MOVING ON UP
With close to a hundred courses and increasing accessibility for locals, Vietnamese golf is set for a big ‘boom’ over the next few years
By Jonathan Ponniah
Anywhere you go in Vietnam today, there’s a buzz in the air as the country reaps the benefits of a robust economy fuelled by burgeoning foreign investment and rising exports.
The same goes for golf. In the space of just over two decades the golf course count in the country grew from effectively zero to almost a hundred, bankrolled by foreign investments and local developers. Award-winning layouts such as The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip by Greg Norman and Laguna Lang Co by Nick Faldo have cast the spotlight on the country as one of the region’s top golfing destinations – a reputation that was enhanced by the successful staging of the US$1.5 million Ho Tram Open last December with Spanish superstar Sergio Garcia winning the Asian Tour event in a playoff.
Nguyen Van Cuu, the new secretary general of the Vietnam Golf Association (VGA), noted that golf only really boomed after the 1990s.
“The emergence of golf in Vietnam began in the early 1930s when Emperor Bao Dai returned from a trip to France. He then decided to build his own course in Dalat, which only had six to eight holes. This marked the appearance of the sport in Vietnam,” said Cuu, who was elected to the post last December.
Turbulent times followed for the country, causing golf to be all but forgotten as wars and civil strife dominated the next half century and more.
“However, after many ups and downs in history, golf has been forgotten for over 60 years. In 1993, Vice Prime Minister Nguyen Khanh hit a driver when he inaugurated the 18-hole King’s Island Golf Club, representing the rebirth of golf in Vietnam,” explained Cuu.
“Since then, golf has experienced a strong growth in Vietnam with an increase in the number of golfers and the explosion of golf course projects financed by domestic and foreign investors,” he added.
Cuu stressed that the formation of the Vietnam Golf Association in 2007 was a key moment as it added structure to the growth of the game.
“The subsequent emergence of tournaments took golf from social entertainment to a professional sport, gradually becoming an industry,” he said.
“Although golf appeared here later than in our neighbouring countries, Vietnam is dynamic and golf has enjoyed fast integration with the love of sport of the Vietnamese people. I believe that golf will continue developing rapidly in the near future,” added Cuu, noting that there are currently close to 100 playable courses in the country with roughly 30 being built.
Cuu estimates the current golfing population in Vietnam stands at 30,000 with about two-thirds being Vietnamese nationals and the rest expatriates. The VGA hopes to increase the local percentage through amateur events and development programmes.
“The Vietnam Golf Association organises five tournaments annually – the men’s championship, women’s championship, matchplay championship, middle-aged championship and junior championship – plus some other events that we stage in collaboration with companies,” Cuu said. “The junior championship is of special interest to the association, helping young golfers cultivate their skills and accumulate experience. It also helps us find young talents and organise training for them.
“The association will focus on expanding the number of tournaments, annual championships and open amateur events. There are also plans to send more Vietnamese golfers to regional and international tournaments.”
Cuu noted that they plan to set up a golf academy. “The current priority is the investment to form a golf academy, hiring experienced foreign experts to provide teaching and training for young golfers. This is an important step so
that the young golfers can learn and improve their skills and develop into international golfers more quickly.”
The VGA also plans to create a domestic professional circuit over the next five years so more Vietnamese can follow in the footsteps of the country’s only tour player, Michael Tran. Currently playing on the Asian Development Tour, the 25-year-old Tran was one of five ASEAN players to be awarded starts in the US$3 million Maybank Championship Malaysia.
If the game continues to progress at its current breakneck speed, expect to see many more Michael Trans on tour within the next decade or so.
Note: Interview with Nguyen Van Cuu courtesy of Vietnam Golf Magazine