When Lea-Jane Allen lost her husband to cancer in 2011, she asked herself what any devastated and grieving widow probably would.
The 56-year-old Australian’s answer, ultimately, was to join a golf club in Melbourne.
“I felt I just had to get out and meet people,” she said. “Golf seemed like the easiest avenue. It was the best move I ever could have made.”
Allen’s decision to hit the links has led her down a road she never imagined existed. Not only has she made new friends and found a new partner as she’s navigated the path, she’s discovered a place she absolutely loves.
The central coast of Vietnam.
That’s right: A corner of the world synonymous with war when Allen (pictured above) was growing up has become a terminal of peace for her.
But while the culturally-rich region with some of the country’s best beaches has been attracting international tourists for the better part of two decades now, it took a different dimension to draw Allen to its shores.
It took golf, an ancient game that is relatively new to Vietnam but growing at breakneck speed.
That’s especially true along the central coast, where four of the finest golf courses in all of Asia have emerged over the last few years.
They are the Greg Norman-designed BRG Danang Golf Resort, Nick Faldo’s Laguna Lang Co, Colin Montgomerie’s Montgomerie Links and Luke Donald’s Ba Na Hills Golf Club, which collectively comprise the destination marketing group Golf Coast Vietnam.
In September 2016, Allen paid a visit for a second time, this time for the 2nd Annual Accor Vietnam World Masters, a six-day event billed as “Asia’s biggest and richest amateur week of golf.”
The tournament brought together 110 golfers aged 35 and up from eight countries. And while Allen didn’t finish anywhere near the top of the leaderboard, she didn’t care.
“I’m certainly not the greatest golfer, but it’s not about that,” she said. “It’s about visiting a different country, meeting people from different countries, and connecting through an activity we all love. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
The same word can be used to describe AccorHotels’ perception of central Vietnam.
With eight properties in the region the international hotel brand has made it clear that it sees remarkable potential in the central coast, which by most accounts is the 150-kilometer stretch between the former imperial capital of Hue and the ancient trading port of Hoi An — both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
“The Accor Vietnam World Masters was conceived as a novel way to promote the Danang area through one of its most compelling but lesser-known assets: golf,” said Ianic Menard, Accor’s Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Distribution for Upper Southeast Asia. “We’re bullish on this destination’s future, and this tournament’s future, especially given the planned completion of several infrastructure projects, such as the second terminal at Danang International Airport.”
AccorHotels’ partner and Asia’s leading golf tour operator, Golfasian, expects the event to grow, as well. In fact, it knows it will grow. That’s because all four Golf Coast Vietnam courses have already committed to serving as host venues next year.
“This year, it was just BRG Danang Golf Resort and Montgomerie Links,” said Mark Siegel, Golfasian’s Managing Director. “Having the entire group on board gives us the opportunity to really up the ante.”
No matter what courses ever figure into the mix, Siegel can bet on seeing Allen and some of her fellow competitors again.
Like Paul O’Donnell. Also an Aussie, he served in Vietnam in 1969 and ‘70. But he reconciled in 1999, on a trip to Hanoi. There, he met and bonded with a former North Vietnamese soldier who would eventually become his business partner in a packaging company.
“We have to go to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City every six or seven weeks, for work,” said O’Donnell. “But I love this tournament because it gives me an excuse to come to central Vietnam once in awhile.
“I’ve been playing golf for 57 years, and I’ve played all over. But for me, this is where it’s at. The golf courses are tremendous, and the always-smiling caddies are simply the best. You couldn’t ask for a better golf experience.”