“It really has been a case of build it and they will come,” says Kruse of the rapid growth of golf tourism and infrastructure in the Danang region. “Two golf courses, new hotels, a casino, an international airport and cultural and culinary attractions have really put Danang on the golfing map. With a new course [Ba Na Hills] due to open this year, the region has gone from strength to strength”.
Harley Kruse is also enthusiastic about the way Danang Golf Club has matured.
“The design has held up well and I challenge any course to have a better set of 18 greens in Vietnam,” he says. “The shaper, Pete Wadell, and I got a great set of greens with their own individual character. It is a piece of my hometown Melbourne's sandbelt in Vietnam. Smooth tight lies, striking sand-faced bunkers and tightly-mown green surrounds that promote ball roll and encourage a skilled short game is what the great courses, like Royal Melbourne, do. The tightness of the playing surfaces is a credit to superintendent Dan Brown, whose turf skills come from time spent on Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania, the remodelling of Royal Queensland in Brisbane and working under Richard Forsyth, who is now superintendent at Royal Melbourne.”
He says the difference in style between Danang Golf Club and Montgomerie Links next door is “a big plus”.
“Across the golfing market, some will prefer the more formality and planted landscape of Monty, while the natural style of Danang Golf Club makes it more of a true golfers’ course that appeals to another part of the market. Either way, both courses are clearly popular with local Vietnamese golfers, Chinese, Koreans, South East Asian players and a good number of Australians. The word has spread well over the years and the amount of return play is testament to the quality of the playing experience.”
Harley Kruse says that after five years, Danang GC’s Dunes Course looks as though it has been there “forever”.
“It has proved to be a resilient layout of wide fairways and a sandy open rough, which makes it hard to lose a ball. This was the intent and will always be popular with resort golfers. It is a fun course and the wide fairways give players a choice of approaches to the greens, depending on the pin position of the day. Off the back tees the course is not far off 7200 yards, which includes the brutally long 630-yard 10th hole.
“Another aspect that has improved over time is the sand-faced bunkers and having the classic sandbelt-style vertical edge or lip. The key to Danang Dunes will be the continued commitment to quality turf surfaces and keeping holes open by pruning selected trees to keep the holes open off the tees and let the air flow.”
Kruse, who is based in Sydney where he works with another former Greg Norman Golf Course Design architect, Bob Harrison, in a firm named Harrison + Kruse, says he loves the routing of the course and every hole at Danang GC.
“During construction there were favourite holes; onced grassed some new holes became favourites. Hole 11 was always a favourite par 3 and of course hole 16, which I located on a naturally-shaped saddle in the oceanside dune, will be a strong memory for most golfers. But the short hole 8, which was manufactured out of a low wet depression, has evolved into a truly great par 3 with Marble Mountain in the distant backdrop.
“A noted golf writer commented how this hole reminded him of the 16th at Royal Melbourne’s East Course, which is a nice complement.”
Harley Kruse says he is also impressed how the course is handling 40,000 rounds of golf a year and is standing up well to the wear and tear.
“Danang is proof that if the right tourism infrastructure is in place, along with excellent golf only 20 minutes from an international airport, golfers will gladly come from far and wide.”
He says the future of golf in Vietnam is “very healthy”.
“There hasn’t been a massive real estate boom driving things over the past 10 years, but there has been steady growth, which is good. The success of Danang as a popular international golfing destination has really showed the way for other destinations in Vietnam. I suspect Danang and adjacent areas could now support more quality courses to cement its desirability and status as one of the best golfing destinations in Asia. Other places such as Halong Bay have the opportunity to replicate Danang's success of quality golf that is well supported by tourism and transport infrastructure.
“Vietnam is competing like every other country in Asia for the golfing tourism dollar. Many courses in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand were built more than 20 years ago. Some are a little tired and perhaps weren’t designed or built as well as more modern courses. So Vietnam has a great opportunity to become a very good destination if it delivers well-designed and built courses on quality sites.
“Growing the game of golf in Vietnam is important. While golf is still a relatively new game for the privileged few, there is a wonderful opportunity to invest in the growth and expansion of junior golf through academies, clubs and developing sporting scholarships. Spotting young talent and nurturing it towards national, regional and ultimately the world stage is the challenge. With golf becoming an Olympic sport once again in 2016, the possibilities are unlimited.”