Dalat, Vietnam (12 October 2010) – What’s old is new again: Saigon-based Vina Properties has acquired Dalat Palace Golf Club, long an iconic presence on the Southeast Asian golf scene.
Dalat Palace GC was voted the country’s top course in the most recent rankings from both Vietnam Golf magazine and Golf Digest U.S., whose Planet Golf ratings are the international standard. Vina Properties’ acquisition also includes two similarly revered hotels, the Dalat Palace Hotel and the Dalat du Parc. Vina’s diversified background in tourism-related development – which includes hotels, transportation, travel agencies, and other disciplines – should prove pivotal in the project’s future success. The firm’s other hospitality holding include the four-star Ramana Saigon Hotel, in HCMC, and the Royal Hotel, in Vung Tau.
“Operating a national treasure like Dalat Palace presents special challenges, as well as special opportunities,” said Lan Duong, the golf club’s new general manager. “Our goal is to bring the proper mix of creativity and sensitivity to the task, to update the golf facilities while never compromising the qualities that make it a classic.
“There are several new courses poised to open here in the southern highlands. We welcome this development and see Dalat Palace Golf Club as the anchor to a superb new golfing destination – one that offers what other Southeast Asian destinations cannot: cool highland temperatures and classic golf, all of it accented by French colonial elegance.”
While Vietnam has a sizeable and growing number of first-rate golf courses, Dalat Palace stands alone in its combination of history, terrain, climate and charm. Founded in the late 19th century, Dalat was the preferred cool-weather retreat of French colonials and Vietnamese royals; the last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, built his summer retreat here. The golf club’s exact provenance remains tantalizingly uncertain, but design and construction began in the 1920s – at the behest of Bao Dai, an avid golfer – and the first eight holes were opened for play in the early 1930s.
The routing of the original holes is attributed to Colt & Alison, the legendary British golf course architecture firm, after which the layout endured several cycles of disuse and rejuvenation. It was completely renovated, and expanded to 18 holes, in 1995, thanks to a collaboration between U.S.-based Danao International Holdings Limited, the previous owners, and Lam Dong Province.
Today, as then, Dalat Palace Golf Club is notable for its clever mix of holes weaving through rolling topography that is nonetheless eminently walkable; for its extraordinary landscaping featuring hydrangea, bougainvillea, red salvia, impatiens, and mimosa; and, thanks to the mile-high town’s cool climate; for its immaculate bentgrass greens, an extreme rarity in Southeast Asia.
Plans to revitalize the course itself, according to GM Lan Duong, include bolstering drainage capacity, re-lining bunkers, regarding cart paths and upgrading the golf cart fleet. The Le Tourquet-style clubhouse – first built as an estate villa during the 1920s, an era that saw construction of the opulent, hillside villas for which Dalat is famous – is now undergoing a renovation that retains its distinctive design vocabulary while modernizing locker rooms, restaurant and pro shop. Ultimately, a new clubhouse will be built, said Lan Duong, but the existing clubhouse will remain – it is too rich an amenity to ever be excluded from the experience at Dalat Palace GC.
Of similar distinguished heritage is the grand Dalat Palace Hotel, a short drive from the golf course around Xuan Huong Lake. Set within a private five-hectare park overlooking the lake, the French colonial structure was built in 1922 and features 38 guestrooms and five suites, as well as fine dining, a spa, and numerous other amenities.
After a top-to-bottom restoration in 1995, augmented by another meticulous historical refurbishment in 2009, The Palace retains the period’s elegant style, most notably in its vaulted ceilings, rich wood paneling, and oversized-villa feel. Even the five-star hotel’s restored vintage 1952 Citroen roadster evinces a particular sophistication and gentility – and more upgrades (to meeting facilities and the pool) are planned.
“Fidelity to the the distinguished pedigree at the Palace is paramount in delivering the experience that guests want,” said Nguyen Viet Anh, the hotel’s general manager. “So improvements to the operation will focus mainly on innovative packages, special offers, and, of course, an approach to personal service to match the glamour of the wonderful atmosphere here.”
The Palace’s sister hotel, the four-star Dalat du Parc, is a brief stroll away. Ideal for both the business and leisure traveler, it boasts 140 rooms, multiple dining options, and an ambience that melds small-hotel sensibilities with large-hotel efficiency and versatility.
1) Vietnam’s City of Love Continues to Capture Hearts of Golfers
It’s ridiculously easy to fall in love with Dalat. More than 70 years since the famously amorous French colones first plonked their villas 1,500 metres above sea level on the pine-strewn slopes of Vietnam’s southern Central Highlands, the former hill station is the undisputed honeymoon capital of the country – its bracing climate and rarefied atmosphere making it an alluring antidote to the heat elsewhere in Vietnam, at sweltering sea level. And while making birdies rather than babies tends to be the priority of visiting golfers, even the hardest of hearts tends to melt a bit when immersed in the beauty of Dalat Palace Golf Club. With an uninterrupted string of inventive, demanding golf holes which twist and undulate through a landscape of bougainvillea, red salvia, impatiens, mimosa and hydrangeas, it’s a visual feast and a mental challenge – exactly the kind of suitor most of us crave. Add to the equation wall to wall bentgrass (the cool climate making this the only course in Southeast Asia to enjoy such a luxury) and greens that are as true as they come and you can see why the course is regularly rated as the best in Vietnam. With sumptuous French hotels such as the Hotel Du Parc and the swank Dalat Palace Hotel upping the ante even further, not to mention the imminent addition of another two courses in the area, you would be forgiven for not wanting to leave. Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco. We head for Dalat in the knowledge that we might have to leave ours there.
2) Vive La France
Although some wags might have it that France’s main contribution to the game of golf was providing us with car-crash entertainment in the shape of Jean Van De Velde’s famous meltdown at Carnoustie, scholars of the sport in Vietnam would probably be more circumspect. For one thing, the decision of Gallic colonials to build a hill station in the country’s Central Highlands back in the 1920s has bequeathed to future generations Dalat Palace Golf Club – an undulating, pine studded beauty of a course that ranks among Asia’s most special. The fact that they chose to locate 1,500 metres above sea level at an altitude that allows for wall-to-wall bent grass is yet another good reason to raise a glass of vin rouge to the canny colones. Put simply, you’ll struggle to find better greens in Asia – the uniformly fast and true surfaces rivaled gamely by a succession of spectacular holes that twist and undulate through a landscape of meticulously maintained flora. Golfers also have the French to thank for making Dalat Vietnam’s premier stay and play destination with sumptuous and historic colonial artifacts like the Dalat Palace Hotel and the Hotel Du Parc, both within a five-minute drive of the golf course (and owned by the same folks, so package deals abound). Dinner in Le Rabelais, the Palace’s fine dining room, is a multiple-course, full-on French culinary delight. Head for the hills to sample what is quite possibly France’s finest golfing achievement.