The idea was to siphon off many of the big-spending Japanese and Korean golfers who make up the backbone of Thailand's booming golf tourism market.

The ensuing rush to build courses led to licenses being doled out without much planning and farmers being forced off their land to make way for ritzy new clubhouses.

But today, most of those plans have been scuppered. Tourism is well down from last year and the flashy new clubhouses around the country only welcome a trickle of players through their turnstiles, hardly enough to offset the tiny nation-wide golfing community of some 5,000 players, out of which, only 200 of them are Vietnamese.

The country already has 76 courses up and running and another 68 are due to begin construction or are awaiting approval.

In the capital, planning authorities have had enough; and have asked the prime minister to withdraw investment licenses for ten stalled golf projects.

The move could be welcome news for the farmers who own the combined 2,441 hectares of paddy fields, slated to house the planned courses.

Vietnam's complex foreign investment laws have the courses slotted into the group A category, which covers investments of over 500 billion dong (US$28 million). Group A requires prime ministerial approval before work can begin.

The ten golf and resort projects include Tuan Chau, Me Linh, Dong Suong, Phu Man, Temple Lake, Me Tri, Long Bien, Thanh Tri, Cam Quy, and Ba Vi.

Environmentalists have also joined the debate, raising concerns over scarce water resources and run-offs from pesticide use.

A senior police officer told the "Golf Courses and Green Construction" conference in May, that most golf courses do not meet Vietnam's environmental protection regulations.

Vietnam News Agency - August 15, 2009