with Robert Bicknell
I just returned from a weekend visit to the Ho Tram Strip (Vung Tau) to check the progress of the new Greg Norman design golf course - The Bluffs and I gotta tell you, it is awesome.
The hotel extended a VIP welcome, that included a customized Mercedes Sprinter from HCM City to Ho Tram which was out of this world. I don't even have this type of luxury in my house, much less a car. To talk with the driver, we had a telephone… My daughter was impressed.
The Grand hotel is partially open, meaning they have 550 of the 1100 rooms finished. The second wing of the hotel is under construction, but what is open is stunning. Like the golf course, this hotel will be the measuring stick for all hotel projects to follow.
First of all, it's huge. To get from reception to the elevator will take you at least five minutes of brisk walking. The good news is that the elevators to the rooms are amazingly quick. Blink and you're on the 15th floor, so pay attention.
The Grand has eight restaurants featuring some of the best chef's in Asia and this is no lie. These guys are good. I am a fussy eater, as is my daughter, yet we were both stuffing ourselves silly. One funny incident occurred when we first arrived and asked her what she wanted to eat.
The hotel simply blows away anything else in Viet Nam. If the Hilton, Intercontinental, etc, are 5-star, then this place is 6-star. There are restaurants, casino, night clubs, spa and even a supervised kid's play area - which made my wife happy as we could drop my daughter off for a few hours and enjoy some peace and quiet.
In addition to her beloved Room Service, my daughter also loved the bed with its overstuffed mattress and pillows - she must have bounced on it for an hour. She also loved the swimming pool and the beach. As a father, there is nothing better than watching your child's face when playing in the ocean. It's priceless.
The Greg Norman designed golf course, The Bluffs, is magnificent. They took a great piece of land and made it better.
Designed as a "links style" course, they made it more convenient with a common two-tee start (hole 1 & hole 10) instead of the traditional out and in style seen in Europe.
The course is no pushover and will demand that you bring your "A-game" if you decide to challenge it from the back tees. As there are no large trees to give it definition, some holes look terrifyingly long, but really aren't. However, you will have to contend with the wind, which seems to blow 24/7 and can change from a breeze to a gale in an instant.
They could easily hold a PGA Tour event here and not worry about the big bag guys going ridiculously low. We played from the blue tees and the GM - Ben Styles - pointed out where the back tees will be. I had few problems out there because I was going over 300 yards on most drives, but from the pro tees, it's a very different course with sharp fangs.
The greens vary in size, but have a lot of movement. When running at 10 or 11 on the stimpmeter, they will put the fear of G-d into players whose putting skills are lacking. A few reminded me of Augusta National. If you're on the wrong part of the green, you'll be happy to three putt and run to the next tee.
As there is virtually no water hazards on the course, the sand dunes and scrub will be your biggest challenge and they are everywhere. Staying out of them requires accurate drives and you might even consider hitting an iron off some of the tees just to be safe.
If you're in there, just get back to the fairway. More than that is asking too much.
Graham Taylor designed the clubhouse and it is a beauty. He has already designed a few clubhouses in Vietnam and continues to improve with each design. This might be his best yet.
Bottom line: The Grand has already raised the bar for hotels and set a high standard for others to try and match. The Bluffs GC will automatically become the number one course in Vietnam on the day they open for play in March 2014.
And rumor has it memberships might be available… — VNS