For those with more than a passing interest in design and golf course development in Asia, to give you some background here – it was announced back in November 2010 that Ba Na Hills had selected IMG to design its golf course, the press release from IMG stating at the time that ‘the first 18 holes at Ba Na Hills are now under detailed design. Construction is scheduled to start sometime in early 2011.’
Brit Stenson, who is the Director of Design for IMG, and presumably now the ghost-designer for Luke Donald, announced at the time that ‘Ba Na Hills presents an outstanding opportunity given its great mix of topography and existing vegetation. That mix will certainly make Ba Na Hills unique among the golf clubs in the Da Nang area, and I am sure it will become one of the best courses in Vietnam.’
In May 2011, it was further announced that IMG had also been selected as construction managers for Ba Na Hills – and that construction of the course was already underway. The General Director of Sun Group (the developer) stated that, ‘having previously selected IMG as the golf course designer for our Ba Na Hills project, there was excellent synergy to also appoint them in this construction management role.” He added that completion of the golf course was expected in late 2012.
Then came last weeks announcement that Luke Donald’s first foray into design would be the Ba Na Hills project in Vietnam, which we now know is already under construction. Donald, for his part, commented that he was “really happy with how the current design is looking on paper and looks forward to getting on site later this year to further refine the detailed design features.”
The fact that a client would engage IMG and wait until the course was under construction before ‘choosing’ which famous player would be held up as its ‘designer’ should come as no great surprise. Choice and range of celebrity players is, after all, the chief, and possibly only, benefit to engaging IMG Design as your course architects.
The fact that Ba Na Hills is already being built, and Luke Donald has only just become involved in the project and won’t be on site until later in the year, is going to make it more difficult when finished for IMG to hoodwink us into believing he really had anything to do with its design.
As we’ve reported previously on this site, modern golfers who chase the cash and team up with companies like IMG for signature projects had better not fall in love with design or plan to later establish standalone signature businesses, because poor work done in your name will be held against you down the track. One suspects Donald is more interested in playing professionally anyway than developing any serious design career, which is true of almost every present-day tournament celebrity.
Vietnam is a country with limited appeal to the traveling golfer, and every new project carries great expectation and hope that the wider tourism industry will benefit from its completion. So far results have been mostly underwhelming, and while we don’t expect Luke Donald’s involvement to buck the trend and raise the standard of design at IMG to any serious heights, we look forward nonetheless to reviewing Ba Na Hills when it opens. At this stage we aren’t sure whether this particular Vietnamese client should be viewed as being shrewd for waiting until an affordable IMG star was World number 1 before making their ‘design’ decision, or foolish for not waiting even longer in the chance than Donald’s form might slip and another IMG star replace him atop the rankings.
Only time will tell.