November 2008


Some courses in Vietnam causing government to reconsider future...

If the local Vietnamese newspapers and websites are to be believed, some golf courses have not been particularly "good neighbours" and, in some cases, have been downright hostile. This is not the way it is supposed to be and those clubs need to re-examine their priorities and direction. Chances are the people who made those decisions had no background in golf and, if they did, ignored the history of golf clubs.

In their rush to fill the corporate coffers, people tend to forget that golf clubs have another role to play, one which unites a community instead of acting like an 800 lb gorilla.

To begin with, golf clubs are usually the centre point of the community. Kids grow up around the club and eventually work there in the summers as caddies, greens crew or restaurant help to earn extra money. Maybe they move up the ladder and someday become management.

The memberís kids grow up and get married in the clubís ballroom, go on to have their own families and the cycle begins anew.

The club hires locally and purchases locally whenever possible. It gives back to the community through social and charity functions.

In the wintertime, the fairways become a place to cross-country ski, go sledding with the kids, or skate on the numerous ponds.

The golf course itself provides a "green area" which cools down the temperatures in the summer and the trees / grass act as a set of lungs for the town, turning the carbon dioxide into oxygen and also giving local wildlife a place to live.

Itís a symbiotic relationship.

Unfortunately, once corporations began to get into the club business, things began to change quite a bit. Sure, on the surface everything appeared to be copasetic, but the business model takes on a much harder edge and the single-minded pursuit of profits dominates all other areas and worse, due to television, owners and members demand that their own course look the same as the PGA Tour courses do, but on a daily basis.

If you look at how clubs here in Vietnam are set up, the local government decides to give land to the project and then it is up to the project owners to get the locals to agree to a price and, of course, the local government applies quite a bit of pressure on the locals to move out, even if they lived there for a few generations.

When the deal between the club and the locals is finally made, it usually includes the responsibility by the club to hire the locals and give them jobs. Unfortunately, most corporations view this as a burden instead of a social responsibility and from day one try to find ways to undo it. Their view is usually along the lines that "we donít want to be told who to hire, especially if we deem them unqualified."

They conveniently forget whose land it was that they are now using to make millions of dollars in profits and when someone points this out, the club screams "foul."

This is something that I have trouble accepting as "normal business practices" on both a professional and moral basis.

One department head at a club here in Vietnam (which I will not name) tried to blame his bloated workforce on having to hire the local residents who he described as "too stupid to learn" and had to hire better workers from another village.

Excuse me, but nobody is "too stupid to learn" and making a generalisation like that about an entire village tells me that the problem was with the trainer, not the trainees.

Regardless of schooling, I have learned over the last 16 years here that people respond positively to gainful employment, especially when they are treated decently. Vietnamese people have a lot of pride and to treat them as "stupid" simply because they werenít trained correctly is insulting to both the people, the country and the professional golf management community.

I have long advocated that the clubs need to have a harmonious relationship with the local community to ensure the financial health of both. Clubs promote tourism which benefits both the club and supporting businesses in the local towns and villages. They provide jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Lastly, clubs need to be very careful about how they are treating the local environment. If the club doesnít have a superintendent who is certified in chemical application and a member of the GCSAA (Golf Course Superintendents Association of America) or similar organisation, then they need to get one to ensure that environmental protective practices are adhered to.

We are all stewards of the environment and need to remember that its not just our livelihoods at stake, but our lives and homes as well.

Golf requires players, and by extension the club owners and management as well, to take responsibility for their actions, so its about time that the clubs began to lead by example instead of just a lot of talk.

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