Hoi An, Vietnam: In preparation for its opening in 2019, Hoiana Shores Golf Club has secured a long-term pipeline of trained staff through its innovative investment in the Quang Nam-based Golf Operations and Maintenance Vocational College, the first such golf-specific enterprise in Asia.
The first graduating class of maintenance staffers will join the grounds crew at Hoiana Shores this month, while the inaugural class of caddies started on December 10, 2018. All students from this programme are guaranteed employment with Hoiana Shores Golf Club.
After five years of supplying staff directly to Hoiana Shores (in addition to its sister hotel and casino development next door), the school itself will be turned over directly to Quang Nam Peoples Committee.
“Vietnam today is widely seen as the most active course development market in the world – there are 45 courses now in operation and another 20-plus in some stage of development,” said Ben Styles, Vice President of Golf & Residential Development at Hoiana Shores Golf Club, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
He added: “Nowhere in the country has development been so active than here on the Central Coast. There has been an explosion of development, golf and otherwise, and Quang Nam Province has wisely supported this activity with a local tourism college that has trained of thousands of resort and hotel workers to date.
“However, a golf course has specific needs when it comes to staff. Even someone with superb hospitality training doesn’t know how to handle a greens mower … or read the undulations of golf greens, or handle point-of-sale software specific to golf shops. This is the first programme with a specialised autonomous ‘bricks and mortar’ home ever created in Asia and judging from the reactions we’ve received from within the golf industry, it’s poised to meet a glaring need.”
Hoiana Shores GC, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, will ‘soft open’ this summer with a grand opening scheduled for late 2019. Since his 2007 arrival in Vietnam, Styles, a native Australian PGA member, has witnessed first-hand the development boom. He did so while developing and/or managed a handful of the country’s elite golf properties. Labour, staff and training have been persistent issues throughout his tenure, he says.
“This problem isn’t particular to Vietnam. We’ve all seen how golf courses across Southeast Asia open in a certain condition, with certain agronomic and hospitality standards, only to abandon those standards over time,” Styles said. “That’s a result of staff not being trained up properly by the time the original superintendent, Director of Golf or the original General Manager moves on. At the same time, here in Danang and Hoi An, demand for skilled staff has clearly outpaced supply.”
The Golf Operations and Maintenance Vocational College (GOMVC) is part of HOIANA-Quang Nam Vocational Training Centre, located in Duy Phuoc district, some 10 kilometres from HOIANA in a formerly derelict school complex. According to Styles, Hoiana Shores has so far spent more than US$300,000 rehabbing and outfitting the college, which, on account of the curriculum here, surely boasts the most manicured school grounds in all of Vietnam.
The first class of 24 students arrived in October 2018, in the course maintenance curriculum. Technically, they arrived as employees of Hoiana Shores GG. When they graduate this month, they will transition directly to their work at the golf property proper, where the grassing of golf holes is already underway.
Meanwhile, 25 caddie and golf operations students, who started their own distinct curriculum on December 10, will be fully trained prior to the soft opening in June.
The course superintendent at Hoiana Shores GC, Rob Weiks, is the turf expert who supplied an international-standard syllabus for the course maintenance curriculum at GOMVC. His HSGC colleague, Director of Golf Kelly Nguyen, did likewise on the caddie and operations front. Each graduate, in either track, will receive the first-ever accredited degrees for Golf Operations and Maintenance in Vietnam.
“Without those degrees accredited by the Vietnamese Government, golf course workers in Vietnam are not recognised as professionals with legitimate wage-earning positions,” Styles said. “That may sound like a bureaucratic fine point, but it’s not. Right now, golf course workers are not so recognised, by the Government, and so they cannot do things like go and get a bank loan, for example. This accreditation is a huge development for VN nationals who work in the golf business.”
Styles was quick to point out the assistance GMOVC has received from golf industry companies like LinksShape, the outfit now building the RTJ II-designed course at Hoiana Shores. Hong Kong-based LinksShape donated its time in constructing an on-campus fairway, two putting greens and a bunkered short game area so students can practice agronomic technique on authentic golf course features.
Styles also cited the contribution of Sports Turf Solutions, which has supported the venture by donating the full complement of maintenance equipment for the students to learn and practice on.
“We’ve received so much support, I think because people in the golf industry recognise the need and want to see it succeed, then replicated all across Southeast Asia,” Styles said. “Obviously, Hoiana Shores has self-interest here. We’re creating a direct pipeline of talent for five years. After that time, however, we shall hand over the college to the province, whereupon we anticipate the programme will continue to provide that talent pipeline for our resort – and golf properties across the country. It’s our desire and commitment to build up a sustainable golf industry where Vietnamese talents are prepared to run it.”