with Robert Bicknell
A new year brings new beginnings, or so they say.
I just played a new nine-hole course in Da Lat called Royale City Resort and I can tell you the course is simply stunning visually and a lot of fun to play, especially if you can get the resident pro, Grahame Harris to join you.
Grahame and I have known each other for almost 14 years, and we're both old as the hills, so we speak the same language. Suffice it to say that he had me laughing the entire round.
Playing golf in Da Lat is different than anywhere else in Southeast Asia because of the terrific year-round weather, but more importantly, because the clubs can use "bent grass" on the greens which, as true golfers know, is the best putting surface in the world, bar none.
With bent grass, speeds of 12 – 16 (think: US Open and Masters) are achievable, but very few amateurs could putt them with any hope of success, so we usually crank them back to 9 or 10 max. The only key to putting on bent grass greens is to get the speed right. As for breaks, they follow the terrain. There is no grain to speak of, unlike Bermuda greens which can, on occasion, break uphill.
Royale City is set along the hillsides and in the valley, which makes for some really dynamic holes. If you come to play there, bring your camera because even the entry road will provide you with an excellent photo opportunity.
While almost all the holes are above average, the two par threes (holes 3 and 8) really stand out. Hole number three is a 200-yard, par 3 which is downhill… 60 metres downhill to be exact. To give you an example of how this hole plays, I hit a 9-iron. Fabulous. More hang time than a parachutist.
Hole number eight is another beautiful par 3 of around 171 yards from the competition tees and is a forced carry over the lake. This hole can really make a difference in your day, depending on the pin location.
Hole 5 is a lovely little Par 4 of around 365 off the blue tees and you can really let the driver roar. I tried to drive the green every time and came up within chipping range.
Hole 6 is quite interesting as the designer, Peter Rousseau, decided to not put any bunkers on the hole. There is a waste area on the left side, but is easily avoidable.
For those uninitiated, Peter Rousseau is also the designer of Van Tri and Twin Doves. As expected, his signature sharp edge bunker shapes give it away.
While it's still only 9 holes, I really didn't see a bad hole out there, which aggravates me as I like to have something to complain about.
Grahame Harris, as everyone knows, is so old he invented dirt and thus, has acquired a good eye for courses over the years. So, when he says the back nine will be as good, or better, than the front nine, you can believe it.
In the last few years, many excellent courses have opened here in Viet Nam, notably Montgomerie Links, Da Nang GC, Twin Doves, Heron Lake and Song Gia Resort in Hai Phong to name but a few. Royale City could be the one that tops all of them.
Previously, Da Lat Palace has had the market all to herself for a long time. Sadly, the old girl is in need of a facelift compared to the newer courses in Da Nang but is still an enjoyable test of skill. I've always enjoyed myself there. However, with Royale partially open and the SACOM Tuyen Lam Course due to open the first nine holes in May 2012, Da Lat will finally have an opportunity to become a "golf tourist destination" like Da Nang.
However, the only way it can work is for all three clubs to cooperate in tourist marketing. People will not fly to a destination for just one course and the golf market in Da Lat has remained poor for many years, but with the opening of two more courses, this area could become a golf Mecca for Southeast Asian golferss looking to escape the heat.
Time will tell. — VNS