For the majority of Vietnamese people, golf is considered to be a game for society’s higher echelons, but even those wealthy enough to have taken up the sport can grumble over the fees.
Members of Van Tri Golf Course have even threatened the club’s owners with a lawsuit over the recent increases to annual fees. Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, a member at Van Tri and the chairwoman of Hanoi Women’s Golf Club, told Timeout that the club has received more than 70 complaints from local and foreign golfers, who play regularly at Van Tri Golf Course, located four kilometres from the Hanoi – Noi Bai Highway.
“We are working with lawyers on the upcoming lawsuit,” says Ha. “This week we will send an ultimatum demanding a reduction of annual fees for members. If they take no action, we will sue them.”
In early November last year, Van Tri’s management board announced there would be increases to annual golfing fees which would be two to four times higher than the initial fee levels outlined in contracts inked between the golf club and its members.
In 2010, the fee was $1,080 for a member and $540 for a spouse who wishes to play at the 7,200 yard course. Members’ annual fees rose to $2,244 in 2011 while spouses are expected to pay the same.
“While other golf courses apply fees far lower than Van Tri (from $800 to $1,800), the new fee applied by Van Tri is too high and unfair. We cannot afford it,” says Ha, who adds that the fee hike is disproportionate to Vietnam’s galloping inflation.
She claims that since the new fee level was applied, many golfers have stopped playing at Van Tri and moved to other golf courses, which offer lower fees. “Many now play golf at courses like Dam Vac, Dai Lai, Chi Linh and Soc Son,” says Ha, who is now going for a round of golf in Dong Mo or Tam Dao.
One golfer Le Tuan Viet also claims that he had played at Van Tri for several years but now he and his friends have moved on.
“Van Tri’s new fees are nonsense. I think that this lawsuit is a good idea as it will also let other golf courses know that they cannot raise prices unilaterally,” Viet says.
Owners swing back
However, Kim Joon Ki, the South-Korean general director of Van Tri Golf Club, which manages the golf course, says that the course is home to 268 members excluding spouses, of whom only 50 have failed to pay fees for 2011.
Ki attributes the fee hikes to the fact this is the first golf course in Vietnam to gain ISO 14000 certification for environmental protection and meeting international standards. Thus, fees must be higher as a matter of course.
The fee of $2,244 for each member includes $340 special consumption tax and $204 added value tax. “This is the fifth year since the course was established, so we think that this is the suitable time for this [fee hike].”
Kim also stresses that there were no increases to annual fees for members from 2006 to 2010. The increase from $1,080 to $2,488 is “suitable”, meaning a 15 per cent increase per year since 2006. Since late last year, the club has also invested $200,000 in renewing grass. Van Tri has also spent $1.1 million upgrading other facilities. Caddies have been sent abroad for training courses. All these additional investments are aimed at turning Van Tri into the best golf course in Vietnam. According to Ki, that means the price must go up.
But, according to Ha: “Further investments are their business only, not golfers’. They cannot irrationally raise fees as a compensation for such investments.”
“Go to the course, you will see that the course’s infrastructure remains not so good, which often makes our performances less effective,” she says.
At a recent meeting between Van Tri’s management and its members’ committee, which represents golf playing members, the club’s owners noted that members had already agreed with the fee hikes. But Ha claims that there were only two members who agreed with the hikes.
“We want to have another meeting with them to negotiate the hikes,” she say, before adding that Van Tri has only agreed to host another meeting after July 31, by which time, renovations on the whole golf course will have been completed. “We cannot accept that as by then they will have more pretext to either keep or increase the new annual fee levels,” she says.
Most members have a 30 to 35 year membership card, which was worth over $25,000. Now membership is priced at $132,000, not including annual fees.
Meanwhile, Ki claims Van Tri will not increase the annual fees over the next two years.