with Robert Bicknell
Another year gone, and another year beginning.
Last year was rather exciting as many new courses came on line, many new ones resumed construction and many new people picked up golf clubs for the first time.
If you look at golf in Viet Nam, in comparison to other countries in the world, it could be argued that Viet Nam is actually leading the way in growth. We continue to open new courses and the amount of local play continues to grow, even despite the on-going financial problems worldwide.
In recent newspaper articles, Viet Nam last year spent US$1.57 billion on importing 72,000 cars, surging 103.8 per cent and 117.3 percent in volume and value compared to 2013, respectively, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).
Both the imported volume and value of foreign-made cars were the highest rates ever, said the GSO.
Vietnamese buyers have placed more than ten orders for the Maybach S600 luxury sedan at a whopping VND9.6 billion ($451,850) each, with all taxes included, according to Mercedes-Benz Vietnam.
At Noi Bai International Airport on 31 December enroute back to HCM City, I stepped outside for a cigarette (yes, I still smoke and if anyone has tips to quit that doesn't include patches, vapor, acupuncture or hypnosis, I am willing to listen) and I counted no less than three Bentleys and a Rolls Royce dropping people off.
So, in a nutshell, we are doing pretty well, all things considered. Sure, it could be better, especially for middle and low income families, but it is a sign that things are starting to roll again and that is good for everyone because with more liquid capital freed up, people go out and spend. Vendors, stores and suppliers are happy and they too will spend more.
Most of the golf courses are showing relatively good numbers in terms of daily play, although membership sales are not as huge as they were in past times. This is mostly because players have figured they can get discounts on daily rates or use a friend's floating card. While not great news for clubs, it simply means they have to step up their game in terms of creative marketing for daily rounds.
On the other hand, Driving Ranges are booming. HCM City's flagship driving range, Him Lam, has two floors stuffed with players from 5-8pm almost every night. Luckily they also have a 3rd floor and that is often busy as well. Judging by that, it's safe to say that other ranges are doing close to the same amount of traffic as well.
So people are practicing and new students are taking up the game in what could be record numbers for Viet Nam.
We have made a good beginning in Junior Golf both in Ha Noi and HCM City. Granted, the next step is to find a way to bring golf out to provincial schools, but with some support, it can be done.
We have an authorized Titleist / Footjoy distributor in Viet Nam, along with TaylorMade / Adidas, Cobra and Ping. We have pro shops all over the country, both free standing as well as on the golf courses. We have places like Lion Golf and Zone Golf in HCM City who do custom club fitting and repairs.
In short, we have almost everything we need to continue moving forward, except…
Many years ago, some golf courses were caught fudging their books a bit, which reduced the amount of legitimate tax paid to the State Budget. The government, not putting up with this for a second, instituted a "Special Consumption Tax" of 20 per cent on top of the normal 10 per cent VAT.
Listen people, in the West we have a saying: "You cannot fight City Hall" (which translates to: "If you play this game, you will lose).
The problem with the SCT is that the tax is often passed onto the customer, instead of the club eating it. This makes golf rounds in Viet Nam much more expensive than in neighbouring countries and that hurts us in regard to golf tourism. We need the extra visitor rounds. Local play, as good as it's been, is simply NOT enough.
So, in 2015, I would hope to see the government, the VGA (Vietnam Golf Association) and the clubs find a solution where they pay a fair tax and the government drops the SCT and allows us to become more competitive.
Happy New Year! — VNS