12/04/2016 16:50:00

The golfing landscape

Van Nguyen spoke to experts in the golf industry to find out more about the role of golf in Vietnam.

The golfing landscape - 1

Golf as a leisure pursuit in Vietnam began in 1993, with the construction of Kings’ Island 18-hole golf course, in Dong Mo, Son Tay, 40 kilometres from the centre of Hanoi.

Now 22 years on, Vietnam has 40 courses operating as well as many others under construction. However, according to deputy president of Vietnam Golf Association, Nguyen Ngoc Chu, the growth of golf in Vietnam has been slow.

“For a country of 90 million people, with 25 years of integration into the world’s economy and technology, 40 golf courses is very few. This is due to the relatively low income of Vietnamese people. If the income of the general population was higher, like Singapore for example, the number of golf course in Vietnam would be double,” he shares.

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An elite sport

Nguyen Ngoc Chu believes that golf was and always will be a noble sport. “When golf was invented, only nobles and the royals played,” he says. “The cost of playing golf is high, as people must pay membership fees as well as fork out for the cost of equipment. For those on low incomes it just isn’t feasible. ”

Membership fees vary from $2,000 to $150,000, depending on the golf course and type of membership. For example, at Vinpearl Golf Club, long-term membership for individuals is VND525 million ($24,300), and one-year membership is VND42 million ($1900). Some golf clubs, such as Kings’ Island, only issue 25-year and 38-year membership cards, with fees of VND2.1 billion ($97,000) and VND3.150 billion ($146,000) per person respectively. Members also have to pay a golf course annual maintenance fee of VND14-20 million ($650-920) a year.

Entrance fees for non-member players are also high. The charge for a round of golf at Kings’ Island golf course on weekdays is VND2.190 million ($101) while at weekends it increases to VND3.290 million ($152). Add to this the cost of hiring a  caddie, set of clubs, and a buggy, and the price is well out of the reach of most Vietnamese people.

As well as being expensive, golf is time-consuming. Therefore even businessmen, who may have sufficient money to afford the sport, rarely have the time to play. “Golfers spend at least a half day finishing an 18-hole round. As courses tend to be outside the city centre, when you include travelling time it can take up a whole day,” Chu explains.

According to the deputy president, until the 20th century, golfers tended to be of the upper classes. However, due to changes in the middle of the same century, golf gradually began to be taken up by more and more middle class people.

Evans Mahoney, Director of Golf PGA of Canada at Kings’ Island Golf Resort,  invested in by BRG Group, shares that since Tiger Woods won the Masters tournament in 1997, golf has grown in popularity to reach a wider demographic of people. Evans adds that both America and Canad have public as well as private golf courses, and he has recently seen many customers of middle income coming to Kings’ Island Vietnam.

 Various ways to learn

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These days, golf academies abound, making it easy for beginners to take up the sport. They can choose between being coached by foreign or local PGA professionals. Vinpearl Golf Academy, for example, offers on-course lessons with international coaches at an hourly price of $60-120 for members and $90-170 for non-members, while lessons with local coaches are half price.

Beginners can also opt to develop their swinging skills indoors before playing on a real course. Els Performance Golf Academy, due to open at Ecopark in mid-2016, will offer outdoor lessons and hi-tech studio training for new golfers to get to know the game. Wayne Johnson, the academy’s senior director of operations, shares: “EPGA will have the latest technology on hand with two video swing studios featuring V1 coaching software, Trackman ball flight launch monitors, Sam Putting Lab and the latest pressure mapping BodiTrak equipment. The EPGA will also have a fully equipped functional movement strength and conditioning studio; every aspect of improving a player’s performance will be available at the EPGA facility.”

EPGA will also offer courses for children, as the sport can help with their physical development. “Any sport children learn from a young age will help them develop motor skills and improve their hand-eye coordination. Golf is a wonderful sport, which can be played from a very early age, developing life skills as well as physical skills,” says Wayne.

Mahoney adds that golf teaches students the value of rules for playing a game properly. “There are no referees in golf like in football and other games. You have to be your own referee or someone amongst your group does. It teaches honesty and integrity. Children growing up in the game learn inter-personal skills and ethics that will help them become a better adult, better citizen, and better business leader,” he explains. Since June 2005, BRG Group has been offering children aged 8-15 from low-income families the opportunity to learn golf for free.

 More than just a sport

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Nguyen Ngoc Chu believes that golf brings a wide range of benefits to people. “Golf encourages domestic and international tourism, contributing to economic growth. It can support partnerships between corporations or countries because it is a sport that connects people,” Chu shares. “Playing golf is refreshing, due to the way the game is played in large open spaces.”

 For Mahoney, golf also benefits businesses. “They can benefit from the game by using the sport to conduct one-on-one business meetings outside in beautiful surroundings.”

 Vietnam also has several annual charity golf tournaments, including Swing for the Life, Swing for the Victims of Agent Orange Vietnam, and Swing for the Kids, which bewteen them have raised millions of dollars since they were first introduced.

“I believe Vietnam’s golf industry is amongst the best in the world in terms of charitable activities, because every golf course holds its own charity tournament. Social organisations, business enterprises, and the media are also very supportive,” says Chu.

Currently, Vietnam’s golf is subject to a special consumption tax, along with establishments serving alcohol and casinos. According to the deputy president of the Vietnam Golf Association, this policy has made golf less accessible to the general public. “Playing a round of golf costs as much as staying one night at a four or five-star hotel or drinking a bottle of whisky. Regarding tax, we should consider golf as a sport, or at least tax it the way we tax restaurants or hotels,” Chu suggests.

 Minh Van

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