The Holy Grail of Hoi An
by David Largent / Images: Gary Lisbon
Hoiana Shores GC in Hoi An, Vietnam will most likely be that perfect course for an extensive range of players as it has all the essential qualities that make a course worth the desire to play it over and over again.
The search for the perfect golf course is the holy grail of all golfers. No matter what your handicap is, every player has their own particular view of what makes a perfect golf course for them. For some, it’s natural beauty, for others it’s the challenge, or just the simplicity of the course. But generally, it is some combination of these factors that makes you want to go back out and play it over and over again.
The 985-hectare, US$4 billion Hoiana complex is the most ambitious resort development ever undertaken in Vietnam. Its first operational phase, which is nearing completion, will eventually integrate more than 1,000 rooms, suites and villas (managed by the Rosewood Hotel Group), four kilometres of pristine beach, a suite of beachside pools and restaurants, a stand-alone beach club, an entertainment facility managed by the Suncity Group, and a wide array of retail outlets.
In September, I had the chance to play Hoiana Shores even before it had been handed over to the Course Superintendent by the developer, and even then, it was already in perfect playing condition. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., it boasts a quality design on an excellent piece of the Vietnam coastline with an open links-style layout and a stunning scenic location - a perfect combination that gives the course the feeling like it has already been there for years.
I had the honour of playing with Ben Styles, Vice President of Golf for Hoiana Shores Golf Club, who is a Vietnam golf industry veteran. This is a passion for him and a lifetime opportunity in putting together all the experiences and best practices of any golf course anywhere in the world. “We were particularly excited to welcome our first golfers to Hoiana Shores on September 23 this year, and the Grand Opening event will take place in early 2020, in concert with the unveiling of the other Phase 1 facilities,” he notes.
Many ‘tropical links’ at Hoiana Shores are built entirely on sand
Hoiana Shores has ambitions to make it a top 100 course in the world
Hoiana Shores has also been developed in full accordance with strict sustainability principles
Until that time, the newest golf course in Vietnam - arguably the most active course development market in the world - will be available for limited ‘preview play’, whereby all proceeds from visiting golfers will be donated to local charities.
Players will notice no flags flapping in the ever-present, seaside breeze at Hoiana Shores. The pins will instead be adorned with red lanterns, the likes of which illuminate Hoi An’s famous Old Town at night. “There’s a reason why it’s called The City of Lanterns,” says Styles.
As we walked and played the course from the Black tees, it was an exhilarating experience to be able to have the course open up and flow naturally from hole to hole. Each fairway and hole is laid out clearly from each tee, and every hole has a playability challenge that always keeps the golfer’s mind thinking. We were fortunate to have a day when the weather was mild, but the change in wind direction and speed can make the course play differently in so many ways throughout the same round.
Visually the course is a delight. Cart paths are hidden behind dunes, and off to the side, so you virtually see no carts from any tee or fairway, which leaves just the course clearly in front of you. The fairways are rolling, and the greens are smooth and challenging; from tee to green you’ll need to pay attention.
After a wonderful round from the Black tees, I had a quick lunch and then played again from the Blue tees. I wanted to play the course from a different perspective to see how it played from different lengths. The tees are designed to ensure that golfers of different levels can equally enjoy the same golf course. My drives are generally around 260-280 yards, which are longer than most golfers, and the Black tees presented me with a challenge for my handicap level. I also found that the Blue tees are better suited for players who hit around 220-260 yards, which is exactly what they are designed to do. The holes continue to play just as challenging and fair from the Blue tees and are a mark of a truly well-designed golf course.
Hoiana Shores has also been developed in full accordance with strict sustainability principles laid out by the UK-based GEO Foundation. “In Southeast Asia, there are no other golf developments at this stage of construction that are part of this programme,” notes GEO Executive Director Sam Thomas. “All the others are in the planning or design stage. I think it’s fair to say that if it continues on this path, Hoiana will be first past the post, and the market leader in this regard.”
While the greens at Hoiana Shores are grassed with Tif-Eagle Bermuda, all the fairways and tees feature Zeon Zoysia, a relatively new, drought-tolerant turfgrass strain specially developed to provide firm, fast conditions in equatorial regions such as this. This choice was both sustainable and strategic. Many ‘tropical links’ are built entirely on sand; several more feature the flamboyant contour associated with links golf – but few, if any, have delivered the requisite bounce and roll that links design requires. Zeon Zoysia will, which is something of a game-changer.
36 holes in one day is a lot of golf, but I would have been happy to play again the next day. So, I guess this qualifies the course as a ‘must play’ and it was pretty close to perfect for me. Give it a little more time to settle in, and it will be one of those perfect courses that you must play in Asia, and they have ambitions to make it a top 100 course in the world.
In the meantime, don’t wait any longer to get over there to discover and play this beautiful gem, so you can add it to your list of perfect golf courses.
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