As Vietnam gears up to once again rate its golf courses, golf professional Robert Bicknell shares his thoughts about the Voting for the Best Golf Course in Vietnam.
The ‘best’ can mean so many different things to different people. It is a very personal choice, and the panel who do the judging, as well as the golfing community, may have very different opinions
The criteria for choosing the top golf course could be the quality, condition and history of the courses; luxury of the accommodation; the food and drink available; variety of the other facilities available.
So what is the main criteria for choosing the best golf course in the country, region or even the world?
Well, to be the best in the world, you have to be really special, like Augusta National, for example. It is not the best because of the Masters, or because it has a US$5 million maintenance budget. It’s special because you are unable to get into the course to play or even if you just look around except to watch the Masters tournament. There’re many golfers who are willing to sell their wives and children to become a member there. Granted, they need serious mental help and have a problem recognizing priorities, but there are a few of them running around loose without medication. Suffice to say Augusta National has the ‘it’ factor in spades.
But let’s stick to Vietnam for the moment. Why should a local club be voted number one?
I would say that various factors come into play and it’s not necessarily the course with the most rounds per year because if that were true VGCC and Kings Island would be a shoe-in. Both those courses see a lot of rounds, the service from the staff is excellent they are all really friendly, they have good food and great choice of beers, wines. Unfortunately, they do not have everything required to be the best, but becoming a member there would not let you down.
Sky Lake just opened up to excellent reviews, as have many new courses nationwide in the last 18 months. Vietnam is seeing a small boom in golf growth again and is certainly leading the way in Asia right now, but how to determine the best? To me the criteria is actually quite simple, “If I had just one course to play for the rest of my life, which course would it be?”
For me, it’s got to be The Bluffs at the Ho Tram Strip.
First of all, they have an outstanding design. Greg Norman really outdid himself with this place. The course looks like it belongs there. There’s nothing artificial about it. You stand on fairways at some courses and it doesn’t feel right. At the Bluffs, it feels like everything is where it should be.
Secondly, the weather makes the course hard or easy, it could be friend or foe of golf. With the wind often blows from steadily one direction most of the time and the ball flies farther as altitude of the course increases, the course plays nice, but from the other direction it becomes a snarling beast.
Playing conditions are the best I have seen in Vietnam. Granted, they have a maintenance budget that would make most GC Superintendents cry in anguish and beg for a tiny bit of it. They also have a great superintendent who truly knows his stuff. Sure, he’s a bit of a lunatic, but all superintendents are to some point and anyone who can hit a 300 yard hook drive deserves respect.
But, it’s not just the course itself which would make you cast a vote for The Bluffs. The staff have a lot to do with it as well. When Ben Styles agreed to manage the club, he poached the best staff he knew from other clubs. With a nice budget, he can do that. He also gave them more training so they would understand his concept of a great club. I have a feeling Ben was waiting his whole life for an opportunity like this – heck, every pro I know dreams of it – and he is determined to make the most of it. And he has.
The Bluffs staff are some of the most knowledgeable and courteous I have found yet. Many clubs in Vietnam have good staff, but these kids are really on the top of their game. They know exactly what is going on and are always able to help you. I don’t think they are even allowed to think the word ‘no’, much less utter it.
I will not comment on the food at The Bluffs because it wouldn’t be fair. Anyone who knows me also knows that I am the fussiest eater on the planet. I am never happy with any food anywhere. It’s just the way I am. If I cook it myself, fine. I’m satisfied. However, I do love the kiosks at The Bluffs as well. As long as they have sandwiches and banana cake, I’m content.
Now for the caddies. There are a few really good caddies in Vietnam. Kim Chi at VGCC is always tops on my list because of her nature and her drive to be the best.
There are a few others scattered around Vietnam who I like as well, but they are always booked. Poor me.
On the other hand, I have never had a bad caddie at The Bluffs and, in fact, I had perhaps the best I have ever had in Vietnam in the tournament. Sadly, my playing that weekend wasn’t as good as her caddying. Nevertheless, she was outstanding.
If I had to name the top courses in Vietnam, my list would be:
- The Bluffs – Ho Tram
- Danang GC – Da Nang
- VinPearl – Nha Trang
- Sky Lake – Hanoi / Diamond Bay – Nha Trang (tie)
- Laguna Lang Co / Montgomerie links (tie)
You’ll note that I purposely left out any course that I was professionally involved with, but I didn’t feel it fair to include them due to personal bias.
Suffice it to say that Kings’ Island will always be my ancestral home in Vietnam; VGCC will always be one of my favorite memories due to the staff who gave me 150 percent every day. Sacom Tuyen Lam because of the view.
You know, thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re pretty lucky to be living here in Vietnam with so many fantastic courses to play.
But, which is your favorite?
The vote for Vietnam’s Best Golf Course, initiated by Vietnam Golf Magazine in coordination with the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the Vietnam Sports Authority and Vietnam Golf Association, has been a major industry event since 2007. Each year, the scale of the nationwide vote has grown exponentially. 2014 saw 32 golf course vying to win the converted prize of Vietnam’s Best Golf Course
About Robert Bicknell
The American golfer turned professional in 1978 and moved to Asia full-time in the early 1980’s. He started building a golf course in Vietnam in 1992 and has been here ever since. He is currently the General Manager / Director of Golf Trang An Golf & Country Club. Prior to this he was General Manager / Director of Golf for Tam Dao Golf Resort in Vinh Phuc Province, where is one hour from downtown Ha Noi. Having been in Vietnam for almost 23 years, he has been either directly or indirectly involved with most of the clubs in the country at one time or another in either a management or advisory position. He was coach of the Vietnam National Golf Team from 1999-2000, he was also twice the coach of Vietnam National Golf Team for two SEA games competitions. He is currently the columnist for Vietnam Golf Magazine.
Keyword: The Bluffs Ho Tram, VinPearl Nha Trang, Sky Lake Hanoi, Diamond Bay, Laguna Lang Co, Montgomerie links.