One of my golfing heroes, Greg Norman, was going to be there. The designer of The Bluffs, his second course in Vietnam, here was my chance to meet him. Not that I expected to have the chance to talk to him — seeing him in the flesh and attending a press conference was going to be enough. Still, just having him there was a thrill. In the golfing world Norman is royalty.
Bring it On
Put up at the Ho Tram Grand, the enormous Las Vegas-style resort complex replete with a casino, the first evening was given up to a pool party and a buffet with live entertainment from well-known model and DJ, Angie Vu Ha. Of course the standard speeches came as part of the package. The audience was introduced to the various executives behind the project and naturally Greg Norman was on hand to say a few words.
We were lucky. In the afternoon the monsoon had unleashed its full force on the coastline of Ho Tram. But by early evening the clouds had cleared, setting up the evening for what turned out to be an enjoyable event.
Norman’s presence, though, was minimal. He had his table. He arrived an hour late and contact with him was impossible. I had managed to get permission to go on a walkway splitting the kidney-shaped pool to take photos of the on-stage entertainment. Yet once Norman arrived I was quickly removed from my vantage point by his minder — a huge American guy who I guess travels everywhere with him. It was eventually worked out and I was allowed back on the platform. That was the closest I got.
The second day was our entourage of guests and journalists’ introduction to The Bluffs. It started with speeches — we were told what had been involved in transforming this sandy, hilly outcrop into the golf course that is.
The Bluffs has been built with full respect for the land’s natural topography. The course designers and Norman himself have worked hard to avoid the typical environmental issues that can come with the construction of golf courses. Ho Tram is an ecologically delicate area. Here the ecology has, as much as possible, been left intact.
One of the issues was getting the right grass so that it wouldn’t affect the natural landscape. Strategic lakes have also been placed within the course — all the water feeds into the lakes and is purified and re-used. Already this is ticking the right boxes.
When the course was landscaped, a helicopter surveyed it from above to pinpoint a particular indigenous type of tree that only grows in this area. When other more commonly found trees were cut down to create the course, they were cut down by hand so as to not disturb the indigenous species. More ticks.
With the speeches finished, four pro golfers were lucky enough to play the course. They were introduced — two of them were Vietnamese women. These were the first four people to officially go round all 18 holes.
The day was rounded off by a tour of the property — the casino, the private rooms, the spa, all the facilities. I had expected the gaudy side of Las Vegas when the place was described to me, but it was anything but. The place is surprisingly elegant, even down to the handpicked artwork hung on the resort’s many walls. Going from living in the less developed end of District 1 to being in such a place was quite a shock.
The day was then rounded off by a gala dinner in the hotel ballroom and a Greg Norman televised interview with Fox Sports Singapore.
The Press Conference
On the last day we finally got our chance to pose questions to Greg Norman. Here’s a clippet of what he said.
Me: What were your learning experiences from establishing your golf course in Danang versus what you established here?
Greg Norman: Every site is different. Danang was so unique and it’s right on China Beach. Danang and the history of what happened there so many decades ago. And I thought that was a great site, too. But it was a totally different feel, a totally different walk and a totally different product that came down out of the ground.
The beautiful part about here, I came here in 2006, it’s been an eight-year process. Now eight years may seem like a very long time, but we had to take into account government regulations and approvals. It’s not a long period of time. Where the important bond really exists is between the developer and the designer. Because if you stretch a project over that period of time you have to a have a belief and support structure in place to make sure that we all see the end goal. Whatever that end is in time lines, we’ve seen our end goal, we’ve seen our renderings and land planning. We actually believe in it.
Part of it is my responsibility to get the officials to get water here and infrastructure in here, to give us the capabilities to build this golf course and allow them to see five years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the line that this is going to happen. So eight years seems like it’s a long time, but it’s not quite honestly.
So when you come into a country like Vietnam, the experiences I learned, like in Danang are just that. There is a process of time that takes place and then educating the guys up here about that process of golf course design helps them lay out their land and time frames of construction and completion. Because you pretty much want them both done at the same time. They did a fantastic job here and got this all done in 15 to 18 months to where we are today
Me: So you pretty much have a kick ass development team?
Greg Norman: Excuse me?
Me: I said you must have a pretty kick ass development team?
Greg Norman: Oh yeah, we pretty much do. You should really speak up louder when you say something that complimentary. [laughter throughout the room].
More information on The Bluffs click on thebluffshotram.com