THE BLUFFS POSSESSES so many of the traits of a great traditional links golf course – blind tee shots, fast undulating greens, sloping and unpredictable fairways and punishing, sandy rough if you err off line – which is worryingly easy to do if you’re not an accurate driver. In common with other great links courses, this one has been lovingly designed to meander seamlessly through its natural surroundings. Greg Norman is famous for designing courses that cause the “least disturbance to nature,” and The Bluffs is probably his finest effort yet. Not only has he hewn a truly sympathetic links course out of the existing sandy landscape, but he has also given Vietnam a venue that would be more than worthy of hosting the country’s first significant tour event.
Like the Chambers Bay course that hosted the last US Open, this is a course with significant changes in elevation, rising to almost 50 meters at its highest point. It provides stunning (and challenging) golf holes, and equally glorious views as the dunes, jungle, sea and distant mountains unfurl beneath you in every direction leaving you feeling on top of the world. In keeping with the Chambers Bay similarities, it also shares lightning fast and almost mountainous greens, where the slightest misread or overzealous putt can leave you 30 feet further away from the hole than when you started. This is a course (like the Old Course at St. Andrews) where I would implore you to listen to your caddy; they know where all the best lines are and how to avoid the worst of the pitfalls. It took me four holes and about 12 putts to come to this conclusion, so please don’t make the same expensive mistake I did.
Even the first tee has a nod to the opening hole at St. Andrews with a shared fairway, which is designed to lull you into a false sense of security. This may be one of the more straightforward driving holes, but take advantage – it’s not going to get this inviting again! The second is a good example of how much accuracy you’re going to need in order to shoot a good score. A long par three surrounded by forest, with a green protected by two bunkers, an out of bounds to the left and water to the right – it is not a shot for the faint-hearted.
The fourth hole is the second of the par 3s, and while much shorter is equally well defended by deep pot bunkers. It also sits high up and exposed to any wind driving in off the ocean, so you need to pick the right club and just try and hit the safety of the green.
As I play my way around the holes there are different challenges everywhere. Back to back par 5s on the fifth and sixth will test your uphill long game, missing greens will leave you with devilish chips that will force you to use your imagination. The uphill par 4 thirteenth has a tree in front of the green that means anything driven short leaves you needing a creative approach.
The longest par 5 on the course (650 yards from the competition tee) is a beautiful hole with a large landing area for your drive (favor the right side of the fairway in order to see the green for your second), bunkers ready to snaffle up any errant second shots and a large front bunker guarding an expansive, hilly green. you finish with the longest par 4 on the course, with all 489 yards of it uphill, requiring two absolutely mighty blows just to have a chance of making the green. If I walked off with a five at the last, I’d be very happy. (Happier than the seven I actually signed for…)
Regardless of my score, this is a course I’d always walk off with a smile on my face. The Bluffs is a fun and creative round of golf. It provides plenty of options to choose to plot my way around; a choice of split fairways on a number of holes, a couple of risk and reward drivable par 4s and the chance to use every club in my bag.
When I’ve had a chance to let the round sink in, what strikes me is the sheer quality of the work that they have done. The clubhouse is stunning, with a tasteful and palatial locker room and a restaurant overlooking the course with views out to the ocean beyond. The service is excellent, from the front desk to the highly knowledgeable caddies, but it’s the course itself that outshines them all. I appreciate that it’s new, and only time will tell how well it beds in, but the fairways are like lush expanses of green carpet and the greens run like billiard tables. I believe that I could go round here a hundred times and probably not play the same shot twice, and it’s that unpredictability and mental challenge that gives The Bluffs the potential to be one of the very best courses, not just in Vietnam but across Asia.