Golf in Vietnam: "Rise of the Dragon"
By Peter Ellegard
Play golf on the Central Vietnam coast’s courses and you will cross a very special bridge as you travel through Danang.
Spanning the wide Han River, the six-lane Dragon Bridge is Vietnam’s longest bridge and is built in the shape of a golden dragon writhing above and below the roadway. Every Saturday and Sunday at 9pm, the traffic is stopped and flames shoot spectacularly into the night sky from the dragon’s mouth.
Danang’s fire-breathing dragon symbolises the friendly, welcoming and gentle Vietnamese who, according to ancient mythology, are descended from a dragon and a fairy.
It also embodies the spirit of a nation that has risen from the ashes of a terrible war, first between the communist North Vietnam government and colonial power France and then with South Vietnam and its main ally, America, which finally ended with American withdrawal from Saigon in 1973 and reunification of the country two years later.
Today, it is tourists who invade Vietnam and, with its fast-developing infrastructure of golf courses, it is attracting increasing numbers of golfers from around the world. Almost 45 courses are already open for play across the country, a total set to double to 90 by 2020 under a government directive.
First named Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year for 2008 in the prestigious IAGTO Awards, organised by global golf tourism industry organisation IAGTO, Vietnam has since twice been honoured as Golf Destination of the Year for Asia & Australia, in 2013 and 2016.
CENTRAL VIETNAM GOLF Among the first things you notice on the drive from Danang’s airport to the beach resorts and courses south of the city are imposing, grey concrete bunkers by the roadside. A legacy of the Vietnam War, they were built by the American Army, who first landed on nearby Red Beach in 1965.
However, it is the tricky sand bunkers on the Danang area’s four golf courses that will grab golfers’ attention more. Not to mention the delightful and helpful caddies – you only find female caddies in Vietnam – resplendent in their colourful uniforms and topped by matching caps or traditional, conical straw hats.
The country’s fourth-largest city is now its epicentre for golf, underlined by the Golf Coast Vietnam brand the area markets itself as. Like many courses in Vietnam, all four in the region boast famous designer names. The Montgomerie Links, by Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, opened in 2009 and was soon followed by Aussie Greg Norman’s Danang Golf Club course in 2010. My first visit to Vietnam was for the official opening of the Nick Faldo-designed Laguna Lang Co course in 2013, and I visited again in April 2016 to play Ba Na Hills, former world number one Luke Donald’s first design and managed by IMG, shortly after it opened.
Returning in May 2017 to attend the Asia Golf Tourism Convention in Danang, Ba Na Hills has now matured into a majestic and stunning layout set among the lower slopes of forested mountains just inland of the city. Before teeing off, my fellow convention attendees and I are treated to an impromptu flashmob dance by the maroon-clad caddies. Not a sight I am used to seeing at my local muni course in Southend!
Although close to each other, the Montgomerie and Danang Golf Club courses are different in nature. The Montgomerie spans elevation changes and has plenty of water hazards and stepped greens, while Norman’s design is more of a links-style course that features numerous bunkers and waste bunker areas, its signature, par-3 16th hole ending with a green overlooking the East Sea.
Some 45 minutes north of Danang, Laguna Lang Co is part of a resort set on a sweeping bay with two luxury hotels and encompasses holes alongside the beach, through rice paddy fields and ones carved from the adjacent jungle, flanked by boulders and criss-crossing a stream. Its greens are currently being renovated after damage from heavy rains during the winter months.
Danang will soon have another two courses. A Nicklaus Design course is being built by Danang Golf Club owner BRG Group alongside its Norman layout, to open by 2018, while a Robert Trent Jones Jr course will open in 2019 in nearby Hoi An.
Where to stay: Laguna Lang Co Resort features the Banyan Tree and Angsana hotels adjacent to the golf course and linked by a waterway with passenger boats. Hotels south of Danang and close to the Montgomerie and Danang Golf Club courses include the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa, the stylish, all-villa Fusion Maia Danang and the historic Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa, close to ancient Hoi An town.
CENTRAL VIETNAM ATTRACTIONS Relax on Danang’s beautiful China Beach, watching the fishermen haul in their catch on high-prowed fishing boats or circular, woven coracles. Visit the UNESCO-listed ancient port of Hoi An, with its fascinating waterways and lantern-festooned streets and alleyways lined by shops, galleries, bars and restaurants. This is where to come if you want to buy beautiful paintings or have a suit or dress made in just 24 hours.
You can also take the cable car up to Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort for attractions including Toc Tien Waterfall, temples, pagodas and Debay Wine Cellar.
NORTHERN VIETNAM GOLF Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, has around half a dozen golf courses in its environs and more farther afield. Just 40km and 45 minutes from Hanoi, Sky Lake Resort & Golf Club’s members-only Lake Course has now been joined by the public-access Sky Course. Its signature, par-4 15th hole is named Dien Bien Phu after a famous Indochina Wars battle because of its topography and difficulty.
Other Hanoi area courses include Phoenix Golf Resort, Long Bien Golf Course, BRG Legend Hill Golf Resort and BRG Kings Island Golf Resort. A new course is also due to open soon at Halong Bay.
Where to stay: The Apricot Hotel, Hanoi, is a neoclassical oasis of calm and lavish comfort amidst the madness of the city’s frenetic roads, located by the city’s Hoan Kiem Lake and steps from Hanoi’s old town and French Quarter.
NORTHERN VIETNAM ATTRACTIONS Hanoi’s attractions include its bustling French Quarter and old town, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Military History Museum. Any visit to Hanoi should also include a cruise among the magnificent towering limestone rock formations of Halong Bay, four hours by road from the capital. Even better, take an overnight cruise, mooring by the rock monoliths for an on-board moonlit BBQ and then fishing for squid. Magical.
SOUTHERN VIETNAM GOLF Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, and still often called that in the south) is where Vietnam’s international-standard golf course first opened in 1994. However, golfers should head for the coast to enjoy the best golf in this part of the country.
The Bluffs, Ho Tram Strip is a coastal links-style course by Greg Norman that has rightly earned rave reviews since opening in 2014. Two hours by road from Ho Chi Minh City and set in a bay touted to become Vietnam’s answer to Macau, The Bluffs is laid out over huge coastal sand dunes with several holes facing the sea and others skirting protected forest. The clubhouse has a wonderful restaurant overlooking the seaward holes and the bay.
Phu Quoc, a fast-growing tropical holiday island in Vietnam’s far south-west, boasts the scenic 27-hole Vinpearl Phu Quoc Resort golf course, which opened in 2015 adjacent to a glorious beach with three nine-hole layouts that are each different in character.
Nha Trang also has a Vinpearl resort with its own golf course. The breathtaking Vinpearl Golf Nha Trang course is laid out on a beautiful private cove on Hon Tre Island just off the mainland and features an island green on the par-3 3rd hole.
Where to stay: Five-star casino resort The Grand Ho Tram Strip is adjacent to The Bluffs. The Vinpearl Phu Quoc Resort complex also includes an amusement park, water park, two luxury hotels and villas, while the Vinpearl Nha Trang Resort also has an amusement park and is linked to the mainland by the world’s longest over-water cable car.
SOUTHERN VIETNAM ATTRACTIONS
Wander the colourful streets of Ho Chi Minh City, visiting its markets, sampling street food and enjoying a cup of sweet, iced Vietnamese coffee (Vietnam is the world’s largest coffee exporter), made with condensed milk. The Cu Chi Tunnels, 90 minutes north-west of the city, are a vast complex of impossibly-narrow tunnels used by Viet Cong fighters in the Vietnam War which visitors can tour.
On the coast, relax on peerless white-sand beaches, visit traditional fishing villages, cool off in the sea or under a waterfall on Phu Quoc Island and visit a former prisoner of war camp on Phu Quoc.
WHEN TO GO With different climate zones, Vietnam’s north is best visited from March to May and October-November, the central region from March to July and the south from February to May.
WEB LINKS TO FEATURED GOLF COURSES AND HOTELS:
Ba Na Hills Golf Club, Danang
Montgomerie Links Vietnam, Danang
Danang Golf Club
Laguna Lang Co, Danang
The Bluffs, Ho Tram Strip
Vinpearl Phu Quoc Resort, Phu Quoc Island
Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa
Fusion Maia Danang
Apricot Hotel, Hanoi
The Grand Ho Tram Strip
Golf Coast Vietnam