Vietnam’s central coast enters tourism fray

Greg Norman's new Dunes Course (No. 16 shown here) at Danang Golf Club in Vietnam.

Two resorts, two courses and a tourism operator have launched a private tourism consortium – called Vietnam Golf Coast – to compete with southeast Asia’s top golf-and-beach destinations.

For years, Vietnam’s central coast was forgotten as the country gave rise to more than 20 golf courses, mostly concentrated to the north in Hanoi and the south near Ho Chi Minh City. That changed last year when semi-private Montgomerie Links – reminiscent of Colin Montgomerie’s native Scotland – opened in Quang Nam.

“In our first year of operation, we have seen a large, diverse demographic ranging from European Scandinavian tourists, down to Australia and across to North America with a great desire from the local Vietnamese market to learn and participate in the game,” said Jon Tomlinson, general director of the 7,090-yard Montgomerie Links.

While the common consensus among industry professionals say Vietnam’s north and south golf markets are robust, the geography is a hindrance. At best, Hanoi’s top courses are about an hour outside the city and the better hotels.

The planners behind Vietnam Golf Coast say they offer the advantage of convenience: All golf is five minutes away from hotels and 15 minutes from Danang’s airport.

Tomlinson acknowledges it’ll take time to gain international recognition as a premier golf and tourist destination in Asia.

“We are working very closely with the Vietnam Tourist Board who also see the enormous potential in the region. . . provincial governments are taking steps in improving and upgrading infrastructure,” he said.

Tomlinson points to the newly-opened Life Resort Danang and the already-established luxury hotel Nam Hai as leading the charge for luring tourists.

“Hotels and restaurants must work together to provide attractive packages and seasonal offers for leisure and business travelers,” he said.

Tour operator Golfasian Vietnam, which is also part of the cooperative, is expected to offer twice-weekly chartered flights from Hong Kong to Danang beginning Sept. 17.

Golfasian Vietnam CEO Mark Siegel sees the emergence of Danang as a breakthrough.

“I think Danang Golf Club and Montgomerie Links are the best two courses in the country,” Siegel said. “There are several excellent courses in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but they’re all at least an hour from downtown hotels or the airports.”

U.S.-based tour operator Perry Golf, however, doesn’t anticipate much demand for Vietnamese travel packages from North or South Americans – at least not yet.

“Vietnam is one of those destinations that is probably more attractive for the local audience. . . (like) the Chinese and Japanese,” said Gordon Dalgleish, founding director of Perry Golf. “For the U.S. traveler, there would be some (interest) but very much the exception.”

While the main drive is tourism, the Links hasn’t forgotten about the importance of growing the game domestically.

Its “Let’s Go Golf” program encourages residents to experience a free one-hour introduction to the game conducted by PGA teaching staff. Tomlinson says Danang’s emerging middle class will see golf as an attractive sport – and at the very least, take advantage of the Links’ practice facility.

A little more north on the South China Sea coast, the Dunes Course at Danang Golf Club has emerged as the region’s second course.

Open for play since May, the 18-hole, links-style layout weaves through rugged sand dunes that roll down to the beach. The course’s signature hole – the par-3 16th – backs up against it.

“No doubt that view east from the 16th green – of the coastline, the ocean, the Cham Islands just offshore – is going to slow down play,” said Howie Roberts, general manager of Danang Golf Club.

The minimalist Dunes Course features holes that could be lifted and placed in Australia’s Sandbelt region or along the British coastline – the only other sites where Greg Norman Golf Course Design has attempted such modern links.

A third layout, by three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo, is soon expected to break ground less than an hour north of Danang. More courses are in early planning stages, too.

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