By Robert Bicknell

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August 13, 2006

Bushwood or Augusta, VN golfers will decide…

Last Tet, Peter Rousseau and Ian Fleming visited Kings’ Island for a quick round of golf and to tell me in no uncertain terms that Van Tri Golf Club would be the one to beat and would raise the bar even higher than Tam Dao.

Look, after playing golf for 43 years, 28 years as a professional, in more countries than I care to remember, when it comes to golf courses, I am more than just jaded, I’m a confirmed sceptic. Yet, both Peter and I are from New Hampshire, meaning we’re true "Yankees", so I couldn’t just flip off his comments as the usual hype.

Having just returned from Van Tri, I can honestly say I just played what could be the finest golf course in Vietnam. The design was highly enjoyable. The holes were well balanced in terms of risk vs. reward, aesthetically it was very pleasing, it was fun from the blue tees but more than capable of hosting a professional event if they ever decided to do so.

The greens have interesting contours are large enough to allow putting the flagstick in places which produce either an easy birdie or a certifiable nightmare depending on how evil the superintendent feels in the morning.

Almost every course in Vietnam has trouble with the bunkers, but Van Tri found a way to avoid all the usual headaches by laying a cement base under the sand. This prevents contamination and allows the white sand to remain white even after huge downpours. Bunker placement itself is highly "imaginative", meaning that there are a few in places where you really don’t want to be.

Peter Rousseau is the designer, the constructor and the General Director, which means that his design got built exactly how he wanted it with little if any of the usual interference most of us suffer with at other clubs.

Now, with so many golf courses either open or under construction, players have choices which didn’t exist a few years ago. Where to play and which club to join remain topics of discussion amongst the golfing community.

One of the biggest problems in Vietnam is gossip. People love to talk about what is happening to everyone else and whether its true or not really has no bearing. Why let facts interfere with a good story to pass over a beer or two with friends? Golf clubs are no exceptions to this rule.

Some of the gossip is factual, but sadly, some of the negative gossip is generated by people with an axe to grind, or is part of a campaign by other clubs to protect their business. While it would be nice to believe that golfers are above this kind of shenanigans, the fact remains that it happens.

There were thousands of rumours regarding the Daeha Golf Club in the old days and, at that time, some were true. It was a public relations disaster for many years, yet a phoenix has risen from the ashes – Van Tri Golf Club. So the rumour changed from "it will never get built" to "with membership prices so high, the club has to fail."

Once again, this is a case of people talking through their hat.

Van Tri simply decided to wait until everything was finished before launching their memberships. Its not a bad idea if you have lots of bucks and apparently the folks behind the project have very deep pockets indeed.

What’s more, they have decided to forgo the usual battle for green fee dollars and are making it the first true private members-only club in Vietnam.

Yup, Vietnam’s own "Bushwood,"

While other clubs are frantically asking people to become members, you’re going to have to ask to become a member at Van Tri and paying the hefty $25,000 membership is no guarantee of acceptance either because with a set limit of only 400 members, they can pick and choose who they want to accept.

"Augusta" might be a better comparison than "Bushwood".

Either way, Van Tri did what they said they would do, they raised the bar, now everyone will have to play catch up.

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