Three new courses on 2017 Vietnam Tour

Vietnam Golf Explosion Continues

By Denise Langdon PaR nz Golfing Holidays

Vietnam launched itself on the international golf market in the early 1990s and has grown substantially in popularity and golf offerings. Having travelled there for some years now, the team at PaR nz Golfing Holidays is staggered by how quickly this socialist republic has attracted big name designers and built world ranking golf courses. Here’s an overview of three of the latest.  

Greg Norman’s 77th international course, The Bluffs at Ho Tram Strip, is getting rave reviews, some say it's his best yet. Newly ranked at #74 in the World Top 100 Golf Courses and #1 in Vietnam Top 10 Golf Courses by Golf Digest 2016-17 ratings, Norman is carving out an impressive portfolio of world-renowned courses with a further 37 currently under construction. The Bluffs is Norman’s second course in Vietnam after his Danang Dunes Golf Course with four more in the planning stages. Sadly, we are still waiting for Norman to discover us in New Zealand!  

The Bluffs hosted in December 2015, the inaugural Ho Tram Open, a lucrative US $1.5 million Asian Tour tournament won by Spanish super star Sergio Garcia. The Bluffs is a links-style course with dramatic elevation changes built along a natural coastline near the small fishing village of Ho Tram. Norman has reported that the parcel of land was equal in quality to that of his development of Doonbeg in Ireland. The Bluffs is located about two and a half hours southeast of Saigon. 

Many of The Bluffs fairways funnel into amphitheatre type fairways with sandy dunes on both sides covered with indigenous brush and trees called ‘tram’, pronounced ‘charm’. The course is subjected to high winds most days, however, it's not all tough. There are wide fairways and a manageable 45 metres difference in elevation between the lowest and highest points. 

The 1st opens with a wide fairway joined with the 9th – so it's important to take careful note of which hole you are playing. This start is typical of many of Norman’s holes with wide tee shots beckoning followed by challenging, tight approaches to the green. Jack Nicklaus is famous for his 'risk and reward' style of courses. Norman has his own catchphrase, 'opportunity and danger', which applies neatly to The Bluffs.  

The total Ho Tram Strip complex, where construction started in 2006 after a two-year planning process, includes The Grand – a five-star, 541-room hotel with a casino. Three more hotels are planned in a multi-million project undertaken by Ho Tram Project Company, which is owned by Canada-based Asian Coast Development Limited. New Zealander, 2005 US Open Winner Michael Campbell played in a charity exhibition match at the opening golf gala. 

Today, there are fewer than 50 golf courses in Vietnam, which for a population of more than 93 million may seem modest compared to New Zealand's 400 courses for 4.5 million residents.  

What Vietnam lacks in course numbers, however, it makes up for in quality. Take for instance, Sky Lake, Hanoi’s twin 18-hole PGA championship courses. Managed by IMG Prestige, the most recent of the two, the Sky Course has been open for only eighteen months, while its sibling, known as the Lake Course, opened in 2012. 

Ahn Moon Hwan, a Korea-based course architect, designed both courses, which stretch over countryside where French military and Vietnamese opposition forces clashed during the first 'Indochina War', which ended in 1954. 

Both courses are semi-private members clubs with limited public access. The Sky is the more accessible. Sky Lake is only 20km from Hanoi’s historic centre and offers stunning vistas off the tee and fairway with sweeping limestone mountain views of Van Son. The Vietnam Golf Association voted the Lake Course as the most challenging course in 2012-13 reviews. Today it is ranked #5 in Vietnam’s Top 10. 

The Lake Course is a links-style challenge with grand lakes and mountain views surrounded by indigenous jungle. The Sky Course is more park-like with rolling hills and fairways, and farmland views. 

Recently opening is a world-first for the former number one, Luke Donald, Ba Na Hills also managed by IMG. Located about 30 minutes from Danang, on the Central Coast bordering the South China Sea, the course has gentle elevation changes and its bunkers are predicted to be a big feature. 

The bunkers include bright white sand with soft low sand lines, and big bold grass bunker edges leading onto soft long undulating greens.  Ba Na Hills is not, however, another seaside course but a mountain course with a mix of topography and vegetation. The opening tee shots are aimed at generous fairways that tighten with the many bunkers planned. 

It’s a case of watch this space with Vietnam, as more golfers discover its charms. The number of domestic golfers is small, with only 5000 registered, but the fairways are being filled with international guests daily.  The chance to play these courses along with six other selected Vietnamese and Cambodian master-pieces, designed by Norman, Montgomerie, Faldo to name but three course architects, is real, on our 2017 Vietnam & Cambodia Tour! 

By Denise Langdon

PaR nz Golfing Holidays

denise@parnz.co.nz