The Thailand Foundation has bestowed this year’s Public Diplomacy Award on pro golf sisters Moriya “Pro Mo” Jutanugarn and Ariya “Pro May” Jutanugarn on account of their outstanding achievements in the international arena of ladies’ professional golf, promoting Thailand and inspiring new generations of Thai pro golf champions.
The award ceremony was held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand (MFA) on December 7th, 2023. In attendance were government officials, the diplomatic corps, United Nations dignitaries, private sector representatives, and members of the Professional Golf Association of Thailand (Thailand PGA). Their recognition comes at a time as Thailand moves to strengthen its position as a premier golf destination.
In her acceptance speech, Pro Mo said, “I would like to express my gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and the Thailand Foundation for recognizing us. I will continue to do my best and continue to enhance Thailand’s international standing.”
In her speech, Pro May said, “I’ve always wished to inspire younger generations, letting them know that whatever they want to be or whatever they want to do, they can achieve it.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Thailand Foundation established the Public Diplomacy Award in 2022 to recognize individuals, groups of people, or organizations whose works have prominently helped foster trust, promote a better understanding of, and make Thailand, the Thai people, and “Thainess” itself known in the international community.
According to Mr. Tayud Mongkolrat, Editor-in-Chief of Thailand Foundation and emcee for the award ceremony, “[Public diplomacy] is aimed towards people-to-people connections, which leads to the fostering of synergy, goodwill, and friendship… You can think of it as people’s diplomacy, which compliments the conventional diplomatic efforts, and it is exactly why the Thailand Foundation was founded.”
The first recipient of the Public Diplomacy Award was Dr. Soontorn Antarasena, a senior otolaryngologist who founded a group of volunteer doctors that has helped to treat over 70,000 ear disease patients worldwide.
Award recipients receive the “Goodwill” trophy, along with a certificate and prize money of 300,000 baht to continue their endeavors. Their names are engraved onto the trophy as well as a “Wall of Fame” that is permanently displayed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Jutanugarn sisters
Pro Mo entered the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour (LPGA Tour) in 2013, when she was awarded the LPGA Rookie of the Year. She further won the Hugel JTBC LA Open in 2018 and the DOW Great Lake Bay Invitational in 2021.
Pro May followed in her sister’s footsteps, entering the LPGA in 2015 and becoming the first Thai female golfer to be ranked No.1 in the world in 2017. She also swept five major season-ending awards, including the Rolex Player of the Year, and became the first female golfer to win three consecutive tournaments in a year.
Their achievements over the past decade have captured Thailand’s imagination, with several Thai pro golfers following in their footsteps. Aside from Pro Mo and Pro May, a further five Thai pro golfers have gained champion statuses in the LGPA, including Pajaree “Pro Meaw” Anannarukarn, Atthaya “Pro Jean” Thitikul, Paphangkorn “Pro Meow” Tavatanakit (also known as “Patty”), Chanettee “Pro Proud” Wannasaen, and Thidapa “Pro Jasmine” Suwannapura.
The Thailand Public Diplomacy Award comes hot on the heels of the Jutanugarn sisters jointly championing the team match-play competition Hanwha Lifeplus International Crown.
Thailand as a world-class golf destination
The sisters’ success has certainly inspired homegrown interest in golf, but Thailand has been an early adopter of the sport, establishing its first golf course in 1898 and becoming “one of the world’s fastest growing golfing nations” in 1992. It has since become a world-class golf destination, earning recognition as the “Golf Destination of the Year of 2023” at the 22nd IAGTO Awards, and the “Best Up-and-Coming Destination for Golf Vacations” by the World Golf Travel Agents Association.
Thai golf courses are popular among tourists from Asia, such as those from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as Europe, each of whom spends at least THB4,000 per day on average.
According to Mr. Nithee Seeprae, Deputy Governor for Marketing Communications of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, “Many tourists and golfers come to Thailand to play golf because the country has numerous golf courses, and the uniqueness of Thai golf courses lies in the service provided. I hope that we continue to welcome golfers from all over the world to come and enjoy their stay in Thailand, and share their experiences with family and friends.”
Pre-pandemic data shows that Thailand’s over 250 golf courses attracted 700,000-1,000,000 tourists a year, generating over THB3.3 billion (US$94.52 million) in annual revenue. With Thailand having fully emerged from pandemic restrictions, the kingdom is poised for a rebound. The golf equipment market alone is valued at THB8.27 billion this year, with a compound annual growth rate of 5.44% for the next five years.
Recognizing Thailand’s potential as a golf destination, the Tourism Authority of Thailand recently supported Thailand Golf Travel Mart 2023 (TGTM 2023), an event that had been put on hiatus since the COVID-19 crisis. This year, TGTM highlighted the golf courses in the provinces of Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan.