Originally published at: https://discgolf.ultiworld.com/2023/11/08/terry-miller-invests-in-thailand-disc-golf/
After first visiting Thailand’s island of Koh Samui in 2019, Terry Miller has been drawn back three times, and if it wasn’t for COVID-19, it would have been more. After producing video content for the Swine Classic series of tournaments and traveling throughout the region, “The Disc Golf Guy” has decided to back the expansion of disc golf in Southeast Asia by taking a financial stake in the course where it all started for him — in Mae Nam, almost equidistant between Koh Samui’s busy tourist area of Chaweng and the island’s capital, the port town of Nathon.
The Samui Disc Golf course, established by Californian expat Nigel Mills in 2013, has become a favorite off-season destination for many pros. Philo Brathwaite, Gregg Barsby, and Nikko Locastro took up the invitation to stop by for the fourth edition of the Samui Swine Classic tournament on their way to the Aussie Open in 2017 and then spread the word. Since then, other pros like Paige Pierce, Nate Perkins, James Conrad, Scott Stokely, and Sarah Hokum have visited.
The COVID years took their toll, however. “It was hard to keep the passion,” said Mills, who has since left Koh Samui and moved with his family to the northern mainland province of Chiang Mai. “I’m very happy to pass the torch to Luke Butch and Terry. There couldn’t be a better pair to take it forward. Now as a country coordinator for Thailand, I can focus on growing the sport here.”
“The immediate concern was just to not let the course die,” said Miller. “I initially didn’t think much about a longer-term goal. However, as both the island and the rest of SE Asia continue to discover disc golf, I think it’s on everyone’s agenda to simply grow it and make it bigger.”
Miller’s journey from first time visitor to course owner has been a rapid one. “It’s another one to check off the bucket list that I never knew I had,” he said. “In 2018 I couldn’t have located Thailand on a map. Nor would I have ever known anything about the hundreds of islands, let alone their second biggest one being Samui. It was simply an old friend in Luke Butch that got me really interested in traveling there.”
Butch and Miller met playing on the same card at the 2008 Memorial in Arizona. “He and I have that old school connection from before the glitz and glory of present-day disc golf,” Miller said. “I think one of his early messages to me about Thailand was essentially something along the lines of ‘What might it cost to get you to come film a tournament here in Samui?’ or something of that nature. It all snow-balled from there.”
Terry admits to some nerves about the challenge the venture faces though. “The main challenge is the course location,” he said. “There are so many tourist destinations in Thailand so people just randomly discovering us won’t be too common. Then the people who do know about it might think that traveling to the island is too cumbersome. We’ll need to keep fresh people coming to play and work on growing the game in the community. Then again, there is the famous ‘If you build it, they will come’ line so we’ll see.”
There is also the uncertainty that comes from Miller and Butch not being Thai and unable to own the coconut groves and fields that the course sits on. The land is rented from a number of different neighbors, but this is an arrangement that has stood for 10 years and has the support of the locals, who benefit economically from the visiting disc golfers. Part of the property is a house overlooking holes two and three that can be rented via Airbnb.The Samui Disc Golf Course in Mae Nam, Koh Samui, Thailand
Growing the game locally is a priority for Butch, who is managing the course day-to-day. “What I’m looking forward to the most is growing the local demographic; as in getting more Samui locals playing, both expat and Thai,” Butch said. “Too many people who’ve lived in Samui for years don’t even know we are here, that has to change.”
“We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the potential,” said Miller. “There have been a few notable players who developed their game here, like View Georgiou and Pichet Panturat. But like anywhere, we’ll see top level talent emerge all in due time; we just need to get discs into kids hands first and they need a course to play on. As for the course, I always want it to be a relatively easy and fun course. There is plenty of emphasis put on championship level gold courses, but when you have an island destination that is for either new players or people simply enjoying vacation time, you don’t need a 10,000-foot layout. In fact, you need exactly like what’s offered in Mae Nam.”
Spend any time with Terry Miller talking about Koh Samui and disc golf in Thailand and his passion is obvious. “
What Nigel and his family, along with Luke and others, have built is both inspiring and exciting,” he explained. “It’s also random, exotic, fun and a touch crazy. So many of my favorite disc golf moments have come from international travels and Samui is on the top of that list. I want to encourage others to take that vacation of a week or a month and travel around that part of the world and connect the disc golf course dots while doing so. Like so many destinations – it’s not just about the disc golf when coming to Samui.
“You are in for a cultural experience and awakening when you visit any part of Thailand or the surrounding region: the food, the people, the sunrises & sunsets, the weather, the beaches, the entertainment, and the sheer freedom of roaming around on a scooter. It’s all pretty wild to think I’m involved in this operation on the other side of the world, but it means I’ll really have an excuse to get there more than just once a year.”