Thursday, December 22, 2011

Par Value: Vietnamese Investors Sink Savings Into Golf Memberships

Coveted Club Slots Are a Hot Commodity; Official Disdain for Sport Drives Up Prices



HANOI Some Vietnamese government officials are teed off over golf. Transport Minister Dinh La Thang recently banned his staff from playing the game because he said it encourages gambling and makes them late for work.


Vietnamese are snapping up golf club memberships as investments. Pictured, the plush Van Tri Golf Club near Hanoi.


Other Vietnamese see golf rather differently: as a way to hold on to their money after years of booms and busts.


With property prices sliding and the local stock market in free fall, some people here are investing in golf club memberships in a last-ditch bid to protect their savings from being ravaged by soaring inflation and a fading currency.


Prices for club memberships around Hanoi have risen from around $6,000 in 2004 to roughly $30,000 now, with some of the plushest, complete with swimming pools, villas and tennis courts, reaching $130,000. That's not as expensive as top clubs in Japan or Singapore, but it is still a large slice of change in a country where the average income is around $1,200 a year.


"Buying a membership is better than putting cash in the bank, better than putting it in the stock market, and better than putting it into gold," said Do Dinh Thuy, a 48-year-old management consultant, amid the steady thwack of balls being driven out onto a local range here in Hanoi's suburbs. He recently bought a third membership, "and that one's not for playing, it's for investment."