Hanoi Revisted

Stone Valley GC Hanoi
Stone Valley GC (Supplied)

In the past we have looked at the growth phenomenon golf is experiencing in Vietnam, specifically around the nation’s capital, Hanoi, and reviewed three new additions to its ever-increasing list of courses.

A recent return visit to this wonderful city provided the opportunity to look at other new golf resort developments in the region and also check out one of the ‘oldies’. However, Hanoi just isn’t about golf! It offers a much more as a tourism destination.

Hanoi is a city of great colour, culture and history. A city of diversity and contrasts – the colonial architecture of the bustling Old Quarter juxtaposed with the modern more spacious streets and buildings of the new commercial and residential areas.

A city with a vibrant nightlife – the markets, restaurants and entertainment – and it’s well served with excellent hotels too, from the big international brands to the charming boutiques.

It is also a city with ambition and vision which will become manifestly apparent in April 2020 when Lewis Hamilton et al, take to its streets in the inaugural Vietnam F1 Grand Prix.

Significantly, Hanoi also serves as the gateway to Ha Long Bay and Sapa- two of the country’s major tourism drawcards – as well the many spectacular national parks and places of historical importance within its neighbouring provinces.

Lining the routes to these amazing attractions, and to most of the golf clubs/resorts too, are the, often overlooked, rural communes- the xã. Steeped in tradition – some might say the ‘Old Vietnam’ – they still, collectively, produce much of the nation’s food and from small individual holdings.

Some of these communities now also benefit from the presence their new neighbours, the golf courses (which are permitted to be built only on the marginal unproductive land) as employment opportunities are offered –often including training and education and, in some instances, housing too. A win-win situation surely.

My travels on this visit took me to all points of the compass, firstly to the South.

Stone Valley GC

Hidden away in a seemingly remote valley in the hauntingly picturesque Ha Nam province, is perhaps one of Vietnam’s best kept golfing secrets.

Opening in August 2018, the aptly named Stone Valley Golf Resort represents the Truong An Golf Company’s maiden development and they’ve produced something quite special.

The astutely chosen 200 ha site lies within the popular tourist district of Tam Chuc and comprises a landscape diverse as it is dramatic. A labyrinthine network of streams, a patchwork of lakes, mature indigenous forests and exposed rock in various formations all set against backdrops of sheer faced, richly vegetated, mountainous landforms redolent of Ha Long Bay – Tam Chuc is often described as Ha Long Bay on land.

This challenging topographical potpourri has been expertly incorporated into the course design by acclaimed American architect Brian Curley.

The layout consists of two contrasting nines (a third nine is due to open next year), the first meanders along the valley floor weaving around water and beds of rock resembling prehistoric lava flows with the second nine offering more potential drama with abrupt changes of elevation and pronounced contours.

Hence the most spectacular holes, notably 13 and the superb 16th, are found heading back to the ‘eye-catching’ superbly appointed clubhouse.

However, there really isn’t a nondescript hole on the course and although the variably shaped greens offer multiple challenges and danger lurks in many guises if you stray from the ample fairways, it’s a fun golf course to play.

There are four tee positions, from 6644mts to 4154mts, catering for all skill levels.

While very much in its nascent state, Stone Valley is maturing nicely and already has the appearance of a course which belies its youth. It’s well worth the 90min journey from the city, even just for the scenery.

Furthermore, stay and play options will soon become available when the villas, now under construction, are completed.

Currently, 12 holes are floodlit for night play.

Stone Valley GC Hanoi
Stone Valley GC (Supplied)

Yen Dung GC

When four University of Hawaii MBA graduates, set up a Hanoi based real estate development business in 2011, the escalating popularity of golf in their homeland represented a cornerstone of their business plan.

In August 2017 the Yen Dung Golf Resort officially opened thus becoming a realisation of that strategy, promptly receiving accolades from Vietnam Golf Magazine for its F&B service and its ‘Challenging’ golf course.

Located 55kms to the East of the capital, in the fertile Bac Giang province, the 190ha property is perched within the foothills of the historically and spiritually significant Nham Bien Mountains. With 18 holes (The Hillside Course) already in play, the master plan is for a total of 36 holes interspersed with 140 villas, some of which are well under construction. A hotel and spa are also in the mix.

The ‘Hillside’ course is aptly named as it skirts precariously around variably contoured hill country with the occasional swoop into valleys comprising pockets of dense vegetation and the odd pond, both of which will swallow your ball with indecent ease should you stray, even marginally, offline.

Yen Dung Hanoi
Yen Dung Hanoi (Supplied)

You have to play this course with some intricacy – holes 9, 15 &18 still linger in the mind – but you can’t be shy off the tee either, notably on the dry throat inducing 2nd. There are four tee options. A sensible choice is advised.

Challenged by the topography, the designers have also had to consider the ‘neighbourhood’, to their credit, the shareholders have approached the development with a commitment to a collaborative co-existence with the local farmers while also maintaining an ethos reflecting their own Vietnamese roots.

The well-appointed, functional clubhouse specifically incorporates strong traditional architectural influences while the delightful par three 4th -named the ‘Turtle’ (reflected by the clever pattern of greenside bunkering) – further embraces the indigenous theme – The Turtle is a much-revered creature in Vietnamese folklore.

Although a private facility, Yen Dung welcomes visitors. The relatively short one hour journey takes you to a quite unique golf course immersed in a delightful photogenic environment. Night golf is also available for nine holes.

Tam Dao GC

Now to the North, for 65kms! where one of the oldest clubs within Hanoi’s extended reach sits comfortably within the fringes of the scenic Tam Dao National Park and in the shadow of the mountain range of the same name.

Somewhat incongruously, the golf club was built by the government (which still retains majority ownership through its Housing & Urban Development Corp), IMG were given the design brief and the first nine holes opened for play in 2005, the remaining nine followed in 2007.

Being an ‘older’ facility, and 14 years is almost geriatric in terms of Vietnamese golf courses, the place has an appealing mature appearance. It’s a pretty golf course. The thoughtful landscaping blends well with the ‘Parkland’ style of the property while trees, of various exotic species, provide some welcome shade and just enough vertical definition to most holes without being obtrusive.

Each nine has a distinctly different character. The first being on higher ground with more elevational changes and having a somewhat secluded feel, while the homeward nine is comparatively flat and open with several holes being up close and personal to a large central lake.

Tam Dao GC hanoi
Tam Dao GC (Supplied)

There is variety across the entire layout though including some excellent holes – 4, 11 and 14 are highlights.

At 5400mts off the white tees, it’s comparable to many club courses in NZ and is very manageable for players of all skill levels. The Blue and Gold tees will stretch the low handicappers.

While it perhaps doesn’t have the spit and polish (it does get a lot of traffic) of some of the other courses within reach from Hanoi, the standard of presentation was fine when I visited.

The smallish tricky greens putted well and I didn’t encounter a bad lie on the roomy fairways. My only quibble is that the cart paths tend to take you on a journey some distance from the line of the hole.

Allowing carts on the fairways would certainly facilitate quicker play.

The multi-level clubhouse, curious in design but comfortable, offers 32 rooms for overnight stays – ideal after a game under the floodlights. A gym and pool are also available.

Hilltop Valley GC

Just a brief note on this course which I visited in 2018 (reviewed in June) when it was very much in its infancy and play was somewhat restricted.

Having now had the opportunity to give all 18 holes the ‘full once over’ just further confirmed the initial impression that Hilltop Valley GC is spectacular but certainly not for the faint-hearted.

The views from the high points on the course are breathtaking emphasising the extreme elevation changes. You’ll think ‘how did they build a golf course here?’ and there’s another nine holes on the way, even more ‘mountainous’ in nature.

The first nine does have a sense of normality about it though, the 5th hole is a personal favourite, and there’s an excellent clubhouse and friendly staff to offer you some refreshment afterwards.

If you want to play somewhere truly remarkable while visiting Hanoi, head West for about 70kms and be ready to take some photos. Oh, and chose your tee markers wisely!

Hilltop Valley GC
Hilltop Valley GC (Supplied)

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