The Royal Bangkok Sports Club (RBSC) has always been the most exclusive sports club in Bangkok for well over a century. It has maintained its reputation as the ultimate domain of high society. Founded in 1901, the RBSC has seen many interesting events. These include serving as Bangkok’s first airport, having the second oldest golf course, the first horse racing track and first Olympic sized swimming pool.
RBSC’s history first dates back to 1890 when an English expatriate named Franklin Hurst made a request to H.R.H. Prince Devawongse Varoprakar to establish a club with a sports field and racecourse. Permission was granted by the government in 1892. Land was leased in the Pathumwan District. The club was called the Bangkok Gymkhana Club. But it lasted less than a decade.
In 1901 a group of high ranking Thais and expatriates submitted a petition to the Thai government for a new club “for the purpose of improving the standard of horse breeding and various other field sports.” King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) granted his royal assent and the RBSC was granted a charter on 6 September 1901. RBSC assumed the assets of the former Bangkok Gymkhana Club.
The RBSC occupies 227 rai (or 36.3 hectares) of land along Henri Dunant Road named after the Swiss founder of the international Red Cross. The road was previously known as “Thanon Sanam Ma”, or Racecourse Road, after the RBSC. Although the name was changed in 1965, Thais still refer the road by its previous name.
The RBSC has always been at the forefront in introducing western sports into Thailand during the early 20th century. Horse racing started in January 1903. Other sports were introduced including cricket in 1905, golf in 1906. Rugby in 1907 and squash in 1909. A clubhouse was built in 1910. All western sports were seen as a symbol of modernisation that was a key element of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) drive to present an image to the world that Thailand was a civilized society.
On 6 February 1911, the RNSC was the site of the first aeroplane flight in Thailand when Belgian aviator Charles Van den Born took off and landed at the RBSC grounds. From 1913 to 1914 the RBSC grounds served as the country’s first airport, known as Sa Pathum Airfield. Then Don Mueang Airport was established as Thailand’s first permanent airdrome facility.
In 1916 there was a dispute over the horse racing prize money being diverted to other RBSC sports. A group of Thai members, who wanted to use the prize money only for house racing, split off from the RBSC to form their own horse racing club. This was called the Royal Turf Club of Thailand (RTCT). This new club catered mainly to Thais, while the RBSC catered more towards Western expats. So the RBSC was called “Sanam Farang” (or foreign racecourse) and RTCT was called “Sanam Thai” (or Thai racecourse). Western expats served as chairmen of the RBSC until 1941 until the Japanese forced Thailand to become its ally. The Japanese occupied the clubhouse during the war. In 1945, H.R.H. Prince Rajadabhisek Sonakul became the first Thai chairman.
The RBSC continued to expand while undergoing many changes through the decades. The original clubhouse was rebuilt and expanded in 1912-1915. New facilities were added including an Olympic size swimming pool in 1933. A sports pavilion was added in 1977. A new multi-purposes sports facility, named the Rajkreetha Sports Complex, opened in 2005. In 1978 the RBSC assumed control of the Bangkok Riding and Polo Club (BRPC) on Witthayu Road which had financial difficulties.
RBSC members have access to all the facilities to do a wide variety of sports. These include badminton, basketball, bridge, billiards, chess, cricket, field hockey, football, an 18 hole golf course, jogging, lawn bowls, martial arts, physical fitness rooms, qi gong, rugby, squash, swimming, table tennis, tennis and yoga. There are multiple bars, dining facilities and banquet halls. However, the main source of income is the horse racing events that occur during the year. These are held on every other Sunday.
RBSC membership is both highly prized and intensely coveted. It has a rigorous application process for anyone seeking membership. The waiting list for those approved is said to stretch for 10 years. The new membership entrance fees are said to be as high as two million Baht as of 2011. The RBSC has retained its exclusivity as the bastion of privilege, status, and prestige in Thailand.