Constructed by the Hong Kong-based Linksshape company and designed by Robert Trent Jones II, the course at Hoiana Shores Golf Club lies within an enormous 2,500-acre site to the south of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as The City of Lanterns . Fittingly, the pins on every green are adorned with lanterns instead of flags.
The golf course is the first component of the Hoiana Integrated Resort development that will ultimately include more than 1,000 rooms, suites and villas laid out along four kilometres of beach, along with pools and restaurants, a beach club, an entertainment facility and a whole host of retail partners.
Set out as two returning nines on a coastal property comprised entirely of pure sand, the course is grassed with TifEagle Bermuda greens, while tees and fairways feature Zeon Zoysia. The round at Hoiana Shores reaches a climax on the back nine with the greens on holes 15, 16 and 17 all located close to the shoreline, where the wind comes right off the sea.
The client asked for a course that can support a wide variety of set-up options in case it should ever host a professional or elite amateur tournament, while at the same time catering for resort players who want to be able to hit the ball, find it, then hit it again. The resulting wide playing corridors present golfers with a wide range of strategic options.
The course plays firm and fast on a sand-based property that exhibits many of the ground game playing characteristics found on a links layout in Great Britain & Ireland, but in a tropical setting. In fact, the term ‘tropical links’ is one that’s gaining traction in parts of southeast Asia, where a number of new coastal courses have been constructed on sites comprised entirely of sand.
RTJII had this to say about the project: “I’ve been working in Asia all of my adult life. We’ve worked all over the region and looked at projects in Vietnam. But it does feel as though the best site has been saved for us. It’s been a lovely treasure hunt that ends with us finding a golf course project hard by the sea. Where great land meets the sea, great golf can happen.”
With 3200 km of coastline, Vietnam ought to be rife with prime linksland. The sandy dunes of Central Vietnam are proving to be a hotbed of new golf projects, with the latest entry being the majestic Hoiana Shores by Robert Trent Jones II. There are three excellent Greg Norman tracks in DaNang, Cam Ranh, and Ho Tram, and a few new efforts from the Schmidt/Curley team further north, but this is the best links course in the country, and probably the best course period.
The property is a good starting point. Rolling sand dunes with half a mile of beachfront and the green light from the developer to use it all for golf holes should be a strong foundation. There are plans for mega-development around the course, with hotels, condos, and a casino well under way, but the course itself is uninterrupted by buildings - so far. The only blight is a water treatment facility alongside the eighteenth. Otherwise this is pure golf.
Hoiana Shores is an aesthetic delight, with Jones cunningly commanding the golfer’s eye in all kinds of directions. The course looks natural, as if the holes were simply laid out over the rumpled terrain and the fairways were always there between the sand. There is rough edged sand everywhere, with much of it comprising of waste areas which transition into raked bunkers in strategic places. With almost no trees on site, the targets are scruffy mounds and unkempt hillocks at the back of doglegs. There is little elevation change, but Jones exploits it where he can, notably on the approach to number ten, where a right pin seems to float in the sky in front of the South China Sea, and number fifteen with a similar approach over a valley to a green on the beach.
The strength of the course is its variety. There are many different shapes and sizes of holes, with a couple of brutish par fours at number one and four (which features a split fairway either side of a massive bunker), and par fives that play in different directions so that diverse wind conditions make one reachable and another a monster. There are five one-shotters (six counting the extra “gambler’s hole” nineteenth) which are all distinct. Just as influential as the routing, however, are the greens and tee boxes. The putting surfaces are large and shapely. Long, wildly breaking putts are common. Tropical climates tend to limit the possibilities for treacherous green speeds, so they will almost always roll under 10 on the stimp, rendering the swales playable. The sixth green is about 50 yards wide, with two unmown mounds in front allowing for countless pin placement options. Number five is a medium length par three with a 50 yard deep green bisected by a biarritz-like swale. These are two of many examples. The tee boxes are equally inventive. They swirl around the dunes in serpentine patterns (sometimes with inexplicable bunkers in the middle), offering countless options for each of the four sets of yardage markers. In fact, we played the course on successive days and were at first disappointed that the holes had not been changed. But the tee markers certainly had been, and the course played very, very differently. The only drawback is that there are not many perfectly flat spots on the tee decks, a condition that divided opinion in our group.
One thing we agreed on unanimously is that Hoiana Shores is fun. The seaside holes from 15-17 will bring out the cameras in every group. But the journey to get there is such an interesting trip, one might forget to be awed by then. For the better player, the course allows for many attacking options, including the ground game on firm and fast terrain. From the right positions on the fairways, there are many opportunities to play a run up shot - which is usually the better choice when the wind is up. It should be noted that this is not a beginner’s course. There are many forced carries from the tee, and the green complexes can be confounding. And the sand is everywhere, including your shoes, socks, and shorts by day’s end. The course is still new, only having opened six months ago, and as such, the fairways are a bit sparse and immature in spots. That said, the "soft opening" and the covid economy make for excellent value at present. As soon as you can get to this course, do so.
I was luckily enough to play Hoiana in January of 2020. This is truly pure modem links style with all elements comes in play, ocean, dunes, wasteland, wind, angles, Bermuda grass by means of physical, and also gives fun to fly the ball high or run it on the fairways. These huge undulate greens let the pin positions change the course in so many ways. I enjoyed so much in imaging how to play approaching shot and expecting the ball land and roll. I randomly paired with the guy from New Zealand, who had experience of Tara Iti. We just did not get that big wind gust here that day. In the other side of good one, the heritage town of Hoi An is charming even after sun goes down. This course is the best in my solo golf journey among central and south of Vietnam.