Saudi-backed LIV Tour lands at Thai billionaire’s golf course

Branching out from power biz, Sarath’s Stonehill Golf Club will host the only Asian stop on the lucrative new tour 

by ANUCHIT NGUYEN 

ON THE inaugural schedule for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, there’s only one stop in Asia: Thailand’s newly opened Stonehill Golf Club, a pet project of Sarath Ratanavadi, the country’s second-richest man. 

The club took five years to complete and opened this summer, with Sarath’s son Saris serving as an executive director. An hour’s drive north of Bangkok, the neo-classical clubhouse overlooks more than 150ha and a course designed by Kyle Philips, best known for Scotland’s Kingsbarns. Cameron Smith and Dustin Johnson will get a crack at Stonehill starting Oct 7, when the LIV event begins. 

“A good golf course can only be built once,” Sarath said in an interview. “You can’t change the layout or the grasses when it’s finished. I’m willing to spend time to make it perfect.” 

Founder and CEO of power giant Gulf Energy Development pcl, the 57-year-old tycoon has amassed a personal fortune of about US$12 billion (RM53.48 billion), according to the Bloom- berg Billionaires Index. Now he’s branching out. Emboldened by a stock price that’s risen every year since the company went public in 2017, Sarath is rapidly expanding into renewable energy, telecommunication and cryptocurrency far beyond the Gulf of Thailand. 

“Sarath has a very quiet personality,” said Suwat Sinsadok, an analyst at Finansia Syrus Securities in Bangkok. “But he is very aggressive in his global ambition with a number of large acquisitions and investments. We expect more top headlines on his expansion to come.” 

We have been in talks with several organisers of leading international golf tournaments. There will be more to come at Stonehill, says Sarath

Diversifying 

About a year ago, Gulf took a 40% stake in Intouch Holdings pcl, the top shareholder of Thailand’s biggest mobile- phone company. In April, it set up a joint venture with Binance Holdings Ltd, the world’s largest crypto bourse by trading volume, to apply for a licence to run a digital-asset exchange. 

The traditional power business also continues to grow. On Sept 9, Gulf announced its first foray into the US, the US$410 million acquisition of a 49% stake in a 1,200MW gas-fired power plant in Illinois. Gulf owns plants and projects in Vietnam, Oman and Germany, and plans to add more, part of a campaign to increase overall power generation by about 80% in five years. 

Unlike many power producers in South-East Asia, Sarath has deliberately stayed away from coal. Early in his career, when he was leading Gulf Electric Co, the Thai venture of Japan’s Electric Power Development Co, local protesters pushed the government to pull its approval for a pair of planned coal-fired power plants. 

So, when he started his own company, Sarath kept its focus on natural gas, which emits less CO2.

About 90% of Gulf ’s power generation comes from natural gas; the rest is from renewable sources, according to a company presentation. 

Big Promoter of Golf 

LIV Golf, founded by Greg Norman and backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, held its first tournaments this year and has quickly established itself as a threat to the PGA Tour. It has poached some of the sport’s biggest names, including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, luring them away with massive sums of money. 

Sarath has also been a big promoter of golf in Thailand, organising international tournaments at other clubs before deciding to build his own. He said he approached LIV this summer after seeing the list of top golfers on the fledgling circuit. That’s not a sign he’s taking sides in the upstart’s fight with the PGA Tour, though. 

“It’s like a feud between husband and wife — it’s none of my business,” he said. “We have been in talks with several organisers of leading international golf tournaments. There will be more to come at Stonehill.” — Bloomberg 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition.