The Official Home for Asian Golf Awards
The prestigious and much sought after Asian Golf Awards programme is now enshrined in its own dedicated web site. This virtual museum in cyberspace is devoted to recognising and honouring the best in the Asia Pacific Golf industry – men and women and clubs that collectively help deliver a world class experience for golf! It is widely regarded as the “Oscars” of the Asian golf club industry. The programme has just finished its 18th year and winners in over 50 award categories were recognized during the staging of the Asian Golf Awards in Da Nang, Vietnam.    

KN Royal Golf Links Cam Ranh

Vietnam’s Gift To Asia!

Who would have ever thought that Vietnam, a rapidly emerging force in Asian golf, would ever take the plunge and build the Continent’s first true links golf course. And in case you are wondering where in Vietnam this course is located, we’ll let you in on the secret. It is sited at Cam Ranh Bay, considered the finest deep-water shelter in Southeast Asia. The bay in itself is situated on the south-eastern coast of Vietnam, approximately 290 kilometres northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. ​​​​​ASIAN GOLF’s Mike Sebastian first visited Cam RanhBay when it was a U.S. Navy operations base during the height of the Vietnam War. Even back in the war days, Cam RanhBay was a sight to behold with its sweeping coastline, spectacular crystal-clear waters that covered the entire spectrum of the colour aquamarine and white sandy beaches to die for. The bay is now clear of warships and it is rapidly being transformed into what promises to be Asia’s new leisure playground. Against a stunning backdrop of plush modern hotels, resorts, villas and condominiums is nestled golf’s gift to Asia and the world – the brand new KN Royal Golf Links Cam Ranh golf course.

Built on a masterfully crafted landscape covering a huge expanse of land measuring some 800 hectares, the course is a sprawling green, undulating vista devoid of trees that are normally common-place on a golf course. Like the links courses in Scotland, there is some natural shrubbery and native grass and that’s all! The meticulously manicured turf on the course provides for a beautiful contrast with the brilliant white sandy beach and the warm and inviting resplendent blue waters of the South China Sea.

KN Royal Golf Links Cam Ranh is the realisation of one man’s vision. He is the visionary pioneer of golf in Vietnam, the highly successful “Hero Of Labour” and entrepreneur, Mr. Le Van Kiem. An avowed golf aficionado, who has represented his country in golf at the South East Asian Games at the age of 54, is delighted at the way Cam RanhLinks has emerged into its current glorious state. Mr. Kiem, already an owner of two award winning golf courses, the Long Thanh Golf Club in Ho Chi Minh City and the Long Vien Golf Club in Vientiane, Laos said, “It is indeed an honour for me to have this unique opportunity to place Vietnam on the global golf map as the only country in Asia to have a true links golf course.” The 71-year old who has been honoured with some of the country’s highest national awards including being inducted into the Asia Pacific Golf Hall of Fame in 2015 went on to add, “I have already played on the course and not only is it a beautiful course to look at but is also challenging – so typical of a links golf course.”

Cam Ranh Links is designed by the legendary golf champion and master golf course architect Greg Norman.

Cam Ranh Links is part of a massive, multi-billion dollar development spear-headed by Mr. Kiem’s company, KN Investment Group. Besides the 18-hole links golf course, there is also a more traditional nine-hole course that is being built on the site. Other developments that will make this a world class destination with its own 5km of ocean frontage will include multiple 4 and 5 star hotels, world class entertainment zone, upscale marina, polo club, theme park, luxury villas and many more attractions. Peering out from the observation deck of the golf club, Mr. Kiem proudly declared, “Cam Ranh Links Golf Resort will be one of the finest and most sought after in the region, providing attractive investment opportunities and an enhanced residential experience for buyers.” It is reported that this mega development ranks amongst one of the largest projects currently being undertaken in Vietnam.

IMG has been commissioned to manage the launch phase of the new golf course. “IMG is very proud to be working with KN Group on their stunning new golf project, Cam Ranh Links. With its ocean-side location, the site is spectacular and the quality of the golf course will further strengthen Vietnam’s growing reputation as a must play golf destination. The future plans for the development of the resort are incredibly exciting, and we look forward to assisting KN Group to establish a world class golf experience,” said Paul Burley, senior vice president, global head of IMG Golf Course Services.

As stated earlier, the challenge to transform a piece of undulating land into a world class links-style golf course fell on the laps of one the most illustrious names in the business of golf – Greg Norman. ASIAN GOLF sat down with Norman to discuss how he took on the project and what made him embark on the ambitious dream to present Asia with its first, true links golf course. The following are excerpts from that discussion:

ASIAN GOLF: What influenced the decision to build a true links golf course at Cam RanhBay?

Greg Noman: I don’t know how anyone could consider designing any other type of course in a setting as magnificent as Cam Ranh Bay.  Virtually every decision we made during design and construction was inspired by the existing coastal dunes and views of the ocean. Fortunately, Chairman Kiem and the Long Thanh Group also saw the potential and allowed us to route the golf course before any other planning was done.          

ASIAN GOLF: What sort of challenges did you encounter in the design stage of this course? Obviously you faced some daunting questions regarding the total absence of trees and other related foliage?

GN: I actually love designing courses on a more open canvas as much as I do playing them.  It gives you the freedom to create angles and shot variety that would otherwise be dictated by corridors.  We had to be extremely careful with how we incorporated features and hazards in the layout of each hole because of the various shot lines, but at the end of the day I think most golfers can appreciate the depth of playability on a links course like we have at Cam Ranh.  It truly does represent golf in its purist form. 

ASIAN GOLF: It’s a golf course with very close proximity to the sea – it is going to be quite a challenge to play when the winds blow? Talk to this.

GN:  One of the great things about the site in Cam Ranh is that it sits in a crescent shaped bay that is bordered by elevated ridges on each end.  Those ridges actually break a good bit of the wind off the ocean, so the wind speed and direction can change quite a bit as you play the course. Obviously some of the more elevated holes will be affected the most when it’s blowing, but that’s links golf.  I actually think it’s the perfect balance for a resort course.      

ASIAN GOLF: After having driven through the course, it is very apparent that it has been designed to be a thinking man’s course. One just can’t get on the tee-boxes and smash the ball and hope to make a bunch of birdies - is this a correct assumption to make?

GN:  Absolutely.  I think it’s important to reward driving accuracy as much as distance.  Like many other great links courses, there’s certainly a premium on fairway position here at Cam Ranh.

ASIAN GOLF: Although the fairways look wide and generous, there are numerous undulations which can prove to be very tricky. Your thoughts?

GN: The natural contours of this site were so good that we didn’t have to manipulate too much at all in the grading of the course.  Instead, we laid out the holes so that these contours and features would factor into the playability.  Again, it puts a premium on fairway position and you learn more about that aspect of the course each time you play. 

ASIAN GOLF: The bunkers are very interesting – you seem to have drawn from Alister MacKenzie’s concept for bunkers – why so?

GN:  Yes, Royal Melbourne has always been one of my favourite courses, so MacKenzie’s work has been a huge inspiration for me since I started my design business in 1987.  

ASIAN GOLF: In the approach to the greens, there is a very noticeable area that has been “squared off”. Why is this so?

GN:  It’s a defined area where we start mowing a height of cut lower than the fairway grass to promote the bump and run shot.  The golf ball is round and meant to roll, so I like to give golfers the option of using a putter or low lofted club from well off the green.  

ASIAN GOLF: Earlier, we discussed the fact that this course is a thinking man’s course. This certainly seems to be borne out when one gets on the greens. It’s all about course management and landing one’s shots at the right spots on the greens to score. Your comments?

GN:  It certainly helps to land on defined areas where the pin may be located, but I also like to give golfers a legitimate chance to make birdie from anywhere on the putting surface.  There’s nothing I would consider severe about the contours on these greens, but at the same time there’s enough slope and definition to make you think about where you want to end up on the green when playing your shot in. 

ASIAN GOLF: The surrounding areas around the entire course look very natural – is the vegetation native to the region and if so, what are the advantages of working with native vegetation?

GN:  All the landscape material on the course is native to the area.  In fact, anything that we weren’t able to preserve was transplanted from within the site.  I’ve always been adamant about protecting and incorporating the natural character of every course we design, and it was extremely important to do that effectively on this course given the quality of the surrounding vegetation.  From the owner’s perspective, transplanting material helps us manage the overall construction costs, and it also gives us an element of control over the schedule because we’re not waiting on material to be delivered.        

ASIAN GOLF: One can’t help but notice how green and resplendent the fairways are. What turf have you used on the course?

GN:  We used Zeon Zoysia on the tees and fairways and Tif Eagle on the greens.

ASIAN GOLF: Why was Zeon Zoysia selected and what are its advantages.

GN:  The Long Thanh group actually suggested using Zeon when we were still in the planning stages, so we started looking into it then.  Zeon is a relatively new grass to the industry, but I’ve always been a big fan of the playability of Zoysia grass, so it made sense from that standpoint.  The one thing that we haven’t been able to see is how it holds up to the wear and tear of a resort course that does the number of rounds we expect to see at Cam Ranh, but we’re very optimistic based on what we’ve seen so far. 

ASIAN GOLF: From a playability standpoint, what sort of irrigation system do you have in place and how efficiently does the course drain and become playable after a heavy down-pour?

GN: We always try to use a perimeter irrigation system, which basically waters only the maintained turf with very little overthrow into the native areas. It’s extremely efficient and saves a lot of water, and with the existing soil being mostly sand based, it’s important to make sure no irrigation water is being wasted.  From a drainage standpoint, the sandy soils actually work to our advantage because the water goes straight through.  I’m pretty sure we could get 10 cm of rain out there and be playing within a few hours, which allows us to keep the playing conditions firm and fast. 

ASIAN GOLF: Notice that you have two large water catchments – is this natural or was it built into the design?

GN:  There were no existing lakes on site when we started, so we had to excavate and line each lake for water storage.  Although these man made features are a rarity on this site, we kept them in the lowest part so they would fit as naturally as possible.  

ASIAN GOLF: It looks like nothing was spared in designing this course – it is without doubt a great golf course – in fact one would not be wrong to declare it as Asia’s Number One True Links Course!

GN:  We put a great deal of our resources towards this project and I think it definitely shows in the final product.  As for the rankings, I’m a little biased where our designs are concerned, but there are so many reasons this course should be considered among the best in Asia if not all the world.  If you look at the international rankings, links courses dominate the list, and Vietnam is quickly emerging as a contender in that space because of courses like Cam Ranh.  And when the resort is built out, you’ll have a five star, world class destination within a few kilometres of a major tourism hub and international airport.  This place is going to be a real game changer for Vietnam. 
So, there you have it - sculpted from an elevated site of rolling sand dunes, the links inspired golf course will provide a world class golf experience to rival some of the very finest in the world and it will further raise the bar in terms of the quality golf experiences on offer in Vietnam.
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