By Robert Bicknell

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February 25, 2007

Dragon Phoenix, 54-holes of golf in Hoa Binh, Vietnam

I hope that all of the loyal readers of this column have survived Tet and are looking forward to yet another year of fun in the sun here in lovely Vietnam.

Maybe Iím just crazy, as many of you have long suspected, but it just didnít seem like Tet due to the unseasonably warm temperatures and abundant sunshine. Iím more used to bone-chilling cold and drizzle.

Yet, if you remember, I did predict a colder than average winter and since I am almost never correct in my predictions...things worked out right.

During Tet, I had the opportunity to finally play a round at the 54-hole Dragon Phoenix Golf Resort in Hoa Binh.

Lots of clubs pride themselves on having the best clubhouse, but Dragon Phoenix steals this title without breaking a sweat. You have to see it to believe it. I don't even want to guess at the total cost.

Imagine a Las Vegas 5-star hotel plunked down in Hoa Binh and youíll get the idea. There are enough VIP guest rooms to house a PGA Tour event and the 500 person capacity ballroom has a chandelier which would make the Sultan of Brunei envious. There are also many smaller VIP-style meeting rooms which can handle private functions. The changing and shower facilities are all top notch and features full-size lockers, so you can stuff your golf bag or caddie in there until the next round.

Next door to the clubhouse is a hotel / condominium complex which is also built to 5-star standards and the golf courses have only one possible word to describe them - "exotic."

Hoa Binh is quite mountainous and has a lot of granite and limestone cliffs popping out of everywhere. What amused me was the amount of visible caves. One was so big that I joked to my playing partners that "we found Batman."

If a heavy rain pops up, I know where Iím running.

The greens are generously-sized and have some nice contours. Despite the slow putting speeds, as its winter here in the north and the course is still growing in, there wasnít too much grain-effect and they rolled pretty true.

The holes have some amazing elevation changes which provide for some very dramatic tee shots. Bunkers are well placed and the shaping of the fairways is excellent. I only found one Par 3 hole which couldíve been designed better. It really didnít belong and looked more like an after-thought.

For the true masochist, the Dragon course has a Par 5 which measures 644 yards. Trust me when I say, you ainít getting home in two.

However, sadly, not all was perfect in paradise as there are a few problems which management needs to address.

Unless you are a former Recon Marine with a desire to re-enact your training days, take a golf car. The distance between some holes is between 100 Ė 250 yards and, seemingly, almost always uphill. My group walked and I estimated that we covered the equivalent of 27 holes during our 18-hole round.

Also, as two different courses were combined, Champion and Dragon, to make one for the tournament, we had to travel an extra thousand yards or so on transport buggies.

While my caddie seemed ok reading puts in general, distances, line of direction and English were not her strong point. A lot of bunkers were virtually untouched by human hands...or a rake.

But, to be fair, most of the caddies have only been in training for around two months, so they and a few staff members have a lot more to learn. Experienced players can help a lot in this regard by taking time to instruct the caddies during the round.

I met the chairman of the project last year when I was still at Kings Island and he promised me the place would be the best, so I know these problems will be fixed very quickly and the staff brought up to a level of service equal to the magnificent facility he created.

If youíre looking for a very memorable round of golf, head to Dragon Phoenix Golf Resort and remember one other thing...

Bring your camera and a lot of film.

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