By Duncan Forgan
When you meet Adam Calver, it’s impossible to miss his naturally sunny disposition. Talking ten to the dozen, the director of golf at Laguna Golf Lăng Cô, a Sir Nick Faldo design ranked among the best tracks in Vietnam, will wax lyrical on any number of subjects related to the Royal and Ancient Game.
Favorite topics include his rapport with Sir Nick, his stints at superstar clubs such as Cabot Links & Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, Nirwana Bali Golf Club and Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai and — a matter particularly close to his heart right now — his efforts to make Laguna Golf Lăng Cô one of the more sustainable golf courses in Asia.
Dark thoughts aren’t part of the Canadian’s makeup. Nevertheless, a flicker of angst flashes across his face as he recalls the repair job that awaited him when he was brought to this corner of Southeast Asia in 2017 and asked to turn the fortunes of the course.
“Turning a golf course around once it has declined can take years,” he remembers with a shake of his head. “And we had a lot of pre-existing problems to contend with.”
When Laguna Golf Lăng Cô was inaugurated back in 2013, it immediately captured the imagination of the wider golfing public. Faldo’s impressive design ranks as one of his finest, with a links-style out-and-back routing, a variety of tees for all levels and numerous stellar holes making it a hit with low and high handicappers alike.
It can also make a strong claim to being Asia’s most beautiful course. The layout is sandwiched between emerald rainforest and the azure East Sea, and holes weave their way between trees, over rice paddies and streams and alongside the beach.
Unfortunately, a range of factors and challenges contributed to a steep decline in playing conditions that, by the time of Calver’s arrival, had left the club’s reputation badly tarnished.
Various oversights and maintenance shortcomings took their toll over the years. Fairways had become rutted and damaged by heavy cart traffic and a lack of cart paths.
A combination of failing or insufficient drainage, poor sunlight exposure and restricted airflow, meanwhile, resulted in the course becoming unplayable during and after heavy rain — a frequent occurrence in Central Vietnam, which encounters cool, wet winters where temperatures can sink below 60 degrees in the evenings.
Matters came to a head in early 2017 following a particularly harsh winter. Low temperatures and higher than average rainfall resulted in the severe loss of turfgrass on 12 of the greens. Several tees were also lacking turfgrass.
“The product was no longer worth the fees,” remembers Calver. “The course was losing its reputation and cancellations were mounting. It was decision time for the owners. Carry on and manage a decline, or recalibrate?”
Thankfully, the owners of the club — which is part of Laguna Lăng Cô, an expansive integrated resort that also encompasses the award-winning luxury resorts Banyan Tree Lăng Cô and Angsana Lăng Cô, and Laguna Park Town Homes, as well as exclusive Banyan Tree-branded residences — opted for the second call.
Calver was appointed and immediately set to work on his rescue mission. The first order of business in early March 2017 was a complete replant on the 12 damaged greens. Limiting afternoon play, the maintenance team hand-planted the surfaces.
With an aggressive grow-in program actioned for the next 90 days, the greens were in tournament condition by late June.
Replanting the damaged greens was only part of the battle. A proactive agronomic program was required to address challenges posed by poor green construction, constricted airflow as a result of thick foliage and trees, and surface drainage issues.
Amazingly, Calver found that eight of the greens had blocked or collapsed pipes, making severe waterlogging inevitable. The crew resurfaced greens and collars to ensure they could handle moderate rain events. A tree management program was implemented to identify which trees were negatively affecting airflow. Vegetation around the green complexes was removed, allowing the putting surfaces to better manage disease pressure.
Not only is the course playing much better, but it also looks fantastic. Calver thinned out the trees at the 9th hole, which plays alongside the ocean, giving golfers a grandstand view of the beach and the water.
Other innovations include the introduction of a family of water buffalo who act as “bio-mowers” and tend to the 10 hectares of rice fields located right in the middle of the course by eating excess weeds and crops that would otherwise require machinery and manpower to maintain.
The utilization of water buffalo as greenkeepers is part of a wider push by Laguna Golf Lăng Cô to be the most sustainable course in Vietnam. It has completely eradicated the use of single-use plastics: scrapping items such as garbage bags, locker room accessories, plastic cups and straws, and replacing them with ones made from bamboo, paper, steel or natural grass.
The club is also one of only three golf courses in the world to achieve Earth Check Gold certification, a status it earned at the end of 2019.
“Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and we are fortunate enough to have one of its most visually stunning sites,” Calver says. “As golf is a game that works in harmony with nature, we have a responsibility to take a role in protecting the environment.”
It is to Calver’s and his team’s credit that his club is in good enough shape to help lead this commendable charge.
Duncan Forgan was raised in the Kingdom of Fife, a few lusty tee shots from St. Andrews. A longtime features writer the national newspapers in Scotland and an editor of travel guides in the Middle East, he is now based in Bangkok. He covers travel, golf, culture, food and other stories around Asia, where he discovers new street food and drives his motorbike to remote parts of the region.
All photos courtesy of Laguna Golf Lăng Cô.
The employee-owners of PBI-Gordon announced Wednesday that Ashlee Parker-Osborne has joined the company as the PBI-Gordon marketing and communications department’s new senior corporate communications manager. In addition to directing and coaching the team, Parker-Osborne will manage corporate-driven marketing materials and employee-owner communications.
Parker-Osborne brings 20 years of professional communications experience to PBI-Gordon, ranging from not-for-profit and financial service organizations to a Fortune 100 company. She earned her Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and is currently working toward her Master of Science in Integrated Marketing & Communications at the University of Kansas.
“We are thrilled to have Ashlee on the PBI-Gordon MarCom team,” PBI-Gordon senior director of marketing Carrie Bergman said. “Her exceptional experience and proven leadership skills will have an immediate impact on how we serve our customers and industry partners.”
Shawn Spear has joined the Atlantic Golf & Turf team as assistant operations manager, bringing a unique background and an extensive knowledge of seed, fertilizer and other products to the group.
“Shawn is kind of a turf unicorn,” AG&T partner John Garcia said. “He’s worked as a superintendent, an agronomist for an organic lawn care firm and he’s spent time in sales. We’re delighted to find someone who can add so much to our team and provide support and expertise in every market we serve.”
Spear is a Vermont native who most recently worked with Pure Solutions, a Massachusetts-based company focused on sustainable products for lawn care and pest control. Prior to that he managed a branch for Valley Green, a regional T&O distributor, and was a golf course superintendent. He studied at Stockbridge and earned his turf management degree from UMass.
“This feels like family already,” Spear said. “Scott Mackintosh was one of my instructors in school and I’ve known several of AG&T’s partners for years. I couldn’t be happier to be part of the team.”
Spear will primarily help manage operations, provide support to sales and build relationships with suppliers. He will also bring his extensive knowledge of seed blending to support AG&T seed manager Dave Silva. “I’m a huge advocate for intelligent seed selection and I hope to be a resource for Dave and our customers.”
All but three states now allow golf as a safe, outdoor activity for their residents and 79 percent of golf facilities in the country are open for play as of the first weekend of May, according to National Golf Foundation president and CEO Joseph F Beditz.
“But having almost 80% of courses open for play is not the same as a ‘green light’ for golf,” Beditz wrote. “It’s much more of a ‘yellow light.’ There are still serious restrictions — for operators and golfers alike — including many state mandates prohibiting pro shops from opening, banning the use of golf carts, or restricting food and beverage operations.
“In a state like New Jersey with 16-minute tee time intervals and twosomes, that’s eight people on the golf course an hour. That’s not yet ‘open’ and golf is probably being provided ‘below cost’ in some places where revenues are restricted to greens fees only.”
Beditz posed the question whether golfers would follow the trend of accelerated retain openings in certain areas across the country.
“As I’ll continue to say, golf has an opportunity to lead by example, showing it can be played safely and responsibly in the midst of a pandemic,” he wrote. “Course owners and operators need to keep following local rules and adjusting to our ‘new normal.’ And we need to continue to remind golfers that they’re playing before the biggest gallery of their lives, as well-publicized screwups could turn the yellow lights back to red.”