On China Beach, Vietnam, reminders of the past are overshadowed by symbols of a more prosperous future. This stretch of sand was where the initial consignment of US Marines made their first fateful steps onto Indochinese soil during one of the defining conflicts of the 20th Century. And it was here that American troops goofed off between battles, drinking beer and listening to The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan as war raged a few clicks away in the jungles. To paraphrase the latter-mentioned bard, the times have certainly been ‘a’ changing in this part of Central Vietnam.
These days, the strip of land between the major city of Danang and the ancient port of Hoi An is famous for a far more contemporary form of R&R. Five star hotels and luxury real estate dominate the foreshore while world-class golf courses claim the hinterland.
Laguna Lang Co
The northernmost of the central coast layouts, Laguna Lang Co (along with its associated hotels, Banyan Tree and Angsana) is just an easy hour’s drive from Danang Airport. It is well worth making a little extra effort to visit. Threading between trees, over rice paddies and streams, through rock features and alongside the pounding surf, the course – designed by UK great Sir Nick Faldo – is tricky to categorize.
As someone who grew up playing golf on the classic links courses in Scotland, I particularly appreciate the 9th – a par-4 played alongside the beach. Equally stunning is the short 11th, played from an elevated tee to a green surrounded by rock features. The mountains encroach closest to the course at this point, with a tumbling waterfall prominent in the near distance. “It is so romantic here,” giggles my caddie Thuy as she hands me my club. It is hard to argue.
BRG Danang Golf Resort
BRG Danang Golf Resort has established itself as one of the finest clubs in Asia since debuting back in 2010. The beautifully sculpted course here is built on sandy-loam soil and winds its way through rugged dunes and funnels of long-needle pine trees. Australian legend Greg Norman, affectionately nicknamed The Great White Shark, designed the course and his creation is never anything less than killer.
The nearby Marble Mountains provide an extra dramatic visual element on holes such as the 10th, a long par-5 that meanders between epic sand dunes. Despite its proximity, the ocean only comes into view at the short 16th, and even then for just the one hole. But what a hole it is. Beyond the small, saucers shaped surface of the green, the white sand of Non Nuoc Beach pours down to the aquamarine expanse of the East Sea while the distant mountainous Cham Islands rise in green, jungle-clad bulk towards the cobalt sky.
Bana Hills Golf Club
Designed by British former world number one Luke Donald (it is his first effort as an architect), Bana Hills has proved itself worthy addition to the portfolio of excellent golf courses around Danang. Laid out in rolling foothills, the course features natural elevation changes, ravines, streams, and mountain backdrops. It provides a welcome contrast to the other three courses – all of which are located on flatter land nearer the ocean.
The front-nine – a thrilling collection of holes laid out in traditional parkland style – contains several highlights, not least the par-3 8th, a gem of a downhill short hole. The closing stretch of the course is, if anything, even better. Winding its way through the twists and turns of the surrounding hillside, this section offers outstanding vistas and golf in equal measure. The short 16th with its island green is eye-catching, but my personal favourite is the following hole – a dogleg par 4 with water guarding the green.
The first golf course to be constructed in the area remains an excellent and enjoyable test. Although designed by my fellow Scot, Ryder Cup legend Colin Montgomerie, the layout is very American in style with expansive bunkers and numerous water hazards. Special mention must go to the conditioning on the course, which is uniformly excellent.
The course squeezes in a lot of variety throughout its 18 holes. On the opening nine, the long 6th is a classic par-5 with a death or glory carry over a lake to the green on either the second or third shot.
Other stand out holes include the 12th, a striking uphill par-5 that plays towards the attractive clubhouse, the picturesque par-4 17th which showcases the best of the layout’s views towards the Marble Mountains and the long, bunker-strewn closing hole.