It’s been nearly 20 years since the Mekong River was bridged and Laos and Thailand were first connected by concrete and steel. The opening of the Friendship Bridge in early 1992 heralded a new era for this landlocked Southeast Asian nation with the ease in access having an almost overnight effect on bilateral trade and tourism. As well, golfing globe trotters discovered a new destination.
Value in Vientiane
The laidback capital of Laos – population 200,000 – has enough golden spires soaring over Buddhist temples, speciality restaurants and boutique hotels, French inspired monuments and cavernous shopping bazaars to keep visitors enthralled for days. Should you want to slip away from the pack for a ‘tee’ break, however, it doesn’t take long to reach the capital’s Vientiane Club KM 6 (tel. 856 20 570 2000)
Though you’re actually 9 km away of Vientiane‘s city centre, there&ssquo;s a forest feel to this compact 18-hole course set on a pocketbook sized parcel. The 1st hole on the 6965 metre course sets the mood with thick vegetation on both sides of the narrow fairway. If you select a caddie who can at least speak a smattering of English he will be able to provide playing tips for this hole and 17 others or even help improve your swing or putting.
If you head south of the city another golf treat awaits; set on a flat 88 ha. plot specked with teak, palm and eucalyptus just 4 km north of the bridge, the 6005 yard Youth Garden Golf Course KM 14 (tel. 856 21 812 022) is a green oasis where hundreds of business people, government officers, expats and a few tourists tee off every week.
Most players agree that the greatest challenge in playing this course – so named because the Lao Youth Union is still the landlord and young people used to come here for wholesome fun and games but not golf – is the 4th. The hole with the second longest fairway has trees that swallow golf balls and never spits them out!
A Little Slice of Heaven
Should this course be booked for a tournament on the day you want to play there’s no need to pack passport and traipse over the Friendship Bridge to a bevy of beautiful courses in northern Thailand. Laos, I discovered, has a lustrous golf gem in reserve. The only inconvenience of the Dansavanh Golf & Country Club (www.dansavanh.com) is the one hour drive from Vientiane.
Back dropped by the forested Phou Kao Kwai (Buffalo) Mountains, Dansavanh is the most distant of the city’s playgrounds. Location and style distinguish it from the other courses but there’s another lure. The golf course is the core component of the Dansavanh Nam Ngum Resort, a Malaysian owned holiday complex that features a 200 room hillside hotel and the country’s only 24 hour. It also overlooks Nam Ngum Lake, the ‘Lake Geneva of Asia’.
Nam Ngum Lake
This large body of water is not visible from the 6503 yard course though there are still plenty of other places where golf balls can go for a swim (water comes into play on 13 holes). My favourite is the deceptively attractive 17th. The stream in front of the final resting place for this 480 yarder creates the false impression of playing to an island green.
There are a number of incentives to entice players to the Dansavanh. For instance, complimentary transport can be arranged between the Dansavanh Hotel at Vientiane’s International Airport and the country course. If this sounds too good to be true then consider the surroundings. Dansavanh is a Lao word that literally translates into English as heaven.
Gold on the Greens
Completed in October 2009, the SEA Games Golf Club is the latest entrant on the country’s burgeoning golf scene. There must have been a few anxious officials looking at the calendar in the lead up to the course’s ribbon cutting ceremony because the project had to be finished in time for the many golf events surrounding the 25th SEA (South East Asian) Games in early December. (For the record, gold medals went to the Thai men’s team while ladies from the Philippines took out the top honours.)
The sporting event not only went off without a hitch it also drew substantial media coverage for the 27-hole US$15 million course built by Korea’s Boo Yang Company. Blueprinted over a 150 ha. expanse 18 km outside Vientiane, this is certainly not the last we’ll hear about this retreat from tournament players or intrepid visitors linking up with Laos.
Thomas E. King is a professional golf and travel writer based in Sydney, Australia. He is the Executive Editor of Media East Pty Ltd, a 35 year established editorial agency specialising in supplying features on cultural destinations and golf/spa resorts in the Asia/Pacific region to publications around the world.