Photo by Christian Berg
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 ocean. While it would be pushing it to call the course a “links”, the classic “out-and-back” routing and the tang of the salty air certainly offer an invigorating hit of tradition.
The ocean heaves into view on 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 closest to the course at this point, with a tumbling waterfall prominent in the near distance. Other excellent holes, meanwhile, include the closing 18th, a rollercoaster ride of a long hole that plays back to the clubhouse. Look out for the family of water buffalo that tend the rice paddies on the course and be sure to enjoy a craft beer or a cocktail at 67, one of Vietnam’s smartest clubhouse bars, after your round.
Located just south of the UNESCO-listed town of Hoi An, Hoiana Shores – already rated by many as the country’s top track – is an absolute gem. The Vietnam debut for Robert Trent Jones Jr., the layout sees the legendary golf course architect on top form. It’s well worth taking a break from shopping, strolling and dining in Hoi An for! In fact, the course takes inspiration from the famous ancient port with flagsticks crowned not with flags but with red basket lanterns like illuminating Hoi An’s Ancient Town.
While the course plays close to the ocean it combines elements of inland and healthland golf with traditional links. Holes funnel through sand pine and brush native to the area. While the entire course is a triumph of canny architecture and exquisite conditioning, there’s little doubt that the biggest thrills can be sampled at the layout’s four holes played by the sea edge. Of these, the 16th, which plays through the coastal dunes on the shore is a particularly elemental experience with views of the Cham Islands in the distance.
Built on sandy loam soil, the Greg Norman-designed Dunes course at Danang Golf Club has consistently been rated among the best clubs in Vietnam since opening for play back in 2010. It remains an absolute pleasure to play. The 16th is a particular highlight. An elevated tee tempts golfers to attack the putting surface, beyond which the white sand of China Beach pours down to the aquamarine expanse of the East Sea while the distant mountainous Cham Islands rise in green, jungle-clad bulk towards the cobalt sky.
Naturally, the Dunes Course has more than just the one spectacular hole. The 2nd is another cracking par-3, while two streams bisect the 17th, a tough par-4. Another distinctive test is the long 10th, which plays towards the Marble Mountains – a one-time hideout for Vietnamese soldiers during the American War – through a funnel of imposing dunes.
Designed by British former world number one Luke Donald in his first effort as an architect, Ba Na Hills has proved a valuable addition to the portfolio of excellent golf courses on Vietnam’s central coast. Laid out in rolling foothills, the course features natural elevation changes, ravines, streams, and mountain backdrops. This refreshing setting is welcome contrast to the flat, ocean-front courses in Da Nang.
The front-nine – a thrilling collection of holes laid out in traditional parkland-style – contains several highlights, not least the par-3 8th, a gem of a downhill short hole. The closing stretch of the course is, if anything, even better. Winding its way through the twists and turns of the surrounding hillside, this section offers outstanding vistas and golf in equal measure. The short 16th with its island green is eye-catching. Another highlight is the following hole, the 17th, a dogleg par 4 with water guarding the green.
The first golf course to be constructed on the central coast opened back in 2008, and remains an excellent and enjoyable test. Designed by Scottish Ryder Cup legend Colin Montgomerie, the layout features expansive bunkers and numerous water hazards. Special mention must go to the conditioning on the course, which is uniformly excellent.
The course squeezes in a lot of variety throughout its 18 holes. On the opening nine, the long 6th is a classic par-5 with a death or glory carry over a lake to the green on either the second or third shot. Other standout holes include the 12th, a striking uphill par-5 that plays towards the attractive clubhouse, the picturesque par-4 17th which showcases the best of the layout’s views towards the Marble Mountains and the long, bunker-strewn closing hole.