Bangkok, Thailand: The Lido Club has been gone some 80 years now, but never was it forgotten. This mythic 18 from the hand of American design pioneers 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.
Its premature demise only enhanced that reputation. But come 2021, its spirit will be reborn. In Thailand.
Architect Gil Hanse will unveil the full 18 at Ballyshear Links, a hole-by-hole homage to The Lido Club, in August 2021. The new clubhouse will also make its debut, completing a transformation unique to the Southeast Asian golf market.
Named for MacDonald’s own estate on Long Island, Ballyshear represents Hanse’s first design in Asia. It will serve as centrepiece of the Ban Rakat Club, a members’ club now taking shape on level ground, some 35 minutes from Bangkok’s centre city. Full membership will be limited to 400. Phase 1 of the clubhouse at Ban Rakat Club is also scheduled for completion in August 2021.
Hanse said: “Normally, we feel strongly that a golf course should be the product of its surrounds. 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.”
Come August, 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.
According to Ban Rakat Club Chairman Takeyasu Aiyama: “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.”
Aiyama is also chairman at Yokohama Country Club, where Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw recently renovated the West Course. When Aiyama consulted Coore about the redevelopment of Kiarti Thanee, the American recommended Hanse and Wagner, whose original work includes the 2016 Olympic Course in Rio de Janeiro, the Black Course at Streamsong Resort in Florida, and the new Ohoopee Match Club in the sand barrens of central Georgia. The firm’s renovation portfolio features dozens of Golden Age classics, including three of four US Open sites on the trot: Winged Foot (2020), The Country Club (2022), and the North Course at Los Angeles CC (2023).
“The Ban Rakat Club project will perfectly showcase Mr Hanse’s skill and expertise, while introducing his work to an Asian audience for the first time,” Aiyama said. “What’s more, vintage design projects such as Ballyshear have never before been undertaken in Thailand. In these and other ways, Ban Rakat Club will bring something completely unique to the market.”
The so-called Golden Age of Golf Design, a period roughly bounded by the two World Wars, is revered because it demonstrably produced an outsized number of American masterpieces, from the likes of Donald Ross, Alistair Mackenzie and AW Tillinghast. But MacDonald and Raynor came first. Indeed, their body of work and their unique practice of templating classic, Old World golf holes – over and over again, at dozens of projects in the US – proved foundational to this Golden Age.
Each hole at the original Lido Club, for example, was specifically 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.
During its brief existence, however, The Lido Club was considered the equal of Pine Valley Golf Club, which opened in 1919 and is still among the world’s top-ranked courses.
The serendipities and mythos attached to The Lido are only enhanced with the passage of time. Last spring, when the PGA Championship was held at nearby Bethpage Black, The Golf Channel US weighed in. Prior to the Lido’s construction, the American magazine Country Life held a design contest, whereby the winning golf hole submission would actually be built, by Macdonald and Raynor, at The Lido Club. First place went to a then-unknown Alistair Mackenzie. His entry would become Lido’s 18th – reprised as the 18th at Ballyshear. Another entrant was Seth Raynor himself, whose runner-up effort (called Dog’s Leg) was also realised at The Lido – and reproduced at Ballyshear’s par-four second hole.
“I think I’ve played most all of the original templates, those that still exist,” Hanse said, adding that he’s also played and studied dozens of iterations realised 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, 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 also came out well. The Punchbowl 12th is a very moderate version and works well. I’m also really excited to play the Biarritz eighth and Leven ninth. They are going to make for a really cool corner of the property.”
The word ‘homage’ may not do justice to Hanse and Wagner’s work at Ballyshear, named for MacDonald’s estate on Long Island. 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 at seaside. Soil manipulation was easy and cheap. The construction effort in Bangkok proved no such thing. The terrain was appropriately flat but proved extraordinarily challenging in other ways. The high water table in Bangkok, for example, required the construction team to drive thousands of concrete pile-ons into the mucky soil to support the towering man-made landforms created above the surface.
“The original Lido was also predicated on the ground game,” Hanse said. “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 vanishingly rare in Southeast Asia. Indeed, compared to North America and the United Kingdom, there is little cachet attached to vintage design in Thailand, where courses are generally newer, the conditions more lush and garden-like.
Yet 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 polarising, which is fine so long as the owner is happy and the club thrives.”