The explosion of golf courses in Southeast Asia Tourism over the past decades originated with the increasing popularity of the region as a hub for foreign businesses, upscale tourism to formerly unexplored tropical destinations and the development of the vast region as a retirement hub for Westerners from golfing-friendly countries. As in the West, business deals and the making of like-minded friends began to take place on the region’s golf courses, and a hierarchy of clubs from the exclusive to the everyday became established. Nowadays, every spa resort and five-star hotel in the region either has its own course or is close to a choice of several courses.
Whilst the popularity of the game was increasing in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, Laos, perhaps because of its recent unsettled history and its politics, has remained largely a country of mystery unknown to all but the most intrepid of visitors. Globalisation of golf as a major visitor attraction has led to the recent naming of Vietnam as Southeast Asia’s ‘Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year’ with Laos not far behind and encouraged by input and investment from Vietnamese developers. The world-class courses in Vientiane and Luang Prabang are now home to international tournaments attracting well-known Western names as well as Southeast Asian masters of the game.
Trends influencing the development of the game in Laos are linked with the increasing number of golfing holidays on offer which stress the quality of the courses as well as the unbeatable beauty of their settings. Luang Prabang is a Unesco World Heritage- listed town for its French colonial history and position on the mighty Mekong River, with its world-class course just 15 minutes from the downtown district attracting an ever-increasing number of players from overseas. Course design across the country is concentrating on blending with the surrounding natural beauty as well as creating an ambience of harmony and tranquility.
The upcoming ASEAN union is expected to see a boom in golfing holidays in the region as free movement between the member states kicks in, with Laos increasing its popularity as a golfing destination as a result. State-ofthe- art new courses are being planned as a response to demand, many of which will be part of luxury hotel and spa developments, giving a complete package for Southeast Asian fans of the ancient game. Golf package tours taking in most ASEAN states are expected to vastly increase the numbers of golfing visitors to Laotian courses as well as generating more top-quality Western interest in the country’s potential as a golfing destination.
Overall, the trend in Southeast Asian golf over the next few years is a vast increase in visitors to lesser-known locations equipped with great courses and plenty of other attractions including culture, tradition and history. Getting away from the golfing crowds by choosing to visit several course in Laos is easy to arrange at present but, after the beginning of 2016, may not be as straightforward as the international golfing world catches on to the country’s potential.