Photo by Christian Berg
Greg Norman has made quite the mark in Vietnam. As well as designing some of the nation's best courses, in 2018 the Aussie was appointed Vietnam’s official tourism ambassador. The Shark’s crowning achievement in the country so far though is arguably The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip: which is ranked among the best layouts in the world (#35 in Golf Digest’s 2018 list of the best courses outside the United States). Routed over and around towering seaside sand dunes, it is one of the few championship-calibre links courses with significant elevation changes, making for a golf experience that's as much a feast for the eyes as it is a challenge to tame.
While the highest point of the rugged property is 50 meters above sea level, on the 15th green, one of the most spectacular spots comes earlier in the round, on the short 4th. From there, players are presented with a 360-degree view of the course, the surrounding national forest, the expansive shoreline and The Grand Ho Tram. Other standout holes include the 8th, which plays downhill to a fairway split by a natural water feature; and the tough 18th, an uphill par-4 that makes a fitting conclusion to one of the region’s most exacting tests.
The northernmost of the central coast layouts, Laguna Golf Lang Co is an easy hour’s drive from Danang Airport. It’s well worth making a little extra effort to visit. Threading between trees, over rice paddies and streams, through rock features and alongside the pounding surf, the course – designed by UK great Sir Nick Faldo – is tricky to categorize. One thing that everybody agrees on though is the sheer visual manna on offer at the course, which is nestled between mountains and the ocean. While it would be pushing it to call the course a “links”, the classic “out-and-back” routing and the invigorating tang of the salty air certainly offer a nod to the British Isles.
The ocean hovers into view at the 9th – a par-4 played alongside the beach. Equally stunning is the short 11th, played from an elevated tee to a green surrounded by rock features. The mountains encroach close to the course at this point, with a tumbling waterfall in the near distance.
Vietnam’s fabled natural beauty can be sampled at maximum visual voltage in Cam Ranh. Here, jungle-clad mountains pour down to an azure ocean dotted with fishing boats and lush islands. For golfers, though, the crowning attraction lies at the southernmost end of the bay, where KN Golf Links is staking its claim as one of the region’s finest new layouts. Having debuted in late October 2018, when designer Greg Norman jetted in to inaugurate his latest creation in Vietnam, KN Golf Links is fast making its way into talk about the best golf experiences in Asia. Norman, who has over 100 designs to his name, said he’d place the course among the top 10 properties he’s worked on.
KN Golf Links features 27 holes altogether when the 9-hole, garden-style Oasis Course that runs inland from the clubhouse is factored in. But most of the conversations so far have revolved around the Links Course, which maximizes the rolling contours of the land exemplified by spectacular sand dunes. It boasts firm fast-releasing fairways, ample run-off areas around the greens and massive boulders, some of which form a striking backdrop to the par-5 17th hole.
Another of Greg Norman’s big achievements in Vietnam, the course at BRG Danang Golf Resort is never anything less than killer. It debuted as one of the finest clubs in Asia when it opened in 2010, and has maintained its status until today. The beautifully sculpted course here is built on sandy-loam soil and winds its way through rugged dunes and funnels of long-needle pine trees. The nearby Marble Mountains provide an extra dramatic visual element on holes such as the 10th, a long par-5 that meanders between epic sand dunes. Despite its proximity, the ocean only comes into view at the short 16th, and even then, for just the one hole. But what a hole it is.
Beyond the small, saucer-shaped surface of the green, the white sand of Non Nuoc Beach pours down to the aquamarine expanse of the East Sea while the islands in the distant Cham archipelago rise towards the cobalt sky.
Not one, but two high-quality designer golf courses lie in wait at FLC Quy Nhon Golf Links. With its gorgeous scenery and pristine beaches often overlooked in favour of more established coastal hubs, Quy Nhon is one of Vietnam’s underrated destinations. Similarly, the two fantastic golf tests here tend to fly under the radar. Their lack of fame though is no reflection on their quality, with the Mountain and Ocean courses offering spectacular golf in addition to a stern challenge.
The two layouts are a study in contrasts. Designed by acclaimed US design firm Schmidt Curley, the Mountain course is built on a sand-based pine scrub hillside with generous fairways and ocean views from many of the holes. The Ocean course – a Jack Nicklaus design – showcases numerous stunning holes winding their way around a prime chunk of coastal real estate. Highlights here include the par-3 16th with its island green surrounded by perilous waste and the long, testing 17th.