The instructional staff at the Golf Operations and Maintenance Vocational College in Quang Nam, Vietnam (from left): Hoiana Shores Golf Club director of golf Kelly Nguyen, Sandy Nguyen, Minh Nguyen, and Hoiana Shores course superintendent Rob Weiks. Photo courtesy of Hal Phillips
As golf course superintendents in the United States continue to struggle with keeping their maintenance teams fully staffed, one of Vietnam’s newest golf facilities, Hoiana Shores Golf Club in Hoi An, has taken an innovative approach to training and retaining individuals to tend to the golf course — it created its own school to teach those workers.
The Golf Operations and Maintenance Vocational College (GOMVC) in Quang Nam, Vietnam, is the first such golf-specific enterprise in all of Asia. The first graduating class of maintenance staffers joined the grounds crew at Hoiana Shores in January, while the inaugural class of caddies enrolled in December 2018 and graduated at the end of February. Another class of 50 enrolled this past winter and will graduate in May. All students in the program are guaranteed employment with Hoiana Shores, which is set to open later this year.
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 the Quang Nam Peoples Committee.
“There has been an explosion of development, golf and otherwise, in Vietnam, and Quang Nam province has wisely supported this activity with a local tourism college that has trained thousands of resort and hotel workers to date,” says Ben Styles, vice president of golf and residential development at Hoiana Shores.
“However, a golf course has specific needs when it comes to staff,” Styles says. “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 (GOMVC) is the first program with a specialized 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.”
Since his arrival in Vietnam in 2007, Styles, a native Australian and member of the PGA of Australia, has witnessed firsthand that development boom. Labor, staff and training have been persistent issues throughout his time in country, 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 says. “That’s a result of staff not being trained up properly by the time the original superintendent, director of golf or general manager moves on.”
The Golf Operations and Maintenance Vocational College is part of Hoiana-Quang Nam Vocational Training Centre, located in the Duy Phuoc district. According to Styles, Hoiana Shores has so far spent more than $300,000 rehabbing and outfitting the college.
The first class of 24 students in the course maintenance curriculum arrived in October 2018. Technically, they arrived as employees of Hoiana Shores, a Robert Trent Jones II design set for a soft opening this summer, with a grand opening in late 2019. When they graduated, they transitioned directly to their work on the 18-hole championship golf course, where the grassing of golf holes was already well underway.
The course superintendent at Hoiana Shores, Rob Weiks, a six-year GCSAA member, is the turf expert who supplied an international-standard syllabus for the course maintenance curriculum at GOMVC. His Hoiana Shores colleague, director of golf Kelly Nguyen, did likewise on the caddie and operations front.
Each graduate in either track will receive the first accredited degrees for golf maintenance and operations in Vietnam.
“Without those degrees accredited by the Vietnamese government, golf course workers in Vietnam are not recognized as professionals with legitimate wage-earning positions,” Styles says. “That may sound like a bureaucratic fine point, but it’s not. Right now, golf course workers are not so recognized 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 Vietnamese nationals who work in the golf business.”
Styles was quick to point out the assistance GOMVC has received from golf industry companies such as LinksShape, the outfit now building the RTJ II-designed course at Hoiana Shores, and Sports Turf Solutions, which has supported the venture by donating a full complement of maintenance equipment.
“We’ve received so much support, I think because people in the golf industry recognize the need and want to see it succeed, then replicated all across Southeast Asia,” Styles says.
Hal Phillips is the managing director of golf and resorts for Mandarin Media, a public relations firm with offices in Portland, Maine; Park City, Utah; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He is the former editor of Golf Course News.