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Awards season

In 2019, Vietnam received numerous prestigious golf prizes from around the world. Golf guru Hal Phillips shares his views on the importance and significance of these awards.

By Hal Phillip

Sân golf The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip

Call me a contrarian, but the temptation during ‘awards season’ is to roll one’s eyes and say, with an audible sigh, “Whatever.” For example, there will be an award bestowed on “Golf Destination of the Year”, every year, without fail, whether any country deserves it or not. If new golf courses continue to be built, one will surely be anointed “Best” in show, annually, even if each and every new entry is crap.

But the news from awards season 2019 is such that even cynics like me are sitting up and taking notice.

As you may know, Vietnam won “World’s Best Golf Destination 2019” at the World Golf Awards (WGA) in the United Arab Emirates in late October (for some reason, the WGA felt obligated to name Vietnam “Asia’s Best Golf Destination 2019” as well, which seems a bit obvious). No more than a month later, at the Asian Golf Awards (a separate and distinct ceremony held during the Asia Pacific Golf Summit, in India), Vietnam was named “Best Golf Destination in Asia Pacific” for 2019 (beating out runner-up Thailand), while Hoiana Shores Golf Club earned “Best New Course” honors for Asia-Pacific.

Again, some awards can be pretty empty. [My favorite: “Best New Destination”, which is basically given to countries that, until recently, had no golf courses at all.]

But this recent spate of high-profile plaudits feels different. It seems the larger golf consciousness is acknowledging the fact that more golf courses are today being built in Vietnam than anywhere in the world — and that the best of these Vietnamese courses don’t just rival the best in region, but exceed them in golfing quality and aesthetics.

When it comes to golf destination talk in Asia-Pacific, Thailand remains the elephant in the room. It has been the gold standard for two decades now and remains the most popular destination for the two largest, most active populations golf holiday-makers in the region: Koreans and Japanese (it also remains preferred among Europeans). But Vietnam is clearly coming up fast. Earning “World’s Best Golf Destination” honors from WGA, and Hoiana Shores’ emerging reputation as one of the world’s truly elite resort tracks, might just represent a tipping point.

Hoiana Shores Golf Course

Indeed, these recent developments are shorthand for the three reasons Vietnam is now competing toe-to-toe with Thailand for golf tourism dollars:

• Vietnam has all the new products. There are so many new courses under construction here that it’s difficult to keep track. Golfers are like anyone else: They are curious about what’s new — especially when so many new tracks are situated right on Vietnam’s endless coastline. New course construction in Thailand has not kept pace, not even close. Meantime, dozens of their established courses are today 25-35 years old, meaning they compete with Vietnam’s new product even more poorly.

• The best courses in Vietnam are just better than the best courses in Thailand, full stop. And when you’re talking “elite golf holiday-making”, that matters. There isn’t a single resort course in Thailand the equal of Hoiana Shores, or The Bluffs at Ho Tram, or even Laguna Lang Co or KN Links or the two new tracks at FLC Quang Binh. It’s no coincidence that all of these courses are new — and located at seaside. Ocean views and cool breezes are like catnip to traveling golfers, and Thailand has surprisingly few courses that compete in this respect, either.

• Finally, on some level, Thailand has always existed and excelled as an affordable golf destination (especially for visiting East Asians and Europeans). Well, when it comes to the cost of food, hotels, transportation and entertainment (what tour operators call “value for dollar”), here again Vietnam may well have passed Thailand already.

There remain some massive hurdles for Vietnam to clear, if (all these awards notwithstanding) it wants to effectively dethrone Thailand as Asia-Pacific’s go-to golf destination. The golf itself in Vietnam remains expensive. Thailand competes very well in that regard — and there remain far more resort tracks in Thailand, even if fully half of them are no better than ordinary. And while domestic airfares and even the hiring of cars are not expensive in Vietnam, transportation generally is two or three levels below the Thai standard. I’ve touched on this in previous columns. Not only are the roads better in Thailand (worlds better), but foreigners can rent/drive their own cars there. Some of Vietnam’s best new courses are remote, and the transportation situation here effectively makes them more remote.

Vietnam won "World's Best Golf Destination 2019" at WGA 2019

So, good signs for Vietnam golf tourism going forward, but still work to do.

  • The best of these Vietnamese courses don’t just rival the best in region, but in fact exceed them in golfing quality and aesthetics.
  • When it comes to golf destination talk in Asia-Pacific, Thailand remains the elephant in the room.

 

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