Thursday, 27 August 2009

Driving the Penh's golf scene

Photo by: Hay Phirum
Swinger’s delight: Keen Cambodian golfers hit practice balls on the range.

Swing over to
Mean Chey Sports Club
Road Phsar Kro Muon Chak Angre Krom commune Mean Chey district
017 585 881
2km from Kbal Thnal roundabout

The Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Kounila Keo and Hay Phirum

Golf is most notably enjoyed by the leisure classes in Siem Reap, but now aficionados can hone their techniques at a new sports club in Phnom Penh.

WITH 30 percent of Cambodia's 14 million citizens living on less than two dollars a day, the Kingdom is hardly a natural breeding ground for sports such as golf, which many Cambodians think of as a sport for the upper class.

However, several sports clubs in Phnom which offer "high class" recreation, such as golf driving ranges and tennis, which are expected to gain popularity as living standards are gradually improved.

On August 9, Mean Chey sports club, a joint venture between four Cambodians and one foreigner, opened its doors to sports lovers of all nationalities.

According to the club's manager, Phal Sopheap, Mean Chey covers 4 hectares of land in the suburbs south of downtown Phnom Penh, with a parking lot that can accommodate almost 100 cars.

"Nowadays, Khmer people care about their health more," Phal Sopheap said at her office.

"Before, everyone was preoccupied with making a living, but now they're more prepared - and able - to embrace health and entertainment.

"They choose sport because it's better to spend time at a sports club than drinking or smoking, so they might have a small gathering with friends," Phal Sopheap added.

Currently, with the club still in its infancy, only three sports are available to customers: a driving range for golf, table tennis and snooker.

Photo by: Hay Phirum
A sporting facade: Mean Chey sports club.

Until now, Mean Chey has signed up 20 to 30 members, mostly foreigners, Phal Sopheap said.

"There isn't much access to golf in Cambodia, but we can see a lot of potential in the sport here.

"It's certainly beginning to become more and more popular among rich, as well as middle-class, families," Phal Sopheap claimed.

Although having any new local sports club is welcome, the argument persists that it is too upper class for the vast majority of Cambodians to enjoy, even the new middle classes.

But Phal Sopheap does not agree with this idea and argues that her club is making efforts to integrate golf into the Cambodian way of life, which should be appreciated.

"Golf is not an expensive sport. Cambodians think it is just for the rich or wealthy, but that is not really the case.

"When we play golf, we dress smartly, which gives the impression it's for the upper class or noble people.

"Yet it's just a sport, and we are trying to make it accessible for all," she affirmed.

In the future, Mean Chey is looking to incorporate a variety of exciting new facilities such as a skating area, swimming pool, gym and aerobics classes onto its complex, although this will only be possible if the first phase is a success.

Traditionally, Siem Reap province has always been the main destination for golf in Cambodia, and millions of dollars are currently being piled into the sport there.

But before playing on a real golf course, Phal Sopheap advises that one should learn to play at a driving range first.

Meanwhile, another female is attempting to bring Cambodia's golfing facilities up to speed.

Leng Srey Duong's company, Sandno International Co Ltd., has also witnessed a surge in playing golf and is seeking to take advantage of it by working on a new course near Grand Phnom Penh International City, which is expected to open in mid-2010.

"Of course, golf is not as popular as football in Cambodia," admitted Leng Srey Duong.

"But if we look more closely, it is becoming more popular and is already the favourite sport of governors and big businessmen.

"They can meet at the course, play a game and talk happily over the course of a round."


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