It’s not surprising that Kenya is such a superb golfing destination. The country’s combination of Indian Ocean coast and Rift Valley highlands makes for some fine fairways and glorious greens, as our sports writer Chris Hatherall reports
They call it the world’s most heavenly golf destination, and with monkeys scampering across the fairways, Egyptian geese flying over exotic flowerbeds and even antelope interrupting play, it’s easy to see why.
Kenya may not be the first country that springs to mind when thinking of a golf holiday – the likes of Spain, Portugal and the USA dominate the market – but its reputation is growing fast and there’s no doubting that the East African nation has something very different to offer. There are courses to discover beside the waters of the Indian Ocean, courses deep in safari country, courses nestled in the Great Rift Valley – and even an ‘uphill’ course on the slopes of the extinct Menengai volcano!
In fact, although Kenya has always been more associated with long-distance running than the sedate pastime of pitching and putting, golf has been a passion here for more than a hundred years. The first golf club opened in Nairobi in 1906, and there are now 42 to choose from.
The Kenya Golf Marketing Alliance (KGMA) was formed in 1998 to promote the country as an international golf destination. Its members include specialist golf operators, golf resorts and hotels, as well as the Kenya Tourist Board. In reality, its pitch is an easy one to deliver. Not only can Kenya offer top- quality courses and competitions (golfing legends Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam are former winners of the Kenya Open), but it also provides an array of excursions and adventures for non-golfers.
For golfers, the course fees are cheap in comparison to more famous clubs in Europe and America, and almost all those in Kenya welcome non-members without the need for proof of handicap. The climate – long hours of sunshine in the day, and rain at night to keep the greens in tip-top condition – is another attraction, not to mention the colonial clubhouses and luxury country-club facilities.
The golf safari is taking off and Nairobi-based golf holiday companies such as Tee-off Kenya and Tobs Kenya Golf Safaris can provided tailored itineraries.
Kenya is also a place to watch golf. The Barclays Kenya Open, normally staged in February or March, is part of the Challenge Tour and was won in 2013 by Spaniard Jordi Garcia Pinto, who waxed lyrical about the course at Karen Country Club and Kenya’s incredibly supportive fans.
Nairobi l www.muthaigagolfclub.com
Completely reconstructed by South African golf architect Peter Matkovich in 2004, Muthaiga – original home of the Kenya Open – is one of East Africa’s finest courses, with some of the fastest greens. It winds through the lush woodlands of Karura Forest and its numerous water features are a breeding ground for Egyptian geese, while monkeys scamper around the 522-yard doglegged 4th hole and the par-three 5th.
• 18-hole, par 71 • Altitude: 1710m • Tee distance: 7169 yards (championship), 6801 yards (men’s),
5783 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): 72, 71, 73 • Opened: 1913 (original course), 2004 (new course)
Nairobi l www.windsorgolfresort.com
Less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Nairobi and built on a former coffee estate, this legendary course is overlooked by Mount Kenya and has Egyptian geese, black kites, and majestic brown eagles soaring above its fairways. Lakes, streams and 73 bunkers make it a test for golfers. With an on-site hotel, it’s a great place to start your golfing adventure combined with a fun-filled holiday in Kenya.
• 18-hole, par 72 • Altitude: 1830m • Tee distance: 7290 yards (championship), 6734 yards (men’s), 5695 yards (ladies’ •) Course rating (SSS): Men-72, Ladies-72 • Opened: 1992
3. Karen Country Club
Nairobi l www.karencountryclub.org
Set in the heart of Karen Blixen’s famous coffee estate, this beautiful course has staged a Kenya Open – including the 2013 event – and is teeming with wildlife. The house where Blixen, author of Out of Africa, once lived is situated just behind
the second green.
• 18-hole, par 72 • Altitude: 1830m • Tee distance: 6924 yards (championship): 6662 yards (men’s), 5707 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): Men-72, Ladies-73 • Opened: 1937
Nairobi l www.limurucountryclub.co.ke
This course is set out amongst Kenya’s most famous tea fields – check out the signature par-five 5th hole, with stunning views over plantations lined by rock gardens filled with exotic flowers. The 9th hole is worth visiting too – a rustic clubhouse with the feel of an old English pub. There are even roaring fires, lit every night, to add to the atmosphere.
• 18-hole, par 71 • Altitude: 2135m • Tee distance: 6739 yards (men’s): 5582 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): 71 • Opened: February 1952
Nairobi l www.sigonagolf.com
Dating back to 1938, this course was the dream of Jack Berkley-Matthews, head of the Kikuyu Estates agricultural company, and was routed around an elephants’ watering hole. Nowadays it’s mainly antelopes that sometimes interrupt play. One of the first courses to entice international visitors, Sigona is also one of the most challenging in Kenya.
• 18-hole, par 72 • Altitude: 1980m • Tee distance: 6890 yards (men’s): 5631 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): Men-72, Ladies-71 • Opened: 1938
Mombasa l www.leisurelodgeresort.de
Described as the most beautiful golf course in East Africa, Leisure Lodge – laid out beside a dazzling white-sand beach on Kenya’s south-east coast – is a triumph of construction. Miles of coral were overlaid with sand and topsoil before tonnes of tifgreen, pennlinks and other special grasses were imported from the United States. Top-level tournaments, including the famous Diani Beach Masters, are played on this immaculate course. Golfers must cope with 88 bunkers and a giant lake in an old quarry at the 15th, not to mention raucous troupes of black-and-white colobus monkeys. Non-golfers can enjoy the on-site hotel and glorious beach.
• 18-hole, par 72 • Altitude: sea level • Tee distance: 6632 yards (championship): 6385 yards (men’s): 6123 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): 73, 72, 69 • Opened: 1998
Mombasa l www.nyali-international.com
It’s easy to see why Nyali is billed as a seaside paradise. The only 18-hole course on Mombasa’s north coast, it is flanked by flame trees and has fairways buzzing with troupes of vervet monkeys. For golfers, the super-fast greens are a challenge – and the wind can be testing too. But two practice putting greens, a chipping green, a 280m driving range and a six-hole par-three junior course (the only one of its kind in Kenya) provide plenty of opportunities for practice. The club is also renowned for its Italian cuisine at the II Duetto restaurant.
• 18-hole, par 71 • Altitude: sea level • Tee distance: 6715 yards (championship): 6510 yards (men’s): 5431 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): 72 • Opened: 1958
Mombasa l www.vipingoridge.com
Kenya’s newest and perhaps most exciting course has got the golf world buzzing. Nestled between the Indian Ocean and the green hills of the Kenyan heartland, Vipingo Ridge’s beautiful setting and panoramic ocean views are striking enough, but the golf is pretty special too. There is also a huge practice area on-site.
• 18-hole, par 72 • Altitude: 125m • Tee distance: 7314 yards (championship): 6881 yards (men’s): 6483 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): 75, 74, 73 • Opened: August 2009
Rift Valley l www.heritage-eastafrica.com
For wide-reaching views – and a chance to play as herds of zebra and impala cross your path – this course is tough to beat. Each hole boasts vistas over the Great Rift Valley with Mount Longonot and the Aberdare Mountains in the east and the lakes of Naivasha and Elementeita further along the horizon. The 654-yard, par-five 17th hole is one of the longest in the country – a test for even the most experienced golfer.
• 18-hole, par 71 • Altitude: 2088m • Tee distance: 7107 yards (championship): 6504 yards (men’s): 5502 yards (ladies’) • Course rating (SSS): 74, 72, 72 • Opened: December 1999
10. Aberdare Hills Golf Resort
Naivasha l www.aberdarehills.com
Two hours’ drive northwest of Nairobi, the Aberdare Hills Golf Resort – with views of Lake Naivasha and the Aberdare mountain range – is tipped to become Kenya’s premier golfing destination. Construction is well underway on a luxury KSh120 billion development (including 5-star hotel and eco-friendly homes), with Nick Faldo or Gary Player rumoured to be among contenders to design a stunning par-72 championship golf course.
Kenya Golf Marketing Alliance: Taking Kenyan Golf to the World
The information for this feature has been compiled with the valuable assistance of the Kenya Golf Marketing Alliance (KGMA). The KGMA was formed in 1998 to market Kenya as an international golf destination. There are presently 12 members, including specialised golf operators, golf resorts and hotels, and the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB). Over the past 10 years, the KGMA, KTB and the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) have collaborated to help Kenya realise its potential as a significant and unique golf destination. The strategy aims to double the number of golf tourists visiting Kenya over the next two years. In 2009, Africa’s most celebrated safari country was also voted ‘Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year’ by the International Golf Travel Writers Association. For more info, please visit: www.golf-kenya.com