Vietnamese course achieves big environmental triumph
Hoiana Shores Golf Club has earned GEO Certified Development status from the Scotland-based GEO Foundation, the golf industry’s international standard-bearer for sustainable course design and construction practices. Opened in early 2020, Hoiana Shores GC — part of the $4 billion Hoiana Integrated Resort — is the first and only golf property in Asia-Pacific to achieve this designation, and one of only a half-dozen worldwide.
Sam Thomas, Director of Golf Development at the GEO Foundation, informed Hoiana Shores of its certification in September. In congratulating Hoiana Shores GC, Thomas cited, “the lengths Hoiana Shores’ developers and management team have gone to and the responsible approaches to development they have taken. They should be highly praised for their vision and leadership.”
The punch list required for GEO certification is comprehensive, including many workaday items ranging from waste disposal to hiring practices to energy efficiencies at the clubhouse. And yet Hoiana Shores also restored 23 hectares of degraded former fish farms to native coastal shrub vegetation — without importing any growing materials. The vegetation on site today is 100 percent native and locally sourced, while an additional 44 acres of native landscape habitats, plus six acres of coastal dunes, were established in and around the golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
“The result is a golf links wrapped in the dynamic eco-tones of an authentic Vietnamese coastal landscape,” Thomas said. “Backed by careful and experienced management methods means this golf course and its wider environment remain respectful to the native setting and create a memorable, genuine experience for golfers for years to come.”
The sustainable approach in building Hoiana Shores GC was made possible thanks to its primary investors: Don Lam, Hoiana’s chairman of the board, Alvin Chau, chairman of the Suncity Group Holdings Ltd., and Hoiana’s entire board of directors. For his vision at Hoiana Shores, Lam was honored last year with the Apex Award for Environment Leadership in Golf — bestowed at the 2019 Asia Pacific Golf Summit in Gurgaon, India.
HSGC General Manager Ben Styles indicated his team on-the-ground has also worked diligently to achieve this recognition, from the dedication and ingenuity of golf course superintendent Rob Weiks and his crews, to Hoiana Shores director of golf Kelly Nguyen and her operations team. He also cited the cooperation of myriad partners and vendors, including the designers at RTJ II and the course builders at LinksShape and Sports Turf Solutions.
“It’s an extraordinary process to have undergone these past three years. GEO compliance involves so many aspects of course creation and operation, it really does come to inform one’s larger ideals for the property,” Styles said. “In the end, as we had hoped, it allowed us to create something more than an environmentally sustainable golf club. Through sound hiring, sustainable land-use, and all manner of vegetative, carbon-reduction and design initiatives — plus dozens and dozens more component initiatives that remain ongoing here — GEO helped us create a golf course landscape and experience that is uniquely and necessarily Vietnamese.”
These local, site-specific results, Thomas explained, are an aspect of GEO certification specifically — and sustainable operations generally — that are often lost on the golfing public.
“There are aspects of sustainability that people readily grasp. Hoiana’s use of Zeon zoysiagrass on the fairways, with its low water and chemical input requirements. That’s an example we can all understand,” Thomas said. “But the community side of the equation is an Achilles heel for many GEO candidates. Who is going to access this property when it’s finished? Simply creating jobs is fine, but not always a great social outcome. Hoiana’s example has been unique and frankly inspiring on this front.”
Thomas pointed to several illustrative examples but placed special emphasis on Hoiana’s creation of an entire vocational college for local golf course maintenance and hospitality students in nearby Duy Phuoc. Many graduates of the golf operations and maintenance curricula already work at Hoiana today.
“The club certainly had a vested interest in creating staff that is properly trained,” Thomas said. “But the vision here is something you don’t usually see. That really set Hoiana apart, and I could cite another half dozen examples of the same spirit of sustainability and ingenuity.”
This spirit was certainly embraced by the team at RTJ II, in service of sustainability and pure golfing concerns. According to architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., “When you’re working in sand, we architects start to salivate and the quality of the sand at Hoiana is by far the highest quality sand pit we’ve ever dealt with. No screening required. We were able to manufacture some wonderful shapes and contours, a lot of created architecture. It’s a great luxury to pile the sand up, shape the heck out of it, then let the wind shape it again.
“On holes 16 and 17, for example, where the wind is coming right off the sea, we shaped it and let Mother Nature further shape it. Then we came back and refined it. Ultimately, we created windswept areas that were different from original shapes — and more sustainable, because those shapes were created by prevailing winds. At 16, it really changed the strategy of the hole. It became a more risk-reward par 4, where now you can cut 50 yards off your approach by being aggressive. Of course, if you miss — you’re down on the beach.”
While GEO Foundation creates certification programmes, and candidate courses do their best to meet the standards set, neither party is involved in judgments as to whether each hurdle has indeed been cleared. That is left to an independent third party — in Hoiana Shores’ case, Dr. Micah Woods, head of the Bangkok-based Asian Turfgrass Foundation. Woods made dozens of different site visits to Hoi An over the last two years to assess and sign off on checklist items, all of which culminated in September’s certification.
“The details are staggering when you sit down and go through them all,” Styles said. “I’m happy to share the Sustainability Blueprint we put together with GEO in 2017 — especially with other golf developers and course operators who are interested. It is a very detailed report: 37 pages of sustainability targets and expectations — and I it was daunting to consider all that pre-construction. But to look at it today — to see targets of creating some 350 permanent jobs for local Vietnamese in greenkeeping, caddie and operational positions, plus 100 construction jobs — and to have delivered it? It’s a very good feeling.”