By Rick Young
CAM RANH, VIETNAM
Earlier this year, Vietnam named two-time major champion Greg Norman as the country’s “tourism ambassador.” It was a surprising honour, albeit a humbling extension of the vast imprint Norman has already made as a course architect on Vietnamese soil following last fall’s opening of KN Golf Links in Cam Ranh, Khanh Hoa, on the south central coast of Vietnam.
The 27-hole facility is Norman’s third signature design for the country, which, while still a communist state, is prospering from capitalism through free-market reform measures it adopted 25 years ago. That has not only made Vietnam one of the Pacific Rim’s fastest-growing economies, but also—as it relates to golf—a genuine, must-visit destination.
Golf is a global language. “Vietnam has seen tremendous continuous growth over the past decade,” says Norman, whose previous designs here include the Bluffs Ho Tram Strip and BRG Da Nang Golf Club. “I’m privileged to have the opportunity to be part of the development.”
Already the premier course in the Nha Trang region, KN Golf Links, just 10 minutes from Cam Ranh International Airport, is the centrepiece of a planned residential and commercial development that will span an eight-kilometre stretch of several hundred hectares along Long Beach (Cam Ranh) when complete.
Open for less than a year, the Links course, while not of the true seaside variety with a natural lake that comes into play on the front nine, checks every other required box for the designation.
Almost no earth was moved on the site, leaving Norman and his construction team to craft the up to 7,152-yard course, the 105th of his design career, around an array of unique changes in elevation and naturalized areas, most overlooking the Cam Ranh coastline.
Dominated throughout by areas of large sand dunes perfect for golf, the undulating land parcel enjoys some rather unique, albeit troubling, history. During the Vietnam War it served as an American military base, and there’s still a nearby presence.
“When I first came over here, I flew over the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay and spotted submarines,” says Norman, who has long maintained a keen interest in military history. “You can see radar and existing military compounds. The soldiers even helped us plant the grass on the golf course.”
Great playability. Norman’s routing of the Links course moves seamlessly around the site’s natural topography, with the downhill par-four 10th and 15th holes showcasing the scale of the landform while providing stunning visuals of the South Sea and accompanying islands in the distance.
Notable for their challenges are the long par-four fifth hole, dominated by water down the entire left side, and the beguiling par-three 16th hole, which features a punchbowl green tucked amid three large dunes.
“Players need to take the course’s rises and falls into consideration with their club selection to ensure they are not swallowed up by the many run-offs and catchment areas,” says KN Golf Links general manager, Simon Mees. “If they’re accurate they will find that the greens are generally fair, but with subtle undulations to contend with.”
Golf-infused amenities. A brilliantly conceived, floodlit, nine-hole course called The Oasis, an expansive driving range and short-game area are all augmented by a golf academy, the Horizon Restaurant, the Links Café, a pair of private dining rooms and additional meeting space.
Later this year the Wyndham Grand Hotel will open its doors for visiting golfers to stay on-site at KN Golf Links, and stay-and-play packaging is being negotiated with many of the nearby hotels along Cam Ranh Beach.
Norman claims he sees nothing but positive growth for golf in Vietnam going forward, with as many as 12 new courses expected to open over the next decade.
“It’s been an unbelievable transformation,” he says, “and I’m extremely honoured to be a part of what’s happening in Vietnam.
Award-winning golf writer/author Rick Young is one of Canada’s most trusted voices on golf and matters related to the golf industry. A founding member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, Young’s articles have appeared in publications throughout North America.