Viet Nam News
By Robert Bicknell
20 years. 1,020 weekly columns. 744,600 words.
They should give me an honorary PhD in Bloviating. Hey, when you consider the average novel length is between 60,000 and 100,000 words, it means I could have written between seven and twelve novels.
No, I am not implying they would be best sellers but they would, most certainly, be books that should not be set aside lightly.
Knowing my readers, they would, most probably, be thrown with great force.
Anyway, it was 17 May 1998 when Sunday Việt Nam News published my very first “From The Pro Shop” column after years of urging by the then-editor (and founder) of Việt Nam News, Mr Nguyễn Khuyến. Being the genius that I am, I resisted for a few years because I really didn’t think I had anything to say.
Yes, I know, many of you are screaming “Correct! Twenty years of saying nothing!” Thanks, I love you guys too…
I am not really sure what “Mr K” had hoped for when we started this, but I am pretty sure he didn’t think it would still be going strong 20 years later (I’m sure there was a betting pool on how long until I got shot in the head though).
Heck, even the very popular “Dragon Tales” didn’t last more than 10 years and, Vietnamese or foreigner, I am pretty sure I am the longest running columnist in the history of Việt Nam. This must be some kind of record for longevity. Maybe the powers-that-be will recognise my efforts in providing bottom liners for bird cages.
My luck, they’ll probably shoot me tomorrow on general principles (I shouldn’t joke because I know one or two people who would love to see me against a wall with a blindfold and cigarette. One of which is my old editor Mr Phúc – who had a full head of hair before he started working with me).
At the very least, he would love to see me receive a free trip to Lào Cai. (Sorry, it’s an inside joke, but I am sure many of you can figure it out).
Because I am slightly off my rocker to begin with, the sub-editors who put together the Sunday paper should get an award (or free mental help) for putting up with me. If I had a dollar for every time they called to remind me to send the column on time, I’d be rich. They are truly stars.
Around 2000, we renamed the column “Teed Off” because that’s what people do to start a round of golf, and it’s also US-slang for my usual unbalanced state of mind. Even on a good day my temperament resembles a combination of a Tasmanian Devil, a Porcupine with a migraine, locked in a nitroglycerine-filled balloon factory.
But as I got older, I’ve mellowed. A fellow pro once advised me to be less “Teed Off” and more warm and fuzzy, and I’ve tried.
Hey, Tasmanian devils are warm and fuzzy, aren’t they?
When I started this column, Việt Nam had only six golf courses, namely Kings Island in the north, Sông Bé, Bo Chang Đồng Nai and Thủ Đức (VGCC) in the south, Dalat Palace and Ocean Dunes in the central.
Nowadays, we have 35 golf courses operating nationwide, one of which is ranked number 34 in the world by Golf Digest (The Bluffs); and we have held a few Asian Tour events. I firmly believe that the win at the Hồ Tràm Vietnam Open by Sergio Garcia re-ignited his career and brought him to a Master’s victory. Confidence is everything at his level of play and draining a 30-footer on the 18th green, with the pin in the hardest position on the hardest green, certainly boosts your confidence.
I’ve been fortunate to have been associated with nine different courses over the last 27 years, helped thousands of people join the industry as club employees and taught a thousand or more people how to play golf.
Now I’m 60-years old and I wonder is what I will do during the next 20-30 years as an “elder statesman” for golf in Việt Nam. One thing is for sure though – I have no plan to slow down because golf isn’t a game, it’s a journey and I just started my back nine.
Thank you for coming along for the ride over the last 20 years. VNS