Developed by the Rang Dong Group of companies, the Sea Links course is a links-style layout that’s routed around a residential estate near the Binh Thuan provincial capital of Phan Thiet.
The experienced design team from Golfplan set out the free draining fairways on a hilly, 400-acre cliff top site overlooking Mui Ne Bay on the South China Sea where they configured the course in two returning loops of nine holes.
Ordinary golfers should forget about playing from the back tees here as they total almost 7,700 yards in length – two of the par fives measure over 600 yards and all of the par threes play in excess of 200 yards from the tips.
Far better to concentrate on the regular tees – 6,670 yards for men and 5,482 yards for ladies – as they provide a more than adequate challenge on a track where some of the enormous, heavily-contoured greens will also test putting skills to the limit.
Sea Links architect Ron Fream kindly provided us with the follow comments:
“The planning for the adjacent villas and golf design occurred concurrently in the Santa Rosa office. I was involved in the planning and golf design. Several people in the office helped to produce the early construction working drawings and I made the call on links-inspired contouring.
However, as I made visits to the site, I noted the addition of adjacent buildings, in some cases crowding the golf course. Nonetheless, I took more than 200 feet (actually 85m) of sand and elaborated upon the office contouring. Wind conditions necessitated heavy stabilization tree planting so no really raw sand areas were retained.
Bill Kessener, construction supervisor, understood my goal of maximizing the contouring impact. Some people in Santa Rosa were shy and reserved about the magnitude of contouring - was Pete Dye ever shy when given a stellar opportunity?
Yes, the contouring is extreme, excessive even, but one of a kind which time has confirmed that sophisticated players find the course exhilarating and challenging.I have learned over more than forty years in golf design that courses which early on are regarded as over the top or extreme can, with age, become bragging sites.”
Sea Links is a resort course, routed through the enormous Sea Links City complex of villas, apartments, and hotels. The property is situated on a steep grade above the sea, affording grandiose views from many points. It is a pretty course, but not a great course. You are never far from a building of some kind; in fact there are times when the houses are too close. Our group hit a roof with a wayward shot on successive days.
Despite being a resort course, Sea Links is a stout challenge. The contours architect Ron Fream discusses in the intro above are severe, and not just on the greens. There are many forced carries and almot never a flat spot on the fairways. Bunkers seem to encroach on nearly every landing area, sometimes narrowing the line of play to as narrow as 10 yards of short grass. Some greens are extremely shallow in spots, forcing mid iron shots to carry steep bunkers while avoiding going long into water or dense brush (particulalry on nos. 7 and 15). This can be fun at intervals, but there are few “breather” holes. In other words, Sea Links is very challenging for a resort course, and not recommended for novice golfers or high ‘caps. I would argue that Fream’s prognosis that his “over the top” design will become a “bragging site” is optimistic.
There are a few highlights, however. The seventh is a stunning downhill dogleg left par four overlooking Mui Ne Bay from start to finish. The green for the par three third is a massive undulating roller coaster affording at least five different shelves and certain to present at least one poor sod in your four ball with an amusing circus putt.
Maintenance is spotty, particularly on the greens where disease and the sheer size of the surfaces produce inconsistent speeds and rough patches which detour putts from their intended lines.
The Phan Thiet area is mainly a convenient beach retreat for Ho Chi Minh City residents. It is not a significant tourist destination on its own. I feel the same about the Sea Links Golf Course. It’s a fine weekend getaway, but not worth going out of your way. There are many better destinations for both golf and tourism in Vietnam.