A new course for Vietnam

Vietnam comes as a shock to the system, like moving from the cold plunge to the steam room, only that journey does not take 12 hours plus a two hour layover and a connecting flight.  Nor do many people attempt golf in the Turkish bath.

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“Instead of a drinks cart, maybe we should have an iced shirt cart going round the course,” said Sir Nick Faldo, who marched in with his entourage for the launch of a terrific new golf course, Laguna Lang Co, an hour north of Danang, and treated us all to a short game masterclass and the well rehearsed routine of his new – relatively new, anyway – outgoing, wisecracking persona.

An interesting moment of double confidentiality occurred when Faldo was talking about his knighthood and the investiture, and joked about things The Queen might have asked him – ‘and what did one say to Greg?’ – both conversations of course being bound by conventions of strictest secrecy.  I now realise the question I would like to ask is not ‘what did you say to Greg?’ but ‘when did you start thinking about what you were going to say to Greg?’  He might answer that, and it might be quite revealing.

Seriously for a moment, Faldo said he struggled not to ‘say something stupid’ – a joke, in other words – when he had The Palace on the phone sounding him out about the honour.  I’m sure we all know people who suffer from a compulsion to make funny remarks the whole time.  The reflex is tiresome, and I’m sure a psycho-analyst would find plenty to analyse in Faldo.

DSCF0870 (391x640)“It’s as if he’s acting out his own life,” said someone who spent several hours walking the course with Faldo and a camera crew.

But he is extremely good at his work, and if I was itching to spend ten million on a new golf course I would try to enlist his help.  I was interested to learn that before taking up golf he was a carpet fitter.  Is it facile to imagine a connection with laying down fairways?

What to make of the advent of golf to Vietnam?  The doors were opened to investors about 10 years ago, they now have about 30 golf courses and plan to increase that to 90 over the next ten years.  (Thailand currently on 200+).   I have read of graveyards and villages being moved away from the coast to make room for new resorts and golf courses; and stones being thrown at golfers by resentful refugees in a 21st century cod-reenactment of earlier conflict.  We saw none of this: not a single unsmiling face among the many hundreds of caddies, lawn cutters, window shiners, bag carriers, receptionists, waitresses.  Their friendliness and welcoming charm seemed sincere enough, but interaction with luxury resort personnel is hardly Route 1 to the heart of a nation.

Hoi An, the Passeggiata

Hoi An, the Passeggiata

We went to the much lauded ancient city of Hoi An – recipient of Wanderlust magazine’s latest World’s Best City award – and had our shirts tugged this way and that by sellers of not terribly cheap tat.  Being top of the pops with Wanderlust, as well as being given a UNESCO World Heritage lapel badge to wear, may have turned Hoi An’s head.

Where you from? England?  Lovely Jubbly.  You my first customer. Special Price. Happy Hour.   At least the caddies have been educated not to say ‘lovely jubbly’ when you hole a putt.

It might be interesting to pretend to be French, German or American at different souvenir stalls, and see what they say to that. Ça plane pour moi,  Vorsprung durch Technik and In the hole! perhaps.  If there is a next time, I will try to research this and report back.

They say you can tell a lot about people from the way they treat animals – as my dogs have frequent occasion to remind me.  On the return flight I got chatting about this to a venomous-reptile expert, formerly of the Komodo Dragon department of London Zoo, and now on secondment to a wildlife rescue near Hanoi.   Her mission there is to save bears kept in cages and kitchen cupboards and milked for gall bladder bile.   The bears have no room to move inside their cages, because that way they are easier to milk.  One who escaped recently ate her own cub and then committed suicide by charging head first into a wall.

“The Vietnamese simply have no concept of animal welfare,” she told me, recalling with distaste the sight of children and grown-ups laughingly throwing rocks at tigers in the zoo – perhaps confusing them with golfers.  (Sorry: pointless joke reflex).

Nor are tourists blameless, it would seem.  “Westerners think it’s cool to come to Vietnam and eat dog,” said the snake lady.   The airport shops are full of crocodile skin shoes and handbags and if villagers cut open live snakes, remove the heart and drink the blood with rice wine, they do it because these events are on Lonely Planet backpackers’ to-do lists.

Maybe golf tourism is not such a bad thing.


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