with Robert Bicknell
First off, I need to apologise to someone whose name appeared in last week's column. It was a mistake to use his actual name - despite the story being in public domain as most of the golf community knows the story and who was involved. I should have asked if he minded being named. However, as he has appeared in the column in the past without complaint, I assumed (always dangerous) that there would be no issue with it. I was wrong. My apologies.
It was obviously also a mistake in describing him as a friend. Rest assured neither mistake will happen again.
Now then, with many new courses either under development or currently launching, the golf scene in Viet Nam is going to see some exciting changes in the next 12-36 months.
The local golf industry has been motoring along quietly for the last few years with good to moderate growth and little fanfare. We keep growing steadily under the watchful eye of the Vietnamese Government who decreed that "too much of a good thing is not always good" and took steps to restrict the development of new courses until demand outstripped supply. While many potential investors howled in anger, in retrospect, this was a very smart move.
Unrestricted growth with no void to fill simply steals customers from already established clubs and doesn't "grow" the business. But now that the current clubs are full of players, the government can allow a few more to open in tactical locations. There is nothing wrong with this.
So, when the VinGroup, whose market capitalisation is approaching US$6 billion across six varied business interests, started developing golf courses near Ha Noi and Hai Phong and announced plans to do the same in Quy Nhon and Can Tho, as well as other destinations, it got people's attention.
The VinGroup currently owns the 18-hole VinPearl Nha Trang and the 27-hole VinPearl Phu Quoc golf courses. Both were designed by IMG.
"It's the most ambitious move anyone here has ever made to put Viet Nam on the world golf map," said Niklas Robinson, director of Sales and Marketing of Vingroup's Golf Division, Vinpearl Golf.
While I would not knock VinGroup's achievements (I actually enjoy VinPearl Nha Trang very much. The course was immaculate when I visited and my daughter loved the aquarium), I would disagree with the concept that they are putting Viet Nam on the world golf map because that achievement has already been done with the US$1.5 million Asian Tour Ho Tram Open at The Bluffs (which was named in the Top 100 courses in the world by Golf Digest)
I think Da Nang (Dunes) and Montgomerie Links would also argue that due to their extremely high level of international golf tourists at their respective facilities each year, they too have helped to put Vietnam on the international golfing map.
However, having said that, VinGroup does bring some heavy firepower to the table and they will be a welcome addition to the growing number of excellent courses in the country.
Their Vu Yen Golf Community will offer two distinct championship courses, with one routed through marshland and the other featuring an abundance of lakes.
My immediate question would be which business model they use. Under normal circumstances, most clubs go for the fast money "Semi-private" where they try to recoup their initial investment quickly through membership sales, but suffer a daily cash flow problem later. With the deep pockets of VinGroup, they would be better off without members and just go the daily fee route. More people could partake of the courses and no members would get irritated by having to share the course.
Vinpearl Golf is also talking to potential partners about creating additional opportunities on Phu Quoc, and has purchased property in Quy Nhon and Can Tho for the sole purpose of attracting golfers to two of southern Viet Nam's most compelling destinations.
"What's in the works right now is really just the tip of the iceberg," Robinson said. "When all is said and done, I think the name Vinpearl Golf is not only going to be synonymous with course development in Viet Nam, it's going to be a major reason why the country is mentioned in the same breath as all the other great golf destinations in the world."
We shall see. — VNS