Long synonymous with the war that engulfed it in the 1960’s and 70’s, Vietnam might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of golf destinations but with the country shaking off the shackles of its grizzly past, and Southeast Asia experiencing a boom in golf tourism, things may be about to change.
Nowadays the country has gained a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful destinations, and with its long stretch of South China Sea coastline, which boasts some truly incredible beaches, and tranquil river deltas, it’s easy to see why.
We started our golfing adventure in Ho Chi Minh, still often referred to as Saigon, a chaotic whirl of a city which is perhaps the most unlikely starting point for a golfing trip you could ever find. Here tradition and modernity collide with dizzying effect, as manic traffic and emerging skyscrapers intermingle with ancient temples and local street-food sellers who look better suited to a bygone age.
Vietnam may be emerging at breakneck speed into the 21st Century but the country’s colonial past is an essential part of this vibrant city’s fabric, and as a result beautiful colonial architecture remains the city's major draw. Particularly stunning is the Central Post Office which, designed by the same man as the Eiffel Tower, boasts hand-painted historic maps on the walls of its grand concourse.
Vietnam Golf & Country Club is Saigon’s finest golf resort. Located near to the heart of the city, the two 18-hole courses are located in a 300-acre tract of wooded land and have both played host to Asian Tour events. The East Course, which opening in 1997, is arguably the finer of the two with its cleverly positioned bunkers and myriad of water hazards making for a challenging round.
After a day on the course a visit to the War Remnants Museum is a must. The tanks and warplanes which meet the visitor at the entrance give absolutely no indication to the gruesome images that lie behind the Museum doors and whilst a visit is certainly not for the faint-hearted, a trip to learn about this country’s bloody-past seems like a pilgrimage that every tourist must take.
Four hours north of Ho Chi Minh, or a 45-minute flight, lies Dalat, a colonial town in the country’s Central Highlands whose spring-like weather offers a refreshing break from Vietnam’s sapping heat. Once the preferred holidaying-spot for the French colonial elite, who came here in their droves to enjoy the cooler temperatures, the town now offers the ideal destination for a spot of golf. Chief among the town’s golfing hotspots in Dalat Palace, a parkland course dating back to the 1920’s which is situated conveniently in the centre of the town.
A pleasant, although undulating course, Dalat Palace is an ultimately forgiving track with wide fairways and generous run-offs, although woe betide the golfer who falls foul to the water hazards or challenging fairway bunkers. The course starts unusually with a par-3, which runs adjacent to the town, before starting to carve its way through stately pine trees.
The altitude here not only makes for cooler conditions, perfect for maintaining the only bent grass greens in Asia, but also adds up to 10 percent onto your drives!
One of the best maintained courses in Asia, Dalat Palace is a must play destination, with exceptional staff and caddies only adding to the experience.
Eighty kilometres south of Saigon is the Greg Norman-designed Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, which is often regarded as Vietnam’s finest course. Opened in 2010, the course in build on a coastal plateau, which not only makes for fabulous views but also excellent drainage, and meanders its way through towering sand dunes.
Visitors are treated to some truly breath-taking vantage points, with the panoramic view of the golf course and beyond on the par-three 4th being particularly memorable. Exposed to the elements, the course is tricky, with the golfer required to navigate the sand dunes and strong winds, as well as the notoriously fast greens.
Wherever you play in Vietnam, the thing which perhaps stays with you most strongly is the warmth of the people. Be it golf attendants, street-food sellers or hotel staff, the beaming smiles you are greeted with reflect the generous and kind-nature heart of the Vietnamese people.
A truly unique golfing experience, it’s hard to believe Vietnam will remain undiscovered for long.
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