The Montgomerie Links golf course just outside of Hoi An in central Vietnam by Aaron Joel Santos
The afternoon sun casts long shadows over the Marble Mountains near Danang as Trang prepares to put me through my tai chi paces. Stretching lazily, like a cat in slow motion, she embarks on a series of graceful movements, which she urges me to mimic.
“It will help you focus and relax your mind,” she tells me as she arcs herself to the east and extends an outstretched palm towards the shimmering ocean.
To be fair, golfing in Vietnam would calm even the most uptight of players.
Snaking down sinuously from the Chinese border to the Gulf of Thailand, the country’s patchwork of towering peaks, emerald paddies and seemingly endless coast has provided a febrile breeding ground for some of Asia’s best golf courses.
The action is particularly vibrant on the country’s central coast, which has become the nation’s premier hub for luxury tourism.
The two most famous layouts in the area are Danang Golf Club and Montgomerie Links, the original jewels in the central coast golf crown.
The latter — the first golf course to be constructed in the area — remains an excellent and enjoyable test. Although designed by a Scot, Ryder Cup legend Colin Montgomerie, the layout is very American in style with expansive bunkers and numerous water hazards. Stand out holes include the 12th, a striking uphill par-5 that plays towards the attractive clubhouse, the picturesque par-4 16th and the long, bunker-strewn closing hole.
Right next-door is Danang Golf Club, which has established itself as one of the finest tracks in Asia since debuting back in 2010. The beautifully sculpted layout 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. Australian Greg Norman, affectionately nicknamed the Great White Shark, designed the course, and his creation is never anything less than killer.
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 a saucer-shaped putting surface, the white sand of Non Nuoc 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.
In recent years, the area’s golf portfolio has been bolstered further. The newest layout in the area is Bana Hills. Laid out in rolling foothills, the course features natural elevation changes, ravines, streams and mountain backdrops.
The front nine contains a number of 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, and so too is the following hole, a dogleg par-4 with water guarding the green.
Also notable in this part of the country is Laguna Lang Co, designed by British golf legend Nick Faldo. Threading between trees, over rice paddies and streams, through rock features and alongside the pounding surf, the course is tricky to categorize. Highlights include the 9th, a par-4 played alongside the beach. Equally stunning is the short 5th, played from an elevated tee to a green surrounded by rock features.
Farther south down Vietnam’s golden coastline lies another of the country’s signature courses: the Bluffs at Ho Tram. Less than two hours southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, the Bluffs Ho Tram Strip is not only routed over and around towering seaside sand dunes, it’s also one of the few championship-caliber 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, windswept property is 50 meters above sea level, on the 15th green, one of the most spectacular spots comes earlier in the round, on the 4th hole. From there, players are presented with a 360-degree view of the course from the surrounding national forest that's a haven for wildlife to the expansive shoreline and the Grand Ho Tram, which opened in July 2013 as Vietnam's first international luxury casino resort.
Vietnam’s two main cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, are no slouches either when it comes to golf courses. Just outside the capital, Hanoi, is Van Tri Golf Club. Carved out of rice paddies, the course is American in style and is reminiscent of courses in Florida, with plentiful water hazards lining the heavily landscaped fairways. Ultra contemporary it may be, but the sight of half-submerged farmers in the paddies that skirt many of the fairways means there’s no mistaking that you are in Asia.
In and around Ho Chi Minh City, meanwhile, Vietnam Golf and Country Club, Long Thanh, Twin Doves and Song Be are all worthy foes.
Back on the central coast, I’m drawing to the close of my round at Danang Golf Club. We reach the short 16th. The green sits invitingly amid the dunes and the ocean crashes onto the white sands beyond. I concentrate hard and send my tee shot sailing to within five feet of the hole. There may be another two holes left to play, but for me, the golfing trail in Vietnam has just come to the best conclusion possible.