Time to play for money

June 13, 2017

Does Vietnam’s golf scene have what it takes to get a local professional golf tour off the ground? Robert Bicknell looks for an answer.

Khan gia tuyet voi

If you’ve been following some of the Facebook posts from local golfers, you will see quite a few different issues being kicked around. There are posts about golf rules, annual dues, caddies and the need for them or not and, surprisingly, the seeds of a local professional golf circuit are being sowed.

Yes, stop the press! There is an actual discussion about starting a local tour.

When you think about it, there is really no reason for a local low handicap golfer to turn professional. There are no events to play in, no money to win. But there are a lot of amateur events they can still compete in and win prizes and
trophies. So, why turn pro?

Yes, it is understood that most have already technically violated their amateur status by giving golf lessons, but while the rules of golf (amateur status) claim that as “professionalism”, they’re not recognized as a professional. Heck, many walk around boasting a USGTF card, but still play in amateur events because the local tournament organizers have yet to ban them because they recognize the kids need to earn a living and events to play in. So, there is sort of an unofficial “blind eye” to it at the moment. Change is in the wind though and the loophole will be closed permanently.

Thus, there is a need to begin a local professional golf tour so these kids have a reason to declare themselves professionals and have an opportunity to earn some money. The question raised by some, including the esteemed editors of VGM, is “what does Vietnam need to do to prepare for professional tournaments?”

Well, first of all, what is the definition of a professional tournament?

In its very essence, a professional tournament is a bunch of golfers who pay an entry fee and play for money. Whatever the sponsors put up is the purse and it gets divided among the winners. In short, there isn’t much more to it than that. You need a course, a sponsor and money. Period.

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We are not talking about the PGA Tour or even the Asian Tour here. For the record, the event hosted by The Bluffs in 2015 for the “Asian Tour Ho Tram Open” was over and above even most of the Asian Tour events. It was truly spectacular and a true watershed moment for Vietnam’s golfing profile.

But a local tour is different, because it is just a baby learning to walk. It can and should start small and slowly grow over time as more local players join the professional ranks. There is no need for television coverage, just a small item in newspaper sports sections and coverage in VGM or other magazines as it gets off the ground.

I would, however, recommend the tour be limited to local Vietnamese professionals and perhaps the foreign professionals living and working in Vietnam. They should not allow visiting professionals from other ASEAN countries to join the events, simply because local kids cannot compete against them – yet. There’s no doubt they will lift their game, but confidence is needed first.

Maybe they can open events to outsiders in a few years, but not from the beginning. Nobody wants to see some hotshot Asian Tour player from Malaysia, Thailand or Singapore swoop in, grab the cash and leave. It’s not a fair competition as these other pros have a lot of regional and international tournament experience under their belts. The local kids don’t.

So, the first and arguably the most important thing, is to line up sponsors for the events. Without money, the tour is a non-starter. There is no doubt sponsoring a golf tournament, even a local one, is good exposure for companies. They often hold amateur events successfully.

Unfortunately, many companies who sponsor amateur events are not as quick to sponsor junior golf programs. So, getting them to sponsor fledgling professionals will also be difficult. It will take a concerted effort by local tour organizers.

However, the tour can also start by simply by letting the players compete for money available from the entry fees. It’s not much, but it’s a start and with such little cash available, players will have to dig down deep and play hard to get it. If anyone remembers the old “Gamma Tour” held in the south back in the 90s, it could be like that to start.

Just like the old days when the pros in Europe and America first started. There wasn’t a lot of money back then and if you didn’t finish in the top 5 or 10, you didn’t eat. Simple.

I am hopeful we can finally get a local professional tour started, because it’s the obvious next step in the evolution of golf in Vietnam.

Sadly, it’s too late for me and I don’t envision a “Senior Professional Tour” starting in Vietnam during my lifetime. So, I might play occasionally for ceremonial sake.

Sure, local foreign professionals might join an event here and there for the fun of it, but the local tour is really about developing local professionals and helping them get experience and confidence to play in regional and international events.

I will, however, volunteer my course (Trang An Golf & CC in Ninh Binh) as a tournament site if they want to come here. Yes, it must be a weekday event, but that is normal as most other countries hold local tour events as well.

But I guarantee one thing – the price will be right!

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