CANCUN, Mexico -- The International Association of Golf Travel Operators (IAGTO) has named Vietnam its 2007 “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year.” The announcement capped the organization’s annual Awards Gala Dec. 6, here at the Gran Melia Hotel.
The award was a crowning moment in a pivotal golf year for Vietnam. Development of the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, launched July 1, signaled a coming-of-age for the country’s international golf standing. A month later, representatives of the VN golf community met in Hanoi to form the Vietnam Golf Association (VGA), the country's first such governing body.
“We used to think of ourselves as the golf world’s best-kept secret,” said Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Chu, General Secretary of the VGA, “but with the announcement of this award, the secret is out. Vietnam is ready for the big time.”
The IAGTO was set up in 1997 as a representative body for a number of the world’s leading golf tour operators. By 2007, IAGTO had more than 900 member companies in 72 countries. The “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year” award, administered by the IAGTO, is announced each year as part of the International Golf Travel Market, the golf travel industry’s annual trade show.
However, the “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year” award itself is voted upon by 85 members of the International Golf Travel Writers Association (IGTWA). These journalists are charged with identifying the world’s one golf destination they consider to be the foremost “undiscovered gem,” based on the following criteria:
• To what extent the destination is “undiscovered”
• Qualities that make it an interesting golf destination
• Attractiveness of the region and courses
• Course quality and accessibility
• Standard of accommodation
• Friendliness of the staff
• Value for the money
• Speed of play
Recent winners of the “Undiscovered” honor include British Columbia, Canada, home to the famed Whistler resorts; Wales, host of the 2010 Ryder Cup; and New Zealand, where some of the world’s top new courses have been developed, including Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers.
The following international golf destinations were nominated for 2007: Abu Dhabi, Alabama (USA), Alberta (Canada), Aruba, Azores (Portugal), Bali, Brazil, Brunei, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, India, Italian Lakes, Kenya, Louisiana (USA), Madiera/Porto Santo (Portugal), Montana (USA), New South Wales (Australia), Newfoundland (Canada), Northern Territories (Australia), Nova Scotia (Canada), Oregon (USA), Piedmont (Italy), Prince Edward Island (Canada), Sicily (Italy), Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tasmania (Australia), Trinidad & Tobago, US Virgin Islands, Venetia-Tarvisiano (Italy), Vermont (USA), Vietnam, Virginia (USA).
From these nominees, six 2007 finalists for “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year” were chosen: Abu Dhabi, Costa Rica, Italian Lakes, Kenya, Oregon and Vietnam.
“We are thrilled that tour operators and golf writers worldwide have recognized that the standard of golf here — and the quality of accommodations, and the ease of travel — are world class,” said Lars Holden, general manager at Chi Linh Star Golf and Country Club, one of three Vietnamese golf clubs to host an Asian PGA Tour event (2004 and 2005 Carlsberg Masters). “It’s true that Vietnam golf has matured a great deal in a relatively short period of time. The golf here hasn’t been ignored, but I think its new prominence is the result of several important factors all coming together at the same time.”
In July 2007, seven top courses joined forces and formed the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail (www.hochiminhgolftrail.com ), a marketing cooperative that, in the few months since its launch, has succeeded in generating news coverage in more than 100 different publications worldwide.
Thanks to tropical climes, a thousand-mile coastline and a cost of living that makes golf, lodging, food and domestic travel extremely affordable, the number of international arrivals to Vietnam increased from just 250,000 in 1990 to 3.4 million in 2005. Vietnam is the only country in Southeast Asia where international arrivals have grown ten fold over the last 10 years. Aon, one of the world's largest insurance companies, recently recognized Vietnam as one of the two safest travel destinations on Earth. For two years running, The Political Risk Consultancy has voted Vietnam “The Safest Country in Asia.”
“In this day and age, safety whilst traveling is no small matter,” said Jeff Puchalski, director of golf at the two courses — Dalat Palace Golf Club and Ocean Dunes Golf Club — readers of /Asian Golf Monthly/ magazine recently voted the best in Vietnam.
With this sort of economic and tourist-market performance, international hotel chains are flocking to Vietnam (the Inter Continental Hanoi Westlake, for example, will open Jan. 1, 2008), while Butterfield & Robinson, the world’s premier bicycle tour operator, reports that, in 2007, Vietnam passed Tuscany as the company’s most popular destination.
Currently, there are 15 golf courses operating in Vietnam, with more than 30 projects in some stage of construction. The country’s rising popularity as a golf destination mirrors similar developments for Vietnam on the world stage. In the past year, the nation has joined the World Trade Organization and its leading hotels, such as The Nam Hai in Hoi An and La Residence in Hue, have garnered international acclaim from such travel authorities as /Condé Nast Traveler/ and /Travel+Leisure/ magazines.
“It’s only natural that golf should follow suit,” said VGA Honorary President Nguyen Manh Cam, noting that where luxury hotels are developed, golf is sure to follow. Indeed, the Nam Hai opened in December 2006; its sister property, the 18-hole Montgomerie Links Vietnam, will open for play in June 2008.
The complete list of winners from the 2008 IAGTO Awards, presented in association with Hertz, included:
Golf Resort of the Year Europe: Carton House, Ireland
Golf Resort of the Year North America: Ginn Reunion Resort, Orlando, Florida
Golf Resort of the Year Rest of the World: ArabellaSheraton Western Cape, South Africa
Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year: Vietnam
Golf Destination of the Year Africa & Gulf States: Mauritius
Golf Destination of the Year Asia & Australasia: Malaysia
Golf Destination of the Year Europe: Turkey
Golf Destination of the Year Latin America & the Caribbean: Argentina
Golf Destination of the Year North America: Arizona
IAGTO Honorary Award: Annika Sorenstam
For more information on the IAGTO and its annual awards, visit www.iagto.com. For more information on golf in Vietnam, visit www.hochiminhgolftrail.com.