If there is one thing that golf enthusiasts have in common, it’s their devotion to the game. Like fly fishermen, they exert a substantial effort to get their regular fix. Many will put in a 6am day just to get in some green time after work. Woe to the player who lives in sub-tropical climes such as Hong Kong. Not only does he (or she) have to schlep out to Fanling or Sai Kung for tee time (unless he is blessed with a Fortune 500 bank account and have lots of time to cosy up to existing members in Deep Water Bay), he also has to endure rain, wind and other less than ideal conditions to feed his addiction.
Up to Par
That was the thinking behind The Dalat at 1200 Country Club & Private Estate, an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Burmese former golf pro Kyi Hla Han, chairman of the Asian Tour. Slated for completion in 2015, the 650-hectare mountain site surrounds a 150-hectare lake and is situated 1,200 metres above sea level in the cobblestone lined south-central hill town of Da Lat, Vietnam. Its closest airport, Lien Khuong, is 30 kilometres to the south, with daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City (30 minutes) and the capital Hanoi (90 minutes). With a new highway currently under construction, driving times to Saigon will be cut to three hours from the existing six.
Due to its elevation in the middle of the South Central Highlands’ pine forests, the temperature at The Dalat is refreshingly cooler than most of Vietnam. Nightly lows are 15 degrees Celsius and its dry clime boasts a mean temperature of 22. “You can smell the pines,” says CJ Corman, the project coordinator for The Dalat. “Our slogan for the project is ‘elevate your game.’ We consider The Dalat’s clubhouse a home away from home for members who may be from Europe, the US or Australia. The hot and humid weather in Asia makes it difficult to train. Our club offers a great training facility where they can breathe clean mountain air and eat good, healthy food. The whole concept of the players’ academy has lost its appeal in recent years. Sure, you get the branded name of a course the pro has designed, but you never see them again. We are setting up The Dalat for professional training. Our members will see coaches and ball manufacturers on the course.”
Currently, there are 25 golf courses operating in the country with the majority of them situated within an easy drive of Hanoi or HCMC. Da Lat had the drawback of being inaccessible and under-developed for the rigorous standards of finicky golf aficionados. Centurion took over the project in 2013 from a previous developer and spent the next six months rebranding and looked to Hong Kong-based architect LWK to design its clubhouse. The first phase of properties consists of 250 luxury villas modelled after French country living. Phase one villas will be released for sale at the end of this year, with an anticipated completion date for both the clubhouse and the residences slated for 2015.
“We plan to offer fully furnished packages,” says Corman. “We envision clusters of 9 to 18 homes with different styles. Design in general tends to be bad in Vietnam, which was why we hired LWK. Although they don’t do clubhouses, experienced architects can sometimes have tunnel vision. When LWK visited the site, they went through every inch of the property — and looked like they emerged from a tornado zone.”
Each of the villas will occupy 10,000 square feet of land, with the homes averaging 3,500 square feet of interior space. “They are designed to be intimate even if they are not full of people,” says Corman. “We plan to incorporate closets to store suitcases for long stay owners, and a locked-off room in each villa to house personal items for owners who may wish to let out their property. They will also be self-sustaining: we will tap renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power with locally sourced materials. We believe that by starting the price at US$700,000 (HK$5.5 million) per villa, they are great value for money. They are not necessarily for people who are priced out of Bali or Phuket: they are another destination for people who love golf.”
Slated to host the first Asian Tour Event in 2015 with a US$1 million purse, The Dalat will also include the Asian Tour Performance Golf Institute, the first Asian Tour Players’ Academy. Phase two will include more villas, a luxury hotel, an equestrian academy, a tennis academy and other lifestyle pursuits. “The Asian Tour consists of 250 pros who can train on our course at any time,” says Tang Kay Hwa, CEO of Centurion’s Hong Kong office. “It gives our members a unique experience, being able to chat and mingle with their heroes. Our course designer Kyi Hla is an Asian legend. But golf is just a piece of the puzzle. The Dalat is about the lifestyle. The entire family may not want to play, so to keep everyone happy, we have a lake for fishing or canoeing. The local markets change from produce in the morning and flowers in the afternoon to a colourful night market for clothes and accessories. We believe it’s the great escape, where people can get back to the simple things in life.”