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 Lang Co, 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.
Favourite 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 Lang Co one of the most sustainable golf courses in Asia.
Danang City and the surrounding provinces in central Vietnam are currently suffering a massive first-quarter decline in business at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the first quarter, nearly 1,000 businesses were either dissolved or stopped operation due to difficulties related to virus outbreak according to a report in Vietnam News earlier this week. There are an estimated 30,000 enterprises in Danang of which the vast majority are small to medium-sized businesses.
No stranger to disaster, Adam looks at the present crisis and recounts the massive repair job that awaited him when he joined the golf resort’s management in 2017.
“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 Lang Co 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 lay 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, however, 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 15-degrees Celsius 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 Lang Co, an expansive integrated resort that also encompasses the award-winning luxury resorts Banyan Tree Lang Co and Angsana Lang Co, Laguna Park Town Homes as well as exclusive Banyan Tree-branded residences – made 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 impacting 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 a million dollars. 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, meanwhile, include the introduction of a family of water buffalo who act as “bio-mowers”, tending to the ten-hectares of rice fields located right in the middle of the course by eating excess weeds and crops in the area 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 Lang Co to be the most sustainable course in Vietnam. It has completely eradicated the use of single-use plastics: scrapping items made of plastic such as garbage bags, locker room accessories, plastic cups and straws and replacing them with ones made from materials such as 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,” adds Calver. “As golf is a game that works in harmony with nature we have a responsibility to take a role in protecting the environment.”