By Mark Sawyer
When you mention Vietnam, you immediately conjure up thoughts of rice paddy fields, farm workers & refugees. Whilst Vietnam has retained its agriculture & rural origins, the country has progressed enormously and is fast becoming one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations.
Travellers are often polled on what attracts them to a destination and unsurprisingly their Top 3 responses are: Scenery, Food and the People – but not necessarily in that order. Vietnam certainly ticks all of those boxes and fortunately for the readers here, it ticks a fourth box by having a whole bunch of world-class championship golf courses. Vietnam is located in the tropics, so the climate is responsible for lush vegetation, beautiful fruits and a variety of terrain. The ‘S’ shaped country includes some 3,260kms of coastline and is only 50km across at its widest point. With such a great mix of topography, it’s little wonder some of the world’s greatest designers & players have put their stamp on Vietnam.
Another great draw card worthy of mention in Vietnam … the Caddies. Attracting the attention of men and women alike, the delightful caddies throughout Asia add another dimension of enjoyment to your round. Often adorned in brightly colored uniforms, their warm & gentle personalities somehow relax your game and soothe the soul. Cleaning clubs and finding wayward shots are light work for these jewels, where they really shine is their local knowledge and advice on club selection, direction of play and line of putt. Once you’ve experienced the charming company of a caddy in Vietnam, you’ll almost certainly return for another adventure.
Whilst there are many fabulous courses in Vietnam, a distinction must be made to shortlist the must-play standouts in 3 main regions. Starting with Hanoi in the north, there are several courses worthy of mention. Sky Lake Golf Club managed by the IMG group is some 45kms out of the city center and has two PGA rated courses. The Lake course is a 7,557 yard behemoth that’s been voted the most challenging course in all of Vietnam. The course has varying elevations & scenery as it winds its way around Van Son Lake, providing an awesome round of golf. The Sky course also varies in elevation and it is known as a true risk & reward course. Kings’ Island Golf Resort is another 36-hole jewel in the Hanoi region. As the name suggests, Kings’ Island is an inland island and you must travel by boat to reach resort. Arguably one of the most scenic locations in Nth. Vietnam, the Lakeside and Mountain courses provide excellent golfing experiences. Both courses offer stunning lake & mountain scenery and an abundance of water hazards, blind holes and tricky approaches over ravines & marshland.
An hour’s flight south of Hanoi will land you in the coastal city of Danang. Home to a number of beachfront hotel resorts, it’s no wonder the likes of Greg Norman, Colin Montgomerie and Sir Nick Faldo have designed signature courses here. Courses along the Danang strip provide panoramic views of the East Sea, Cham Islands and the Marble Mountains range. Danang Golf Club has the Shark’s DNA all over it. The 7,160 yard Norman-design is a true links-style design featuring blown-out bunkers and Bermuda fairways & greens – all of which are lined by wild seaside vegetation and rugged waste areas.
Just down the road is the 7200 yard Montgomerie Links course. Designed by Colin Montgomerie, the links-style layout is adorned with massive greens and rippled fairways that are carved from a landscape of wispy casuarina pines and beckoning sand dunes. Laguna Lang Co is an hour’s drive north of the city and home to Nick Faldo’s course, along with the luxurious Banyan Tree & Angsana Resort Hotels.
You cannot visit Danang without venturing into the Ancient UNESCO World Heritage listed town of Hoi An. The seaside hamlet is lined with cobblestone lanes & alleyways brimming with interesting artisans, traders, cafes & restaurants. Hoi An typifies Vietnam’s amazing cuisine, so much so that TV Chef Anthony Bourdain featured it as an absolute must for lovers of great food. Fresh seafood, barbequed meats, tasty salads, scrumptious baguette sandwiches and Vietnamese Coffee with condensed milk are all hallmarks of Vietnamese fare.
Your last port of call should be Ho Chi Minh City. Commonly known as Saigon and famous for its pivotal role in the Vietnam War, the southern metropolis is a bustling urban hub with a population of 8 million. Saigon is heavily influenced by the former French occupation, so it’s easy to note the connection in architecture, the arts and delicious food – especially from the patisserie. Culture aside, there’s an abundance of quality courses in this region with the majority on the outskirts of the city. Vietnam Golf & Country Club, Song Be and Twin Doves are all courses worth playing. Long Thanh Golf Club is a popular choice due to its elevated position perched on hilltops overlooking the city. Ronald Fream designed the 2 championship courses with his Hills course rated as the testing material with its rolling fairways and undulating Bermuda greens. The Lake course is a little more forgiving but does present a fair amount of challenge to your game.
It’s pleasing to see that a new course has been commissioned within Ho Chi Minh City. Adjacent to the airport, Tan Son Nhat Golf Club has 27 of its planned 36 holes open for business and the feedback from players is very positive. The beautiful layout features rolling fairways, challenging water hazards and mounded bunkers in all the right places. If you visit Ho Chi Minh City, it’s difficult to pass up the opportunity of visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels. Host to one of modern history’s most memorable conflicts, Cu Chi is an intriguing yet moving experience to see the incredible underground network of the Vietnamese guerrilla army. You’ll witness amazing ingenuity, fascinating remnants and chilling reminders of a fierce battle that impacted on so many people.
Saving the best till last – The Bluffs golf course at Ho Tram Strip is the cream of the crop. Opened in October 2014, The Bluffs is one of Greg Norman’s best ever designs and currently rates as Vietnam’s No.1 course. Situated on the coast east of Ho Chi Minh City, the links-style course is part of the Grand Hotel Resort & Casino. Norman’s masterpiece is nestled among seaside dunes and subject to the prevailing winds of varying direction. The 360-degree panoramic views are magnificent and the expertly maintained greens and fairways make it a dream to play. The resort boasts 541 rooms, more than 10 restaurants, bars, a nightclub and spa – making it a real stay & play showpiece. If you venture to Vietnam for a golfing holiday, you discover it has a lot to offer.
Golf Tours Abroad is currently promoting their 2016 Friendship Vietnam Golf Tour that includes many of Vietnam’s best courses & landmarks as mentioned in this article. For more information about visit: www.golftoursabroad.com
The Bluffs golf course at Ho Tram Strip (video): golftoursabroad.com/?p=3034
2016 Friendship Vietnam Golf Tour: golftoursabroad.com/?p=2964
Golf Tours Abroad: www.golftoursabroad.com