Good Morning, golf - Vietnam wakes up to the rich man’s sport

Editor: Over the next few days, Paul Sochaczewski will take you on a wonderous tour of Vietnam’s spectacular golf courses. Let us know what you think.

Ho Chi  Minh City, Vietnam

Having spent part of the Vietnam War era as a protester and part as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia – just a hop across the South China Sea from Vietnam – there are two things I would never have predicted: that I would eventually love the sport of golf or that I’d go to Vietnam to play it.

But golf in Vietnam is booming, to the degree that it has become a travel writer’s cliché to note the ironic twist in the Ho Chi Minh Trail: The route that the U.S. bombed so ferociously during what the Vietnamese call the American War has now been dubbed the Ho Chi Minh GolfTrail, with courses such as Chi Linh Star that wouldn’t be out of place in such high-ticket golf destinations as nearby Thailand or even Hawaii or Spain.

Vietnam now has 17 golf courses, nearly matching Singapore’s 18, according to Nguyen Ngoc Chu, general secretary of the fledgling Vietnam Golf Association. With 30 more under construction, he says, and a further 50-plus in the planning stages, Vietnam is on target for some 100 courses. That’s not quite in the league of Thailand (213 courses) or Indonesia (218), but in December the International association of Golf Tour Operators designated Vietnam as the “undiscovered golf destination of the year.”

The number of international visitors to Vietnam in 2007 was up more than 16% from 2006, according to the country’s Trade Information Center. Tourists, though, aren’t the only ones on the courses. Vietnam also has local golfers: 8,000 of them, according to Mr. Chu, whose Vietnam Golf Association is linked to the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. “And it’s still early days,” he adds. Vu Van Yen, deputy editor of Vietnam Golf magazine, estimates the number is growing 15% to 20% a year.

Golf, closely associated with capitalism and colonialism, hasn’t had smooth sailing in this Communist country. The rich man’s pastime had to be repositioned to become socially acceptable.

A breakthrough came in the early 1990s, Mr. Chu says: Then-Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam, attending a regional meeting, felt isolated when the other diplomats went off to play golf. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then Malaysia’s foreign minister (and now its prime minister), took Mr. Cam aside and encouraged him to learn the game.

Mr. Cam returned to Hanoi and promoted golf among his colleagues. He faced resistance, Mr. Chu says, including a concern that golf courses would “take land from the people.” Still, Mr. Cam helped to set up an informal golf academy for high-level government officials. Now honorary president of the Vietnam Golf Association, Mr. Cam plays with an 18 handicap.

Attractive golf courses can be found throughout Vietnam, with many new layouts – several involving superstar designer like Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman – on the way. I asked Mr. Chu which course is the best. A mathematician with a philosopher’s bent and diplomat’s smile, he replied, “A golf course is like a lady. Each one is beautiful in her own way.”

During a recent trip I played some of the courses on offer in the country’s south and south central regions. Stay tuned over the next few postings to discover their beauty in words and images.


(c) Paul Spencer Sochaczewski, Reprinted with permission.  Be sure to read Paul Sochaczewski’s new book The Sultan and the Mermaid Queen (Editions Didier Millet 2008), and can be ordered at: Amazon.com

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Golf Saigon January 18, 2013

Its good that many golf court are in city. good news for all golf lover.
We can spent more time with golf.

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