Viet Nam News
By Robert Bicknell
If you follow any of the local golf community pages on Facebook recently, you’d see many people becoming more and more infuriated with the high fees charged by golf courses.
They’re screaming about high priced memberships (which nobody wants to buy at the moment); high annual dues (which really aren’t high at all compared to the US, for example); mandatory caddies and buggies; some clubs demanding an F&B minimum per year of members; the price of a set of golf clubs, etc.
If you understand how golf evolves in any given country, you’d realize that Việt Nam is no different than anywhere else and, amazingly enough, they are right on schedule.
OK, here’s how it works…
First, golf starts out by being available only for the rich. They restrict their clubs through many different ways: Religion, social status, income, gender. The middle class earners are not allowed to join these private clubs and get pissed off enough to build their own clubs.
Yes, of course the lower class income earners get pissed because they cannot join the middle class clubs, so they scream until someone with half a brain hears them and thinks “opportunity”.
The local government, or someone with brains, then opens a daily fee, public, open to everyone golf course. There are no caddies. You can rent a pull trolley and lug your clubs around yourself, or use a lightweight bag and carry them. F&B consists of a halfway house with hot dogs, burgers and an occasional chicken leg. Sometimes the F&B is actually contracted out to a third party who takes all the risk.
The golf course itself is nothing to write home about. Often it is designed by someone who barely knows what they are doing and constructed cheaply by someone who knows even less. Maintenance is bare bones… literally.
But, it’s golf and people looking to play a game cheaply happily accept it… for now.
Eventually, these people just entering the game at the cheapest public course level then begin to move up the economic ladder and join middle class clubs or they decide to buy a public course themselves and upgrade it. They raise the fees slightly to cover the improvements and most people happily accept it. They can play and have a good time without bankrupting the family.
Here in Việt Nam, we started the same way… almost.
When I opened Kings’ Island (Đồng Mô) in August 1993, we were a “semi-private” club. In other words, we were a public course that sold memberships to help quickly recover the investment costs.
Being the only club in the north at the time, selling memberships was easy. It was even easier when you realize the “Founding Memberships” were only US$5,000… Yes, you read that correctly. Of course they slowly increased over time until we are where we are now… overpriced.
We reached the crossroads where players are tired of high prices and new potential players are afraid they cannot afford it, but they can if they are smart about it.
With so much competition nowadays, many clubs are offering discounts for every reason under the sun. Weekdays, weekdays after 2pm, weekdays after 4pm, Ladies day, Twilight golf, Early Bird specials, Golf plus free lunch… Marketing managers and GM’s are always looking for ways to fill the course.
There are also various tourist and card companies which offer a very low rate package at many different courses.
The easiest way I know to get discount or free golf is to work for the golf course. Volunteer to be a Marshal on weekends in exchange for free golf rounds. Make a deal to bring a few groups to the course in exchange for free golf for yourself. With a little imagination, you can find/create some great deals for yourself.
Remember, the GM’s of these clubs are not just looking for revenue, but also ways to reduce expenses. Offer them a way to get something they need in exchange for free/discount rounds and they might go for it.
Golf equipment doesn’t have to be expensive either.
Some players who buy a new set every year try to sell their old ones. Pro Shops are full of excellent secondhand equipment.
You don’t have to be rich to play golf… nor should it be a requirement. — VNS