Teed Off (May 11, 2014)
with Robert Bicknell
With the opening of the Bluffs in Ho Tram, the Him lam GC near Tan Son Nhat Airport and the Jack Nicklaus course in Soc Son, people are asking if golf is getting ready to boom again here in Viet Nam or not. In my opinion, the question is not a simple one.
The three courses mentioned have all been either under construction or on the drawing boards for quite a few years and their parent companies have very deep pockets, so it wasn't really a case of begging for investors or hoping to sell memberships to pay for the construction. They had the money available or enough collateral to make the banks rest easy about any possible loans.
Yet, year on year, the amount of golf rounds played nationwide continue to increase by 7-12 per cent, the driving ranges are full of players practicing or taking lessons and there are more juniors appearing. These are all upward signs.
But a few other golf course projects (which will remain nameless and it's up to the readers to figure out which ones) have either never got off the ground, or saw construction stalled for lack of funds.
This is not necessarily a bad thing because, unfortunately, far too many would-be local developers tend to jump in with both feet and eyes closed. Most often, they don't bother with market research or come up with a viable business plan, preferring to believe that golfers will come from other courses instead of devising a way to "grow the business" and draw in new players.
That is a recipe for disaster.
At present, the US and Europe is witnessing a decline in golf rounds played and of new players picking up the game. Most of this has to do with the economy and the way society has changed. Younger people don't want to play "their father's game" and prefer sitting with a phone in hand, texting while in front of a computer playing Grand Theft Auto or some other game which features mayhem, explosions, gunfire and extreme violence.
Something as sedate and relaxing as golf is not something they are interested in, which might also explain the increase in violence in schools and obesity. When I was a kid, we played sports from morning to night and sitting in one spot for more than five minutes was like torture. We grew up pretty normal compared to what's going on today.
The other problem, as I said, is the economy. When people lose their homes and jobs, playing golf is the last thing on their minds. They have to feed the family first. However, when the economy recovers, we should see golf recover somewhat.
The other big problem was the over-construction of golf courses during the "Tiger boom" when everyone and their brother wanted to capitalize on the increased popularity of golf. Unlike Viet Nam, in the US, if you have the land and can get the necessary permits, you can open a golf course wherever you want. So now there are far too many courses and not enough players.
It makes the decision of the Vietnamese Government to limit the amount of golf courses look like pure genius. They looked at the amount of courses, the amount of players and said this is unsustainable. BAM….no new courses until the demand is there. Yes, they were also worried about losing valuable farmland…which also is justified.
So, is golf about to boom again in Viet Nam?
I would say, not "boom" but will continue to experience continued steady growth which is actually much better and easier to plan for.
But it all depends on growing the game, finding and encouraging new players and promoting junior golf. All things I have been harping on for the last 20 years. The question is who will do it and to what level?
What would really help is if companies/corporations would sponsor teams of junior players who could compete in a league of some kind. Sort of like "Little League Baseball". It shows the people that the company cares about kids, it allows kids to play golf and it paves the way for development of the future stars…or maybe just future club members.
Golf, in Viet Nam, remains healthy and it is up to us in the business and those who love the game to see that it continues to grow. — VNS