Every single person has come here for a reason, and all the reasons are different. So, just for a moment discount the visitors, those here on holiday, as their reasons for being here are obvious. Instead, look more closely at the people working or living here. Because in each case, there’s a very good chance that there’s an interesting story involved. And just such a tale can be told by Tom Roberts.
Tom’s English; he was born in Liverpool, in fact. And today, he owns and manages Samui Football Golf, that’s to be found on the Chaweng side of neighbouring Choeng Mon. How he ended up on Samui is legendary – although few know the full story.
Tom is an avid football fan. And, back in 2002, his dream was to see England play in the World Cup, being held that year in Japan. At that time there was a big blow-up in the media: one of the world’s most famous footballers, Dennis Bergkamp, had to bow out of his World Cup appearance because of his fear of flying. So Tom, together with three of his friends, hit
on an idea. They would all set off on ‘The Bergkamp Trail’ (as they named it), planning a route overland to Japan, as a homage to the great Dutch footballer. This they did – but there’s much more to the tale!
“When we started planning The Bergkamp Trail,” Tom explained to me, “We had no idea what was would happen. First of all the local paper got hold of it and made a big thing about their lads heading off on the road to Japan. Then the national press got wind of the story, plus TV crews from BBC and Channel 4. We thought that was pretty good, but much later, when we
eventually arrived in Japan, there was a Japanese Sky 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.”
That sounds like quite a tale, all by itself. But it also turned out that the trip had been harder than expected, and had cost more, too. So the four fans were broke, with barely enough money to pay for tickets for England’s first game, never mind follow their team’s progress. But not only did the Japanese TV station pay their expenses, meals and accommodation, but the news had spread, and the international football body, FIFA, picked up the story and gave them free VIP seats to watch each game. And in the end, the lads stayed in Japan, all expenses paid, for over three weeks.
So what’s Samui got to do with it all? “Well,” Tom continued, “we stopped off here for a while on the way. Right away, 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 came back two years later, teaching English at a local resort. But that was hardly a secure position, so I thought long and hard about what kind of a business I could set up – I wanted to do something that was unique; where I had no competition.”
Tom remembered his childhood games, kicking a football into a seaside hole in the sand or under a chair moved round the garden. And so, in 2005, he opened his first football golf course. But it quickly proved to be too small; people’s games were getting all tangled up, and there just wasn’t the scope for what he had in mind. So he looked for a bigger and better plot, and in 2011, began again with the new and vastly superior layout that he has today.
Now he has more than 16,000 square metres. But that just doesn’t convey what the grounds are really like. Firstly, Tom spent a long time carefully terraforming the plot so that it had uphill and downhill sections, and was peppered with little terraces, dips and mounds. Then he planted cunning screens of bushes and trees, so players were shielded from not only other groups, but also the surprise of what was coming up next. And, quite apart from anything else, in the process of doing this he also created one of the loveliest little ‘parks’ on the island, needing six full time staff just to maintain the grounds.
The course is a constant series of surprises, too. As you finish a hole and turn a bend, the screen of hedging opens out into another new challenge. And each hole is unique, with its own footballing challenge. Samui Football Golf 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 football’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 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 really good fun,” Tom smiled. “People approach it at their own level. Mums, kids and grandpas enjoy it just as much as groups of young football fans. You can be competitive and keep score, or just enjoy yourself. And there are refreshments available – free when you get to the 11th hole! Plus you can hire trainers and socks if you need them. And everyone who plays gets a free souvenir key ring with their score on!”
You’ll find Samui 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 frontage with the coconut sculptures outside. It’s open from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm. Discounts are now available for resident member card holders. And don’t forget your camera – it’s not only fun but it’s one of the most beautiful spots on the island, too!
Rob De Wet
For further information, telephone 0 7742 6600.