By Robert Bicknell

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November 19, 2006

Bush comes to Vietnam

APEC is in full swing and President Bush is coming to Vietnam…yawn! Look, if he isn’t bringing his golf clubs or if Condi Rice doesn’t wear those spiked heel boots, I’m not interested.

So if you’re expecting me to talk about the President of the United States, forget about it. Besides, he’s been having a rough time lately and I don’t like to kick people when they’re down, only when they’re not looking.


I could write about George W. Bush’s family and their long relationship with the game of golf beginning when his great grandfather, George Herbert Walker, became president of the USGA in 1920 and also created the Walker Cup tournament, or when Dubya’s grandfather Prescott Bush became president of the USGA in 1935…but most people know that already.

I could write about Former US President George H.W. Bush (aka "41") playing 18 holes in under two hours at Cape Arundel and his complaint that his son (the current Prez) plays "too fast" but that too is common knowledge if you’re a loyal reader of Golf Digest magazine.

Hmm…maybe it’s a good thing "43" didn’t bring his clubs this trip because a six hour round of golf might result in that club being designated a "terrorist organisation" loaded with WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Delay) and he would be right. Everyone hates slow play except the slow players themselves who don’t even realise they’re slow.

Look, if the starter hands you a calendar instead of a score card, you’re slow.

Now, while I would never presume to tell the President of the United States how to handle his foreign policy, I would be happy to give him some…ahem "golf" tips and share my personal views of Vietnam which I developed over many years here.

I would probably start by telling him that, during my 15 years in Vietnam, I have never heard one anti-American sentiment from anyone from the highest government people to the lowest cyclo driver. These are good people with a remarkably positive attitude and they don’t waste time looking back over their shoulders, they’re always looking ahead towards a better day and remain focused on the future.

I would tell him that the Vietnamese highly appreciate constructive advice from friends and are very loyal to people who stick by them in bad times as well as good. I’ve witnessed some amazing changes during my time here and the country is firmly on the right track and needs all the support it can get.

I would also tell him that the golf industry, while not "booming" in a classical sense, is achieving a steady continuous growth and is an accurate economic barometer of the economy and there are 10 more courses on the drawing board. Also, Vietnamese take to golf like ducks to water. Its only a matter of time before you see a Vietnamese name on the PGA Tour leader boards.

One thing I would recommend to the President is a change of policy so diplomatic persons could accept Honorary memberships on behalf of the embassy. Most golf clubs in Vietnam extend automatic Honorary memberships to ambassadors as a courtesy. This is a good thing as it helps to facilitate better relations and gives the ambassadors a place to unwind.

Even the government of Vietnam has embraced golf as a vital business tool and recreational activity. Sadly, while almost all other ambassadors accept this with a thank you, the US Embassy isn’t allowed to due to State Department regs. This needs to be changed, otherwise golden opportunities for informal meetings are lost. Honorary memberships are offered to the Embassy, not a personal gift to the anyone and America’s Golfer-in-Chief should understand benefits of this without a second’s hesitation.

I would also recommend that Condi Rice gets measured for an Ao Dai, a summer weight one, not one of those hideous velour ones. An Ao Dai is a diabolical garment and the moment she walks into a meeting back home wearing it, both democrats and republicans will be eating out of her hand in a heartbeat.

Trust me on this.

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