The 17th hole at Laguna Lăng Cô in Vietnam.
Competition

Golf intersects with history as Faldo Series junior event concludes in Vietnam

March 6, 2018

It might be easy to overlook an international junior tournament known as the 12th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final, where Pakistan’s Ahmed Baig and Japan’s Suzuka Yamaguchi took home top honors. Until you look at where it was played. And then you do your history.

The event wraps the Asia portion of junior tournaments hosted by the six-time major winner Sir Nick Faldo. For the second time it was held at Laguna Lăng Cô, a five-star resort that includes hotels and spas, private villas, convention facilities, nearly two miles of beaches and, in addition to the Faldo-designed golf course, “a plethora of recreational activities for guests of all ages,” as the press release says.

It would be a remarkable destination anywhere in the world. But given its location in Vietnam, just an hour from the ancient imperial capital of Huế (pronounced “Hway”), historians will remember that the awarding of trophies on Saturday at the Faldo event marked to the day the 50th anniversary of the end of the most destructive battle of the Vietnam War.

As described in the new book Hue 1968 by best-selling author and journalist Mark Bowden, the more than month-long Battle of Hue “is a microcosm of the entire conflict. With nearly a half a century of hindsight, Hue deserve to be remembered as the single bloodiest battle of the war, one of its defining events, and one of the most intense urban battles in American history.”

An estimated 80 percent of the buildings, structures and dwellings in Hue were either damaged or destroyed during the fighting, which resulted in more than 10,000 deaths and left 116,000 of the city’s 140,000 residents homeless. While the American and South Vietnamese forces eventually claimed victory by retaking the city after the North Vietnamese forces had stormed Hue in a surprise attack during the Tet Offensive, the battle stands as a historic moment for the North’s eventual victory. There’s a museum and monuments around the city, commemorating the sacrifice.

The My Son Sanctuary has remains of tower-temples that were a cultural center between the 4th and 13th centuries in Vietnam that has its spiritual origins to Indian Hinduism.

The Laguna Lăng Cô resort is the largest in Vietnam, which now seems poised for further growth as a golf destination, Faldo said. “Vietnam is without doubt experiencing one of the most exciting movements anywhere in the world of golf,” he said last week. “We have some great courses being built and an appetite to see the game flourish as one of the most popular national pastimes.”

According to Adam Calver, director of golf at Laguna Lang Co, any scars left behind from the fighting half a century ago paint an incomplete picture of the new Vietnam. They are remembered, but they do not deter movement forward.

“The history of Vietnam can mislead some individuals as their predetermined impression is one influenced by events long forgotten,” he said, highlighting new courses from Greg Norman, Luke Donald, Colin Montgomerie and more on the way from Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones Jr. “The current culture and focus is on the future and the opportunities the immense coastline and natural landscapes offer. The passion and pride of Vietnam is contagious and we have been witnessing rapid growth in recent years.”

When asked about the odd juxtaposition between Hue’s bloody past and its golf-resort present, Bowden told me that while Vietnam remains a one-party, authoritarian, communist state (where he said there are reports his book has been banned), Hue in particular has embraced the West, in particular the United States. He finds the booming region a testament to the will of the people.

“Clearly what it illustrates is that a city is not the structures that we see, but the people who live there,” he said by phone. “I think the battle of Hue is a symbol for the Vietnamese people of the depth of their determination to prevail and to win their independence.”

He also finds it frustrating.

“What it is to me is an illustration of the great tragedy of the Vietnam War, the fact that all of that sacrifice in 1968 was really for nothing,” he said. “In a way the city of Hue is a symbol of how the victory over the United States has led to a very prosperous Vietnam. And one that is very friendly with the United States. In fact one of the biggest elements of the tourism from the United States to Hue are the American veterans who fought in the war.

“It makes you wonder what the hell all the fuss was about.”

The ninth and 10th holes at Laguna Lăng Cô.

Bowden, who visited the region multiple times in researching his book, thinks the Vietnamese people are eager that Hue be thought of as a place far removed from all that bloodshed half a century ago.

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous place today,” he said. “I did not see that shocking disparity that you see in some places where the majority are living in slums and there’s a five-star hotel a block away.

“My guess would be that the experience at a golf course is you would have more a sense of how delighted the people working there and the people living around it would be to have it as a magnet for tourism and economic growth.”

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