This country offers much more than delicious food and incredible landscapes. Vietnam is an Exciting golf destination, promising a first-rate experience as it evolves from its war-stricken past. Mike Bridge is excited to get a new stamp in his passport…
I have been very fortunate over the years to travel to most major countries, so it was exciting to be travelling to Vietnam, a new destination for me and to grab another stamp in my passport.
Flying into Ho Chi Min City (HCMC), formerly known as Saigon, and you soon begin to realise how the pace of travel here has moved on, and now domestic flights are the way to get around the country. For a country of only 125,622 square miles, it is amazing to think Vietnam has 46 airports!
The country mainly relies on its agriculture including rice, coffee, rubber, tea, pepper, soybeans, cashews, sugar cane, peanuts, bananas; poultry; fish, seafood for its main exports.
However, the government here unlike their Chinese neighbours, have realised the importance that golf vacationers bring to the economy. Therefore, with their full support, Vietnam's golf industry has expanded very quickly too, and the country already boasts of over 33 excellent courses, with another sixty in the pipe line.
Best Golf Destination
As a consequence of this rapid expansion, Vietnam was named Best Golf Destination for Asia and Australasia 2015 by IAGTO members and several courses here have won numerous awards as well. It's not surprising then that the leading golf designers are making a be-line to this forward-thinking country.
For our trip we decided first to fly up to Danang in the centre of the country, just a one-hour flight from HCMC, and then back there, with a side trip to Ho Tram, two hours South East of HCMC.
Currently there are no direct flights from Thailand to Danang, however the good news is that Thai Air Asia have just announced that they will be flying direct from Bangkok early next year. With just a 60-minute flight it will be quicker than flying to Phuket, so in 2016 readers will be able to combine some superb golf in both countries.
Danang part of the region known as the Golf Coast, brings together what many say are some of the finest golfing experiences in Asia.
Around twenty minutes south of the city beside the sea, there are two first class golf courses next two each other. The Danang Golf Club course designed by Greg Norman and Montgomerie Links designed by Monty himself. Both these courses are seaside links style tracks.
Monty opened here first, and his course is suited to the many sand dunes found along this part of the coast. At 7,090 yards, this par 72 golf course is considered to be one of the best in Vietnam.
It's neighbour, the Danang Golf Club opened in 2010, and its Dunes course has also won many awards for its designer Greg Norman. The fairways here are generous and there are no out of bounds and only a small number of water hazards.
An added bonus if you stay at their Ocean Villas Resort overlooking the sea, is they have a private tunnel under the road linking the villas to Danang Golf Club, and you can order a golf cart to pick you up. You also get some preferential rates too.
The new kid on the block here is the Laguna Lang Co golf course, designed by another golfing legend Sir Nick Faldo. A 75-minute trip north of the city, it is still worthwhile making the journey as these 18 holes are in superb condition in another wonderful part of the coast line. Along with the Banyan Tree and Angsana hotels on site, this course is a must on your Vietnam bucket list.
Danang is a fairly big city but we would recommend most of the better hotels that are spread along the fabulous sandy beach running south of Danang towards the famous World Heritage site of Hoi An. Here there is the likes of the big chains with the Hyatt Regency, Pullman, Crown Plaza, while the trendy Novotel is located in the city overlooking the river.
World Heritage Village
Apart from golf, it is definitely worth making the twenty-minute trip to the fascinating historic village of Hoi An, where you can wander through the ancient streets with restaurants, spas and of course clothes and souvenirs shops and market stalls. Definitely a 'Back in Time' experience and more visual at night when the village is light up by thousands of brightly painted paper lanterns.
We then flew back to Ho Chi Minh for some culture and relaxation. Very much a city awakening from the horrors of the Vietnam war, and for the curious there are several palaces and museums with sad memories of this difficult time for the region.
France first unified Vietnam back in 1887, when a single governor-generalship was created, followed by the first physical links between north and south—a rail and road system. However even at the beginning of World War II, there were internal differences among the three regions.
Japan took over military bases in Vietnam in 1940, and a pro-Vichy French administration remained until 1945. Veteran Communist leader Ho Chi Minh organized an independence movement known as the Vietminh to exploit the confusion surrounding France's weakened influence in the region. At the end of the war, Ho's followers seized Hanoi and declared a short-lived republic, which ended with the arrival of French forces in 1946.
Paris proposed a unified government within the French Union under the former Annamite emperor, Bao Dai. Cochin-China and Annam accepted the proposal, and Bao Dai was proclaimed emperor of all Vietnam in 1949. Ho and the Vietminh withheld support, and the revolution in China gave them the outside help needed for a war of resistance against French and Vietnamese troops armed largely by a United States worried about cold war Communist expansion.
The massive casualties on all sides has left their mark, and a visit to the many museums and sites are a constant reminder of the horrors of Vietnam War.
Golf Down South
As far as golf is concerned, there are a handful of courses around Ho Chi Minh city worth playing. The newest and most convenient to the city is Tan Son Nhat Golf Course (also under floodlights) beside the airport. This 36-hole public golf course runs next to the city's Tan Son Nhat International airport and is only 4 kms from the centre of the city.
Course architects Nelson and Haworth have created an interesting golf course on what was 156 hectares of relatively flat land. With large bunkers, several water hazards, significant earth mounding plus undulating greens on nearly every hole, all four nine holes offer a good challenge for all levels.
By using Paspalum on the tees, fairways, rough and on the greens this modern city set up ensures good playing conditions 365 days a year.
Opened in 1995, The Vietnam Golf and Country Club with 36 championship holes is about 30kms from the city centre and is a leader in terms of golf quality and service. There is also Long Thanh Golf Club another 36 holes 35kms from the city and Twin Doves Golf Club a 27-hole course an hour's drive away.
A World Beater
While we were there, the World Golf Awards held in Portugal announced that their Best New Golf Course in the World had been won by The Bluffs at Ho Tram. Therefore, we decided to make the 75 minute drive south of HCMC to experience another Greg Norman masterpiece beside the sea.
This course has also just hosted the Asian Tours 1st Vietnam Open with Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and Geoff Ogilvy participating, which was eventually won by Spain's Sergio Garcia. All the pros were raving about the Bluffs and agreed it is likely to become one of the top courses in the region.
Greg has created some superb WOW factors holes here utilizing the rugged coast line to the limit. The 18 holes were in immaculate condition and we could see why they deserved their award. Wind could be a bonus or a challenge depending on your tee time but allows for cool breezes, so you can play here all year round.
As a bonus the Grand Hotel part of the same operation and next to the course, offers 5-star luxury on a breathtaking beach, with a massive casino and night club thrown in for good measure.
Overall other Asian countries will have to sit up and take note on how to compete. For service, quality of some very clever course layouts and fair pricing, Vietnam is well worth the trip for golfers and non-playing partners alike.
Good to know
Rates vary from approximately GBP48 up to GBP148 for weekends at peak periods. Bearing in mind these rates often include cart and caddie fees as well, then they are realistically priced. There are also great stay and play packages and avoiding the busier weekends will help your budget.
As most courses are relatively new, the facilities are tip top and upkeep of the greens and fairways mean you are offered a truly Championship experience.
For non-players there are masses of distractions around the country and the restaurants are superb and offer great value as well