a bend, the screen of hedging opens out into another new challenge. Just like a real golf course you’ll see different kinds of grass: the ‘greens’ are neatly manicured whereas the main runs are of a tougher Japanese grass. Plus there’s even a third kind, a big square of ‘Astroturf’, at the heavy-wear areas where everyone begins a new hole.

          There’s a nursery, too, with a team of seven full-time gardeners working constantly to clear any fallen debris and keep the grass and grounds as delightfully cared-for as any public park. In fact, the only other place on the island I’ve seen such immaculate expanses of turf and semi-parkland like this is on the real golf courses.

          But as well as being very pretty, there’s also some very clever sub-themes going on. Football is teeming with legends. David Beckham’s amazing ability to bend a ball in the air. Johan Cruyff’s hallmark ‘turn’. Roberto Baggio’s potentially World Cup-losing penalty miss for Italy. These, with another 15 of international soccer’s highpoints, are all a part of the theme of the course, with the manner of progress towards the hole being tied into this. And, at the start of each hole, there’s a neat little thatched sign, with the title of the hole and an explanation of the background to it. On the hole named ‘Baggio’s Penalty’, for instance, you’ll find a real mini goal where you have to finish by kicking the ball over the bar and not into a hole in the ground. (Yes, there’s even something for rugby fans!) Even the surroundings are matched to the theme – just check the screen of banana trees where you have to try to finish with a ‘banana kick’!

          And no, it isn’t all highly specialised and needing super soccer skills: just listen to the squeals of the family groups as they move around. “It’s just really good fun,” Tom continued. “People approach it at their own level. Mums, kids and grandpas get into it in a different way from groups of young people. You can be competitive and keep score, or just enjoy yourself. And there’s refreshments available – free when you get to the 11th hole! – plus you can hire trainers and socks if you need them.”

          You’ll find Samui’s Football Golf right on the edge of Cheong Mon. Coming from Chaweng, it’s on the right, immediately before the sharp turn by the Imperial Boathouse resort – just look for the imposing frontage with the coconut sculptures outside. It’s open from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm. And don’t forget your camera – it’s not only fun but it’s really pretty too!


 Rob De Wet


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