As a country that opened its doors to foreign visitors less than 25 years ago, Vietnam´s tourism industry is only starting to develop where service levels, infrastructure, promotion and awareness are beginning to improve. With 7 million visitors in 2015, Vietnam is starting to emerge as a tourist destination.
Making tourists feel welcome has to be at the heart of any tourism strategy. Most of the countries in South East Asia understand this, and have developed national tourism strategies targeting foreign visitors. Sadly or thankfully, depending on your point of view, Vietnam doesn’t, and its potential as a mainstream international tourist destination is not being fulfilled, where Visa restrictions, service levels and a lack of infrastructure threaten to hamper its tourism potential. Discerning travellers, however, may claim that it is these factors that help to preserve Vietnam´s unique cultural heritage.
With its fascinating history, ancient culture, tropical climate, and now its offering of fantastic championship golf courses, Vietnam offers a truly memorable experience both on and off the course. According to Mark Siegel, founder of Asian´s leading inbound golf tour operator Vietnam is one of the best up-and-coming golfing destinations in the world. “The country is dynamic, safe, and affordable. From the excitement of modern Saigon to the thousand-year-old streets of Hanoi, from the sea and sand in Danang and Hoi An, the choices are endless.” he remarked.
In 2012, Vietnam was named as the “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year” by the International Association of Golf Travel Operators (IAGTO). Vietnam´s emergence as a golfing destination has been brought about by four distinct, but intimately linked drivers.
Firstly, the emergence of the country’s Central Coast region – Vietnam’s equivalent of the Algarve or Costa del Sol. Second, a growing recognition that the region is better served by quality courses rather quantity. Thirdly, the cultural and historic attractions that Vietnam has to offer foreign visitors. And, finally, increasing accessibility to golf-hungry destinations such as Hong Kong, China, Dubai & Australia.
¨Many of Vietnam´s visiting golfers have ´done´ Thailand and are looking for something different. Although as to be expected, given its infancy in golf tourism, the quality in depth of the golf is not at the standard of Thailand or Malaysia – bar the three courses in Danang¨, remarked Mark Siegel.
Who´s arriving and from where?
The number of foreign visitors travelling to Vietnam play golf is very difficult to quantify – best guess estimates are 60,000 – which equates to about 1% of foreign visitors. Travelling golfers are from mainly neighbouring Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and China. The region of Danang is attracting golfers from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore due to a combination of great courses, increased access through Danang airport and the casino. The region is emerging as a key tourist destination in Vietnam and is attracting about half of all golf trips in 2015.
A growth opportunity for Vietnam lies in its ability to attract more international tourists, from neighbouring Asian regions, mature international markets such as the US, Canada, UK, Europe, plus emerging markets such as Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
However, many in the Vietnam golf industry, feel that the tourism board and national government are working against the golf industry. According to Rick Blackie, General Manager of the Saigon Golf & Country Club ¨The national tourism authority provide absolutely no assistance in promoting golf, and discussions regarding a national representation at the various golf shows around the world like IGTM have fallen on stony ground.¨ noted Blackie. Jeff Puchalski, an expert in golf tourism in Vietnam was more direct when he stated that ¨Golf is still considered a social evil or an elite sport in the eyes of the law and is subject to a 30% tax.¨
The formation of a destination marketing organisation, Golf Coast Vietnam, is increasing awareness of golf tourism to Vietnam, although it’s limited to the Danang region, although it could be argued that both Hanoi and HCHC will indirectly benefit from this initiative. However, greater collaboration across the country and national representation at international trade shows could help Vietnam build upon its position as 2012 Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year.
According to Nguyen Yen, one of the best ways to increase tourism to Vietnam is through international tournaments and hospitality events. ¨Sky Lake has attracted many big tournaments such as Vietnam National Clubs Championship, which is a great opportunity to enhance the image of Vietnam tourism to friends all over the world. Our long-term strategy is to build a complex of golf and villa to focus on developing golf tourism.
Beyond golf, Vietnam has so much to offer the inquisitive traveller. Overall the golfing experience in Vietnam is one to remember and Vietnam is the rising star as it is still mostly undiscovered by the global golf market. “Personally, I see a regular flow of tourists coming in to play our course and genuinely enjoy the modern golf courses designs and good conditions. But without a doubt,the highlight and talking point is the fully integrated clubhouse facilities & customer intimacy is what they will no doubt remember, ” said Andrew Bowles, General Manager of Vietnam Golf & Country Club. The future of golf tourism in Vietnam lies in its ability to adopt a long-term strategy that invests now and reaps later, and by working more collaboratively for the good of the game and country.
Golfing in Vietnam
With the country now boasting over 30 golf courses, Vietnam is starting to emerge as a serious golf destination. Although Ho Chi Minh and the capital Hanoi have some good golf courses such as the Vietnam Golf & Country Club, Saigon Golf & Country Club, Van Tri and the new Sky Lake, the crème de la crème of Vietnam golf is what has become known as Golf Coast Vietnam; the Central Coast, around the country’s third largest city, Danang. ¨It´s where golf tourism starts and finishes in Vietnam,¨ acknowledged Blackie. The Danangregion is home to the three best courses in the country: the Colin Montgomerie-designed Montgomerie Links and the Greg Norman-designed Danang Golf Club, and the Laguna Lang Co by Sir Nick Faldo. Soon they will be joined by the Ba Na Hills, Luke Donald’s first foray into golf course design, which is in the early stages of construction.
¨It’s no coincidence that four of the best courses in Vietnam are located within 50 kilometres of each other. What attracted Monty, The Shark and Sir Nick and Donald – separately – to Vietnam’s Central Coast, is the dune land that characterises the local landscape and makes the perfect DNA for a great golf course.¨ noted Jon Tomlinson co-ordinator of the Golf Coast Vietnam group, who is also general director of The Montgomerie Links, which was voted Best Course in Vietnam in 2012. “Not only do we offer the best golfing experience in Asia, but this is the only place in the world where three of the leading golfers of the modern era have put their individual stamp on courses they personally designed.”
Despite competing actively against each other, Montgomerie Links, Danang Golf Club and Laguna Lang Co Golf Club have come together in a destination-marketing program to promote golf on the Central Coast. Known as Golf Coast Vietnam each of the member course managers acknowledges that what is good for one is likely to benefit all. The general manager of Danang Golf Club, Joe Millar, says the Golf Coast Vietnam marketing group brings something new to the golf tourism industry. “Nowhere else in the world are there such high profile designers within minutes’ drive of each and perfectly placed on a picturesque beach as China Beach and thriving tourism towns as Danang, Hoi An and Hue.¨
Cooperating together actually makes good business sense as according to IAGTO, a three-course destination becomes appealing to 75% of golf travellers, whereas a two-course location is of interest to only 25%. The three course-destination means Danang, with its world-famous China Beach – rated by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 most beautiful in the world – and nearby UNESCO World Heritage attractions can rival some of the world’s most illustrious golfing destinations. With such a ringing endorsement from across the golfing spectrum, Vietnam seems to be stamping itself on the golf tourism map. But perhaps the best news for golf travellers is the opening of Danang’s new international airport with 48 daily international flights to destinations such as Guangzhou, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta and Hong Kong, not mention short hops to and from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
There are six golfing regions in Vietnam – Hanoi, Danang, Nha Trang, Dalat, PhanThiet & Ho Chi Minh City.
Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and the country’s second largest city. The city is a fascinating blend of east and west, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. Golf is enjoyed by locals and visiting golfers alike. Hanoi boasts championship courses such as Van Tri, Tam Dao, Chi Linh Star, and Sky Lake.
The Van Tri Golf Club is conveniently located 30 minutes from Hanoi city center and was North Vietnam’s first exclusively private golf estate. The golf course was designed by renowned architect, Peter Rousseau. Located 45 minutes from central Hanoiin the Van Son Lake area is the Sky Lake Resort & Golf Club, which consists of two 18-hole PGA standard courses and on-site golf academy. The course was chosen to host the 2013 VolvikSkylake Vietnam Masters in September but however has been delayed for later this season.
Where to stay
A historic luxury landmark since 1901, Sofitel Legend Metropole offers pampering spa services, and is located in the Old Quarter – just 160 metres from the famous Hanoi Opera House. Rates start from US$225 per night in high season. The iconic Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi offers 5-star luxury, and is located just five minutes from the Opera House for rates of US$150 per night in high season.
For less than US$100 per night, the 5-star Mövenpick Hotel is centrally located and features modern rooms with city views. The Golden Cyclo Hotel offers great value, location and elegant accommodation with rates at less than US$75 per night. For less than US$50 per night, the 3-star Meracus Hotel offers exceptional value, central location and modern features.
On-golf locations in Hanoi are limited, the best offering is at Sky Lake Golf Club Village. When completed the five-star hotel comprises condominium-style units and pool villas, which will all provide wonderful views of the surrounding golf course, mountains and lakes. The hotel will be three-to-five storeys with over 350 rooms plus 122 joined pool villas located along the mountain slopes.
Ho Chi Minh City
Modern-day Saigon is home to seven golf courses. Located just 17 kilometres from the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, is the Vietnam Golf & Country Club. Although technically a private golf club with priority to locals and expatriates, the course is open for visitor bookings during the week.
The Song Be Golf Resort was Vietnam’s first international championship golf course and is widely regarded as one of the most challenging layouts in the country. The Bo Chang Dong Nai Golf Resort is located 90 minutes from Ho Chi Minh City. The Long Thanh Golf Club offers 36 holes of golf in the former rice paddies and scenic countryside surrounding Saigon.
The dry season is good especially in the southern regions, and even during the wet season rainfall is predictable so even off peak golf is possible.
Where to stay
The Park Hyatt Saigon enjoys a prime location in central Ho Chi Minh City (District 1), overlooking the Opera House on Lam Son Square. Luxurious and elegant, the air-conditioned rooms at Park Hyatt Saigon all come with a 40-inch flat-screen TV. All enjoy the convenience of 24-hour butler services. White marble bathrooms are equipped with a soaking tub and a walk-in rain shower. Rates start at US$300 per night in high season.
Located within walking distance of famous landmarks like Ben Thanh Market, Reunification Palace and Opera House, the 5-Star Norfolk Mansion offers serviced luxury apartments from rates at US$175 per night for a standard two-bedroom.
The 5-star Caravelle Hotel features stylish French and Vietnamese architecture, an outdoor pool and is less than 200 metres from the famous Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City. Rates start from US$150 per night in high season. Occupying a prime location in Ho Chi Minh, Sherwood Residence Hotel offers 5-star accommodation with separate living areas and kitchens for less than US$100 per night.
Overlooking the Saigon River, Liberty Central Saigon Riverside Hotel features modern and air-conditioned rooms, rooftop pool, fitness centre and 3 dining options for less than US$80 per night. With rates at US$50, the Sanouva Hotel features modern rooms and is located next to Ben Thanh Market.
On-golf locations in Ho Chi Minh are not recommended
The country’s third largest city, Danang, has become known as Golf Coast Vietnam. The region is home to three of two best courses in the country: the Colin Montgomerie-designed, Montgomerie Links and the Greg Norman-designed Danang Golf Club and the Laguna Lang Co by Sir Nick Faldo.
The Montgomerie Links, located just off China Beach and minutes from the Danang, is a stunning Championship Golf Course, and is also in close proximity to UNESCO World Heritage sites at nearby Hoi An. The course was voted best course in Vietnam in 2012. And ranked in the Top 10 courses in Asia by Forbes.
The Danang Golf Club opened in 2010 and immediately leapt to fame being recognized as one of the 15 best new courses in the world by USA GOLF magazine. The Dunes Course is built on the sandy loam soil of China Beach, a place where history is revered as much as golf. The Vietnam golf club is located directly on the beach that the American’s used for their first landing and adjacent to the American’s main supply depot and airfield used during the Vietnam War.
At Danang Golf Club, golfers are tested with a true links layout, rolling through sand dunes and ultimately within yards of the shoreline on our signature 16th hole that is back dropped by the lapping ocean and Cham Islands.
Laguna Lang Co Golf Club which opened in March in central Vietnam near Lang Co Bay, an area renowned for its pristine coastline, natural scenery and proximity to UNESCO World Heritage sites.
This par-71 golf course was designed by six-time Major winner Sir Nick Faldo. Tim Haddon, General Manager, Laguna Lang Co Golf Club Lang Co, says the new course offers a links-style feel among an interesting mix of landscapes. It’s a reflection of Nick Faldo’s experiences around the world and combined with the other two courses in Golf Coast Vietnam will be an added bonus to golf in the region as well as the whole country.
Where to stay
Located 15 km from Danang, situated on the unspoilt shores of Hoi An Beach the Nam Hai offers luxurious villas with walk-in wardrobes and rain showers. Rates start at US$600 per night in high season.
Located on beautiful My Khe Beach in Danang, the Fusion Maia Resort offers 5-star villas with private pools from US$400 per night The acclaimed La Maison 1888, InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort provides a luxurious retreat with private beach, a large outdoor swimming pool and a spa. Spectacular views of the ocean can be enjoyed from the resort. Rates start at US$300 per night in high season.
Sitting on the picturesque coast of Danang, the beachfront Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa enjoys beautiful views of the East Sea and Marble Mountains. With a private beach, it also has an outdoor pool, a fitness centre and free Wi-Fi. Rates start at US$200 per night in high season. For less than US$100, the centrally located in Danang City, the 4-star Brilliant Hotel offers panoramic views of the Han River. It features 3 dining options, free Wi-Fi access and complimentary parking. Whereas the Son Tra Peninsula and Cham Island, offers beachfront accommodation.
Not surprisingly, Danang offers foreign visitor quality on-golf accommodation options:
Overlooking the beach on Vietnam’s central coast, the Danang Golf Club features luxurious villas with free Wi-Fi and a private pool. Private balconies overlook the golf course or waterfront. Guests enjoy private beach access and spa facilities. One-bedroom villas start at US$225 per night.
The Laguna Lang Golf Club is the centrepiece of the Laguna Lang Co resort complex that currently comprises Banyan Tree Lang Co and Angsana Lang Co Resorts, spa and water facilities as well as upmarket dining experiences. Rates start at US$200 per night but they have Stay & Play promotions throughout the year.
Nha Trang, Dalat & Phan Thiet
Located between Ho Chi Minh and Danang are the regions of NhaTrang, Dalat and Phan Thiet. The former French hill station of Dalat is the birthplace of golf in Vietnam. Discovered by Europeans in the late 1800’s the city was established in 1912 and quickly became fashionable due to its cooler climate. In 1922 the plan for Vietnam’s first golf course, the Dalat Palace Golf Club, was conceived.
In Nha Trang, there are two courses – Diamond Bay and the Vin Pearl. Nick Faldo, has also left his mark on the in Phan Thiet by designing the Ocean Dunnes Golf Club
Where to stay
In the NhaTrang, the beachfront Vinpearl Resort NhaTrang has rooms from less than US$200. Diamond Bay Resort & Spa with its own golf club (Diamond Bay Golf) is only 15 minutes drive from the airport and has a huge selection of excellent acommodation, starting at approximately US$150 per night
The Dalat Palace Hotel is located in the of heart Dalat, 300 metres from Bao Dai Palace, set within a private park. Rates start at US$130 per night in high season.
In Phan Thiet, The Princess d’Annam Resort & Spa offers 5-star luxury and sea views for US$250 per night.
The favourite golf courses in Vietnam picked by Pham Ha, CEO of Luxury Travel Vietnam
His company offers golf tours across the country
Chi Linh Star Golf and Country Club – Hanoi
Phoenix Golf Course Hoa Binh – Hanoi
Dong Mo King Island Golf course – Hanoi
Tam Dao Golf Course – North Vietnam
Vinpearl Golf Club – Nha Trang
Diamond Bay Golf – Nha Trang
Laguna Lang Co Golf Club – Da Nang
Mongomerie Link Danang – Da Nang
Dalat Palace Golf – Da Lat
Ocean Dunes Golf Club – PhanThiet
Long Thanh Golf – Ho Chi Minh