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GOLF ATRAVEL Player’s Guide

Laguna Landing

Alex Jenkins takes an early look at Laguna Lang Co, a rugged Nick Faldo design on Vietnam’s Central Coast that is set to officially open in March 2013. Photography by Richard Castka/Sportpix International


little over two years ago, I wrote glowingly about Danang as a golf destination. And with good reason. Vietnam’s third city, situated roughly halfway up t he cou nt r y ’s leng t hy seaboard, found itself well and truly on the Asian golfing map with the completion of the wonderfully manicured Montgomerie Links and the splendid Danang Golf Club. Combine this with a growing list of truly first-rate hotels and resorts, its proximity to the charming old town of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site,

a stunning coastline and a laid-back, easy-tonavigate city, the place was really very agreeable – and, unlike, say Phuket, excitingly free from mass tourism and therefore exotic to boot. But just as importantly, the two courses themselves represented a significant step in the right direction from an architectural point of view. Abutting the famed and historic sands of China Beach and laid over rolling, dune-filled terrain framed by scrubby wastes and native shrubs and grasses, the golf here is about as far removed from the cookie-cutter layouts (replete with ghastly cheek-by-jowl “mini-mansions”

The artfully bunkered seventh hole, a short par-4, at Laguna Lang Co 68

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HK Golfer・DEC 2012


Like all world-class courses it’s the quality and diverse nature of the site that the six-time Major champion and his team have worked with that puts Laguna Lang Co firmly in this category.

Clockwise from top: things get a little rocky at the par-3 11th; a mountainous backdrop awaits at the 10th; the splendid par-3 eighth hole, surely one of the great short holes in Asian golf 70

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lining the fairways) that have become standard fare at many new developments in this part of the world. While Montgomerie Links was, and remains, unashamedly modern in scope, Danang, the work of Greg Norman and lead designer Harley Kruse, is a real throwback, with natural, blown-out bunkering and firm and fast playing surfaces. It very quickly became my favourite course in Southeast Asia. How long Danang retains this highly coveted position remains to be seen, however, because now the region has a third course – the Nick Faldo-designed Laguna Lang Co – and, while it won’t officially open until March, it already has all the makings of something very special indeed. Wedged between the imposing mountains of Bach Ma National Park and the crashing surf of the South China Sea at Lang Co Bay, about an hour’s drive from both Danang and the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hue, the club’s setting is blissfully – and luxuriously – remote. As the course is the centrepiece of the Laguna Lang Co resort, which, when fully developed, will comprise upwards of six low-rise hotels

containing some 2,000 rooms, there will soon be no shortage of accommodations to choose from, although the recently opened Banyan Tree, with its 49 all-pool villas (see Trip Planner sidebar) and an array of fine dining and opulent amenities, must surely be considered, even at this stage, to be one of the country’s most exclusive stays. While the integrated nature of the resort is an advantage, it isn’t what makes Faldo’s creation exceptional. Like all world-class courses it’s the quality and diverse nature of the site that the sixtime Major champion and his team have worked with that puts Laguna Lang Co firmly in this category. Incorporating sand dunes, rice paddies and exposed rock formations, this undulating tract of land lends itself to golf in the same way the linkslands of the British Isles and Melbourne’s sandbelt do. The captivating coastline, which hoves into view most prominently around the turn of this traditional out-and-back layout, and tropical peaks that rise grandly to the south of the property add a visual splendour that brings to mind some of the more spectacular vantages of the Hawaiian Islands. Simply put, Laguna Lang Co adds another magnificent dimension to Vietnam’s Central Coast golf experience, an experience that, as word gets out, will surely be savoured by more and more visitors from Hong Kong and beyond. HKGOLFER.COM

Faldo is unlike many player-architects in the amount of input he has on the design projects that bear his name. It’s no secret that many courses around the world simply pay for a notable professional’s signature, while the pro himself has really had little to do with the project itself save cutting a ribbon at the grand opening. But Faldo is different. Since retiring from a full playing schedule, the Englishman has built up a flourishing course design business and is very hands-on at every stage of the process. When he’s not busy commentating on PGA Tour events – another sphere of the game in which he has built up an excellent reputation – he’ll often drop in unannounced at his courses to cast an expert eye over proceedings. Faldo loves little more than discussing architecture – I once listened to him speak nonstop for 10 minutes at a press conference after a mainland Chinese journalist asked him what he thought made a good golf course – and alongside his lead architect, South African Paul Jansen, Faldo has produced a highly strategic layout that flies in the face of what resort courses have come to mean. Resort golf usually allows players – in this case, resort guests – to ease themselves into their rounds with an easy opening hole. But this is no ordinary resort course and Faldo prefers to reward those who arrive at the first tee with their game in some semblance of shape. As a result, the first at Laguna Lang Co is a meaty par-4 which features water running down the entire right flank before cutting in towards the green. It’s not a beast – the HKGOLFER.COM

landing area is generous – but most will be happy enough to walk away with away with just the one dropped shot. The opening stretch – holes one thru four – is routed inland and, while the massive, rumpled greens give an indication of what’s in store, this is also the most water-strewn section of the course. It was, for me at least, the least enjoyable run – quite possibly because I failed to take advantage of the club’s excellent practice ground beforehand, but mostly because what comes next is so good. The fifth, a mid-length par-3 featuring large mounds around the green that mirror the mountain in the background, is the first of four standout one-shotters and where Faldo’s artfully rugged bunkering shows its teeth. While not everyone will agree with the mounds – they’re an example of the few obviously man-

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But Faldo is different. Since retiring from a full playing schedule, the Englishman has built up a flourishing course design business and is very hands-on at every stage of the process. When he's not busy commentating on PGA Tour events – another sphere of the game in which he has built up an excellent reputation – he'll often drop in unannounced at his courses to cast an expert eye over proceedings.


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made elements on this most natural of tracks – they’re fun in their way and stimulate debate. It also shows that Faldo can be a bit quirky, which comes as something of a surprise to those who watched him – head down, blinkers on – during his playing heyday of the late 80s and 90s. After two fine short par-4s that lead you closer to the beachfront and can be tackled off the tee with anything from driver to six-iron – such is the array of options available – comes the wonderful par-3 eighth. Not long at a shade over 160 yards from the championship tee, the eighth features a green that sits on a natural ridgeline and is protected at the front by great swathes of sand. It’s beautifully framed by casuarina trees and, with the sandy scrub punishing anything underhit, wouldn’t look completely out of place at Pine Valley. It really is that special. This is something that can also be said of the very next hole, the 9th, another brilliant short par-4, that plays alongside the beach to a green betwixt the dunes. The back-nine heads back inland and is every bit as memorable. The 10th calls for an aggressive drive over a sand hill to leave an approach to a stream-fronted green, while the bunkerless 11th is a short yet potentially lethal par-3 with a narrow putting surface that is protected by giant boulders on two sides. The fun continues throughout, reaching a crescendo at the 16th, with its plateau green and sharp fall-off, the 17th, where the ideal drive must challenge the out-ofbounds down the right, and the mighty par-5 closing hole, where sandy splashes punctuate the landing areas and green complex. Call me old-fashioned but it’s refreshing to note that Laguna Lang Co, even from the back tees, measures less than 7,000 yards and plays to a par of 71. Having been fed on what feels like a never-ending diet of lengthy “championship” HKGOLFER.COM

tracks, all with a standard par of 72, across the border in mainland China, playing a brandnew (indeed, yet-to-be-opened) course that has been designed for the able amateur, rather than the mega-hitting tour pro, is a joy. It’s not that distance isn’t rewarded – certainly the longer player will, as is right, hold the advantage at the 15th and 18th, the two longest holes on the course – but that isn’t the only way to play here. Strategic acumen over the bomb and gouge approach can prevail. Once the course has fully grown in and the final sculpting of the bunkers is complete, Laguna Lang Co, if its owners ever felt the need, could easily host elite tournament play. One thinks that the wind that rips in off the ocean and swirls around the property, combined with the course’s fast-running and contoured greens would combat any really low scoring. Faldo has done what every architect sets out to do but precious few really achieve – produce a world-class course that can be enjoyed by all but still presents a challenge to those in the very top echelons of the game. Clockwise from top: luxurious accommodations at one of the Banyan Tree Laguna Lang Co’s pool villas; a twin look at the gorgeous par-4 ninth hole, with its beachside green location

TRIP PLANNER GREEN FEES Resort guests (Weekday/Weekend): HK$580-758 Visitors (Weekday/Weekend): HK$684-906 Caddie Booking Fee: HK$40 Cart Fee: HK$260 Note: The recommended caddie tip is VND250,000, which is approximately HK$100

COURSE INFO Yardage: 6,958 Par: 71 Fairway Grass: Zoysia Manila Green Grass: Bermuda TifEagle Designed by Faldo Design

WHERE TO STAY Eventually, Laguna Lang Co will be home to six upmarket hotels, but on completion of phase one (scheduled for March 2013), the accommodation options will include the already-opened Banyan Tree, comprising 49 all-pool villas, and the Angsana, a low-rise, fivestar resort with some 200 rooms and suites. Aimed at the well-heeled and sophisticated


traveller, the Banyan Tree has been designed to celebrate the opulence of Vietnamese dynasties past and each villa features traditional Vietnamese architectural elements, finishes and furnishings. Vietnam’s Central Coast is not short of luxurious resorts – the coastal road to the south of Danang is lined with numerous examples – but the Banyan Tree Laguna Lang Co looks set to raise the bar even further.

GETTING THERE At the time of press, visitors from Hong Kong must transit through either Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi airport in order to connect with regular Vietnam Airlines flights to Danang (one hour). Vietnam Airlines and Dragonair both offer daily flights to Hanoi (one hour, 45 minutes), while Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific both run services to Ho Chi Minh City (two hours, 15 minutes). A direct flight to Danang from Hong Kong has long been rumoured, and it is thought – but not yet confirmed – that Dragonair will commence the route in early 2013. The transfer from Danang’s new airport terminal to Laguna Lang Co takes one hour.

CONTACTS Laguna Lang Co Golf Club Banyan Tree Laguna Lang Co Angsana Lang Co Vietnam Airlines Dragonair

HK Golfer・DEC 2012