KN Golf Links Cam Ranh, Greg Norman's third course in Vietnam and his 104th worldwide, is a new resort destination being developed along a wonderful 8-kilometre stretch of coastline less than an hour’s flight northeast from Ho Chi Minh City.
The course is located at the southernmost end of a long and gently curving sandy sweep, interrupted only by a naturally rugged headland where the height of the terrain allows for a number of remarkable viewpoints.
The fairways are routed around many of those elevated positions and two of the designer’s favourites are at the 10th and 15th holes, a pair of par fours that play downhill toward the ocean and three small islands located just offshore.
Managed by IMG, KN Golf Links Cam Ranh is the third golf facility developed by KN Investment Group Chairman Le Van Kiem, whose company also owns and operates Long Thanh Golf Club near Ho Chi Minh City and Long Vien Golf Club in Vientiane, Laos.
“There is a reason Greg Norman Golf Course Design is recognized as the premier signature golf course design firm in the world,” said Mr. Kiem, “and his design philosophy of ‘least disturbance’ has given golfers so many world-class courses.”
The architect himself is also pleased with the layout: “The scale and natural topography of the property lends itself beautifully to a great variety of golf holes. It plays links because there’s a lot of up and down and natural contouring to the layout (and) it’s a lot of fun.”
General manager Simon Mees supplied us with the following:
The toughest hole on the card is the par four 5th. It measures 541 yards from the Shark tee (back tee) and generally plays into the prevailing wind, with the golfer facing a daunting tee shot over water which then runs the full length of the hole on the left side.
Having negotiated the drive safely, the golfer is then faced with a tight approach to a green guarded by water on the left and a bunker on the right with a gap of around 15 yards to feed any low shots through if the player is unable to fly an approach shot all the way to the green.
Once on the putting surface, you are then faced with one of the trickiest greens on the course as there are some daunting undulations to contend with. All in all, this is a testing hole that many high handicappers might opt to play as a three-shot hole in order to happily walk off with a bogey 5.
Although we don’t really like the phrase “signature hole” – as we feel that we have eighteen signature holes which golfers will remember – if we have to single out one it would be the 386-yard par four 15th hole.
Standing on the tee, golfers can marvel at the view with the hole laid out below them and the South Sea and accompanying islands on the horizon. Due to the elevation change from tee to green, the hole might not play as long as its yardage would suggest but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easy hole.
A dramatic dune bunker runs the full length of the hole and a well-placed drive is essential if you are to take advantage of the shorter distance on this hole. Remember too, playing into the prevailing wind will potentially hinder your progress, so take nothing for granted on this little beauty.
This is another strong linksland project from the Shark. With 5 sets of tees and multiple options on many holes, KN Golf Links provides a stern test but is playable for most. The site overlooks Cam Ranh Bay, with some stunning views from many places on the course. But the course is set far inland on a mostly unremarkable stretch of sandy scrubland. Norman managed to get the most out of the terrain, routing gently sweeping and rumpled fairways through the mild undulations in a way that makes the most of the landscape. The course has a real links feel in spots, especially when the rare large dunes come into play. Numbers 8 and 9, for example, play toward and around a large mound of sand in a manner that recalls Ballybunion or some of the more muscular dunes courses of NW Ireland. And the modest dune in front of the 14th green provides a strategic element to the approach on this par 5.
The par 5s are the strength of the course. Each one offers options, with wide landing areas for the drive and layup areas, but complications for those looking to reach in two. Fourteen is the best of the four, but number 6 is the most interesting. The second shot there requires a precise wood or long iron to an elevated green with OB right, a deep and penal bunker short and left, and a steep fall off behind the green, which is blind from the fairway. The lay up is played over a bunker 100 yards from the green to a wide swath of fairway which inevitably caroms the ball to the left, below the monster greenside bunker. This leaves a blind and uphill wedge to a green that sits diagonally across the line of play.
The par threes are decent, although # 4 is more of a Florida hole with a peninsular green which juts sideways into a lake. Not a great fit with the rest of the course. Number Two is a strong mid-length, uphill one-shotter between two dunes to a long, skinny green which slopes away at the back. Slight misses left or right will funnel back to the green, but wider divergences will find uneven lies in the sandy waste. The twelfth is a good test: a mid-long iron to a wide but shallow green tucked between a deep and expansive waste area short and right and a scrubby hillside which frames the back of the hole. A bailout area left offers some respite, but a tricky chip to any pin right of centre.
The course offers great variety, not only from the distinct tee boxes, but with fairway-length run-off areas beside many greens and plenty of risk/reward opportunities. Most of the greens feature run-up options, bringing the oft-forgotten ground game into play. Forced carries are rare, and the bump and run or even the putter from 20 yards is regularly available - as long as you are in position. There are three short and potentially driveable downhill par fours (3, 10, and 15) but the wind is always a factor. The prevailing wind seems to switch from morning to afternoon, and a ‘bombs away’ driver/wedge hole becomes a fraught and narrow tee shot followed by a mid iron in the afternoon round.
The facilities are very good, with an excellent practise area, two good restaurants, and the customary locker facilities expected at an Asian resort course. Of course, that also means that buggies AND caddies (one per player) are required, which is too bad because the course is mostly very walkable. The heat is oppressive, however, and a quick retreat from a thunderstorm is frequently necessary. There is a massive hotel complex behind seventeen green which is a bit of an eyesore, and villas all down the left side of the same hole. To date, no other properties sully the aesthetic, but there are clearly plans for many, many more residences. Thankfully, these seem to be relegated to the periphery of the course - for now.
There is a third nine, the Oasis, on site as well. It is further away from the sea, and seems to play more like an American course, with water frequently in play and more or an “air game” demanded. I didn’t play it, choosing to play the links eighteen five times instead, but it should be acknowledged as an option.
KN Golf Links is an excellent track and a strong addition to the South-Central Vietnamese links trio along with BRG DaNang and The Bluffs at Ho Tram. Norman does his best imitation of The Open here, and his adulation of links golf is apparent and appreciated.
That was a comprehensive review by Simon below and I have to say I agree with almost all of it. I had the opportunity to play this fine golf course in August 2018 as part of a trip where I was sampling the golf courses in Quy Nhon and Nha Trang. There are 3 golf courses in Nha Trang - the Andy Dye designed Diamond Bay, spectacular IMG designed Vinpearl and this the Greg Norman designed KN Golf Links. All three are quality golfing options in Nha trang, although this is by far the best. I will never forget the par 3, 2nd hole, where the green is located between 2 giant dunes. Another standout is the par 5, 6th, with an uphill approach. The stunner of course has to be the par 4, 7th, which requires a decision of the tee on how much you can carry over the lake and the long bunker stretch. Being on the green in regulation would depend on how much you have left for the 2nd shot. While there are glorious views all around, the one from the 18th green is to serve as reminder to come back. KN Golf links may well be the reason to plan a Nha Trang golf outing. But the 2 other courses are good too. To read more about K N Golf Links visit my blog
Played the new Norman course in Vietnam a couple of weeks ago Cam Ranh near Nha Trang the course isn’t officially open yet but the course and practice facilities are ready to go the large opulent looking club house is far from ready so everything is run out of the small shop for the driving range.
This is a very fine course it was in great condition although the greens were a little slow the fairways look like carpet draped over a sandy wasteland quite similar to the Bluffs at Ho Tram in many respects the waste areas and native vegetation is the same however this course is set slightly further back from the water and has holes that play in all directions. The course is built on a sandy base and there is great movement in the fairways throughout the course.
Hole #1 Par 5 a rollicking ride to start the tee and green are at high points with a wildly undulating fairway in between.
Hole #2 is nice par 3 where the green that runs away from you is partially obscured by a large dune.
Hole #3 is a very getable short par 4 slightly off set to the tee box with a very large green.
Holes #4 through #7 are the only ones that don’t have a links feel they make their way around a man made lake however they are still very interesting.
Hole #4 is a short par 3 with water all the way down the left of the hole and around the back of the green.
Hole #5 is medium length par 4 with water down the left.
Hole #6 is par 5 with a wide fairway and water left and OB right it turns uphill and to the right this requires an exacting approach shot.
Hole #7 the last of the lake holes is a cracker a cape hole from an elevated tee you need to choose how much of the lake to bite off bunkers line both sides of the fairway adding to the challenge.
Hole #8 is a medium length par 4 that goes up hill and to the left waste areas either side of fairways makes it difficult for anyone who’s tee shot has strayed.
Hole #9 doglegs right around an enormous due before an uphill approach shot to the green nestled in below the unfinished clubhouse.
The back 9 sits closer to the coast there are water views from every hole.
Hole #10 is my favorite on the course a short par 4 from an elevated tee in front of the clubhouse there are views of the ocean and islands beyond there is a large bunker 80 yards shorts of the green that blocks half the fairway and a greenside bunker on the right this creates a channel for anyone attempting to drive the green by clearing the first bunker this green slopes front to back adding to the challenge.
Hole #11 is a par 4 a central bunker means some decisions on the tee.
Hole #12 is a medium length par 3 with waste areas down the left and a green benched in below a large dune.
Holee#13 changes direction and heads back to the clubhouse it’s a par 4 with waste areas on both sides of a wide fairway.
Hole #14 is par 5 with decisions to be made on the second shot there is a large dune about 70 yards from the green the side of this dune facing the player has been turned into a bunker options abound you can go either way around or over the top.
Hole #15 turns you 90 degrees and heads straight for the beach it’s a shortish par 4 from an elevated tee to a fairway with waste areas to the left and one solitary bunker to the right this fairway has large swales throughout and the green has one as well.
Hole #16 is the last of the par 3’s it plays to punch bowl green surrounded by dunes on 3 sides.
Hole #17 a par 5 plays away from the beach the fairway has significant undulations its better to be to the right after the second shot as this provides a much easier approach into the green.
Hole #18 is a dogleg right where the tee shot is uphill and the second is played to a green below the enormous unfinished clubhouse.
Currently there are virtually no properties around the course so it has a wide open links feel however it must be said it looks like they are intending to build thousands of hotel rooms nearby. There is a third 9 currently being built this looks almost complete it is further away from the waterfront than the first 18 and looks to be centered around a couple of huge man made lakes.
Overall this is a quality golf course having played extensively in Vietnam I would have it 3rd in the country behind Ho Tram and Da nang Dunes. There is now 3 decent options for golf in the Nha Trang area Cam Ranh, the visually spectacular Vin Pearl and Diamond Bay.