By Robert Bicknell
It seems that every few years, someone will get pissed off with the management of a golf club in Viet Nam and demand changes. When the club refuses for whatever reason, the matter ends up in court… with the club winning, so far, every time.
When I re-joined Kings Island in 2002, the first thing I was told was to prepare for a court case brought by a Korean member, who believed that the club couldn’t make any major decisions without member approval. It was the third time he sued the club over annual dues, and it was the third time he lost.
I mention that he was South Korean for the simple fact that clubs in South Korea, which have members, do require members approval on such things. So do clubs in the US, Europe, Australia and most of the world.
But, not in Viet Nam.
The difference is that when you buy a membership in the US, for example, you are buying a partial ownership in the club and, as such, you have voting rights.
Viet Nam is completely different as a “membership” here is really nothing more that “prepaying your green fees for 25-50 years at a massive discount. You also get a 10 per cent discount on F&B and Pro Shop, as well as two weeks advance tee time booking rights.”
And that’s about it.
These terms and conditions are laid out very clearly in the membership application as well as in the Members Information Booklet that almost all clubs give their members.
There is also a clause which states: “The Club reserves the right to change or amend these conditions at any time without prior notice.” And it is this clause which gives members the biggest headaches because clubs occasionally do change pricing and policy from time to time.
To be fair, memberships back then actually benefitted the member more than the club.
Think about it. If a membership costs US$20,000 and the value of a weekend green fee was $100, if you played 200 rounds of golf, you equalled the value of your membership. Every round after that was theoretically free. Best of all, memberships increased in value, so you could sell the membership five years down the road for what you paid for it. Essentially, you could have played golf for five years for free.
The only thing the club received was caddie fee, F&B and annual dues (which were ridiculously low) and a 10 per cent transfer fee when you sold your membership.
Naturally, when Clubs figured how badly they were losing out, they started booking as many guests and tourists as possible, and this caused a huge problem with the members who couldn’t get a tee time. Thus, the court cases began.
Today, things are very different because memberships are practically dead and buried for all intents and purposes. Nobody really wants to buy one for the simple reason that, with so many golf courses giving discounts, a membership isn’t worth it.
Another big change is that many clubs went from being single owners to Corporate-owned, which means decisions are no longer being made by the Club General Manager, but by Corporate Officers many of which don’t even play golf. They only care about the profit and loss.
I managed nine clubs in my 27 years in Viet Nam and, at every one; my contract stated I had full control. I would make a business plan and a budget, get it approved by the owner and everything after that was under my control. Owners saw profits, members knew they were being listened to and everyone was happy.
That rarely happens anymore, and many managers nowadays are pulling their hair out in frustration as they have very little say in a decision, but have to take the blame when players go ballistic.
The rough definition of a “club” is an organization of like-minded individuals getting together for a shared interest, i.e., golf.
But in Viet Nam, golf is a business and players should never forget that. They have a right to earn a profit. No profit, no golf course.
However, I think any club which doesn’t allow member/guest input should not be allowed to call themselves “clubs”. They are golf facilities, or golf courses…
But, certainly not a “club”.—VNS