A new golf course overlooking Ha Long Bay in Vietnam is progressing well, with the grassing phase now having been completed.
Designed by Schmidt-Curley Design and being developed by FLC Group, the new course is being created on a site overlooking the impressive Ha Long Bay – a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Architect Brian Curley spoke to GCA about the new course and what golfers can expect.
“The course is a par 71, playing about 6,800 yards,” Curley says. “During construction, we encountered a number of property line changes and had to adjust on the fly. Ironically, we inherited some land over the upper ridge that allowed the monster views of the bay from holes twelve and thirteen that we previously did not have.”
Curley says that the site’s topography offered little in the way of ‘existing’ holes, and that the holes he and the project team have created play mainly through low valleys or along the top of ridges, connected by holes on the side of hills which required a lot of rough grading. Despite the trick site, Curley believes he has created a very playable course.
“I think this course is a great example of one that is quite playable, but considerably more difficult from the back tees,” Curley explains. “The forward tees are set up with few forced carries, but the back tees require some strong play with a combination of forced carries and uphill inclines at tougher angles.”
Due to the site’s significant elevation changes, Curley admits there are some long green-to-tee connections, but felt it more important to create ‘good, playable holes’.
“There was never a consideration that this would be a walkable course, especially given the elevation change and what can be very warm days in this part of the world,” Curleys says. “With regards to the elevation changes, I tried to stick to my system of playing uphill no more than 10 metres per shot, and downhill no more than 20 metres per shot. Given my past experience with Mission Hills, I have never been worried about difficult properties and knew from the beginning we would create a great course.”
“I have found that the uphill shots that exceed this number render holes almost unplayable for many players, especially seniors who generate a very low ball flight. I also tried my best to stick to a maximum 10 per cent slope – be that a cross slope or downhill or uphill slope – in any fairway areas. Anything past that will see balls coming back to your feet!”
For numerous reasons, Curley selected a formal bunker style for the course.
“I didn’t want to compete with the impressive bay views with bunkering that was excessive and said ‘look at me’,” Curley says. “People come to Ha Long Bay to see the rock formations and this was always the driving force in setting up views. Also, the site is not some sandy property, and to create a faux sandy expanse look would be out of place on what is a severe, rocky, clay-based site. Furthermore, given the sometimes extreme rainfall, the bunkering needed to be smaller in scale and grass faced to avoid repeated washouts. There was also plenty of extreme angle created with landforms that drop off quickly. The limited fairway did not need to be rendered too tight by adding more bunkering.”
“While the bunkering in general is more formal, there are numerous cases where we transition the outside edge so the turf lines take on a more natural and irregular shape, and the native slopes bleed into the holes.”
In terms of the course’s specific highlights, a number of holes stand out for Curley.
“The tenth is a short, drivable par four with a strong forced carry at an angle for those willing to take it on,” he says. “Playing slightly uphill, the green is narrow and builds up at the rear, but has a hidden, large feeder slope from the right side that players will happily see sending their ball rolling at the hole.”
“The 120-yard twelfth hole is a par three with a monstrous view of the bay,” Curley says. “The green has a negative back edge but incorporates a slight backstop in the green surface and a step over the centre line bunker to a lower lobe. I decided to keep bunkers small to not compete with the view, and incorporated a lot of turf so that vegetation will not grow up and block views. I have to say that Martin Moore of Flagstick Golf Course Construction Management offered excellent construction management, and helped make these holes so special.”
With Ha Long Bay being one of Vietnam’s most visited destinations, Curley is confident that the new course will be very successful.
“This course is in the middle of the city and will be easily reached for visitors to Ha Long Bay,” he adds. “I expect it to hold its own in terms of a golf experience and, given the location and views, believe it will become one of the most desired courses to play in Vietnam.”