That Ho Chi Minh would have much preferred American/capitalist backing to Soviet/communist backing may come as some surprise to many Westerners. But the record’s pretty clear. A year after delivering his famous speech from Saigon’s Opera House steps — declaring independence from French colonial rule (and borrowing liberally and deliberately from the U.S. Declaration of Independence) — Ho’s 1946 letter to President Harry Truman, appealing to the U.S. for support in throwing off the yoke of French occupation, is not so famous. But it should be. Truman’s decision not to acknowledge its receipt had serious consequences. The U.S. backed a colonial power over an indigenous people, Ho turned sharply left out of necessity, and the rest is history.
It’s a stretch to look for any such historical symbolism in the naming of Decision 1946, the golf course development guidelines issued by the Vietnamese Government back in 2009. The status of golf development in Vietnam had been queered somewhat up to that point, mainly by lingering land-use, environmental and economic issues that were punctuated and inflamed by an October 2009 story in The New York Times that furthered a whole host of unsubstantiated rumors and flat-out misinformation.
But Decision 1946 is looking pretty good today. It wiped away all the ambiguity. It made clear the obligations every course developer must meet going forward. Eight years ago, when it was issued, it seemed rather pie in the sky frankly. At that time, there were perhaps 20 courses operating in the country. Decision 1946 didn’t just lay out development guidelines; it forecast and capped the number of golf courses to be built in Vietnam at 88. It also detailed where they should be built.
At the time, we close observers of the VN golf scene (by that time, Mandarin Media had created the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, a marketing cooperative that included a dozen of the country’s best tracks) rolled our eyes just a bit. There’s some pie in the sky, we said to ourselves. Who is ever going to build that many courses here?
Well, plenty of folks, apparently. According to tour operator Golf Asian, there are 35 courses now operating in country with some 65 (not a typo) in various stages of development. Vietnam has some serious transportation/infrastructure issues still to overcome and carting golfing tourists around more efficiently is unlikely to be a priority. Like all emerging golf nations, it has struggled to build a native playing population on the order of Thailand’s. But in terms of developing of new courses, it is the hottest market in Asia, perhaps the world.
Which brings me to the photo that leads this blog item. Back in the early 1990s, I was editor-in-chief at Golf Course News, a business journal that covered the golf course industry in North America. In 1993, we launched Golf Course News Asia-Pacific and supported it with many a trip to the now-defunct, Singapore-based trade show, Golf Asia. In 1996, on the way home from Singapore, I made my first visit to Vietnam and played Nick Faldo’s design at Ocean Dunes in coastal Phan Thiet, near Mui Ne. The course was so new the cups had not yet been cut. Superintendent Chris Gray was my host; I crashed at his place after we played the golf course and went to dinner at some fabulous local seafood place. Chris would go on to grow-in dozens of golf course projects across Asia for IMG. Today’s he’s international sales & marketing manager at Rain Bird. Chris has done pretty darned well for himself in the golf business. So, it seems, has Vietnam.