April 2016 — Late last month, Golf Coast Vietnam welcomed its newest member to the tourism collective — Ba Na Hills Golf Club, a parkland-style course at the foot of a towering mountain range less than half an hour’s drive from Danang.
But for many, the most compelling characteristic is the famous name attached to it — Luke Donald. The former world No. 1 golfer designed Ba Na Hills GC in collaboration with IMG. Interest lies in the fact this is Donald’s first design project in the world. How did the opportunity arise? And what does he think of the result?
Q: How did this project come about, and what made you decide to pursue it?
A: It was clearly a very good site, and I have had a strong interest in golf course design for a long time. So I thought it was time to pursue a design project.
Q: Has golf course design always been an interest of yours? If not, when did you start to think you might like to give it a go?
A: I was an art major in college at Northwestern University in Chicago. Being artistic has always run in my blood, so yes, golf course architecture has long been an interest of mine. I’m always paying attention to the details of golf courses I play each and every week. Golf course design is something I’ve wanted to be involved with for a while.
Q: When did you first visit the Ba Na Hills site, and how do you feel about the way the course turned out?
A: I have not yet visited the site, but I did have several timely design sessions with my design partner, Brit Stenson, and I have been kept fully up to date on the progress of the course. It has turned out even better than we anticipated. It will be a wonderful and complementary addition to the already strong crop of courses in the Danang area. While most of the courses in the area are near the sea, Ba Na Hills is inland, with spectacular mountain backdrops and plenty of big movement within the course.
Q: What was the biggest thing you learned from a design perspective with this, your first design ever?
A: The biggest thing I learned was that you really have to work with the land you are given, and that drainage is a big part of the thought process. I also learned that I really enjoy the process. Hopefully I can do many more golf designs in the future.
Q: What’s the one thing that most golfers don’t understand, design-wise, when they play a course?
A: Most golfers don’t have much idea about the realities of the existing site, the opportunities and constraints of topography and drainage that the designer was faced with. The routing of the course at Ba Na Hills takes full advantage of the substantial movement of the existing site to create a course that has great variety and beauty. It should prove to be a unique and thoroughly enjoyable golf experience for players of all levels.
Q: What do you want people to say when they walk off the 18th green at Ba Na Hills? What sort of impression do you want it to make on guests?
A: I want people to feel challenged, but still enjoy the experience and the variety that the course presents. I also want them to leave the course being able to remember each hole.
PHOTO: Ba Na Hills GC designer Luke Donald tees off during the Sony Open in January 2016. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)