The Ribat, a magnificent old fortified Muslim monastery (now converted to a Museum of Islamic Art) attracts many visitors to Monastir. For those who prefer outdoor sporting pursuits instead, there are two fine golf courses close to the town centre.
The first layout is Palm Links, a 1994 Chris Pitman production that sits just off the road to Sousse. The second 18-hole track is called Flamingo, one of eight Tunisian courses created over the years by American architect Ron Fream and his Golfplan design group.
Described by one commentator as “a garden suspended between the lakes and the sea”, the course opened in 1992 and it lies close to the Monastir international airport on an impressive, undulating upland site that overlooks the entire "sebkha" (salty lakes) of Monastir.
On a shady site protected by around two thousand ancient olive trees, a handful of fairways cross or skirt ravines with water coming into play at a couple of holes. Although the intention of most golfers who play here is to enjoy some holiday golf, there’s still a fair degree of challenge to be found at Flamingo.
For example, the par five 6th is the hardest on the card. Water lies to the left and right of the fairway with out of bounds also lurking to the left. On the back nine, the 16th is an enticing short par four with an enormous bunker defending the front of the putting surface from big hitters who attempt to fly the green in one mighty blow.
Following a change of ownership, the course was closed for an intensive program of refurbishment of both the course and the clubhouse, with the work completed at the end of 2012.
I played the Flamingo course while holidaying in Tunisia back in 2000. This was the first and last time I’ve visited Tunisia. I’ve no desire to go back there… it may be cheap but it has very little charm IMO as a holiday destination. However, the highlight of my trip was a couple of rounds on the Flamingo course, which is a terrific design that was let down by its condition. Greens were fluffy and tee boxes and fairways somewhat scruffy, but I really enjoyed the layout which has some delightful elevation changes and thoughtful routing. I’m sure Tunisia has moved on as a golfing destination but it would take something really special to get me back to this particular part of Africa as there are so many better golfing destinations on the European side of the Med, especially Turkey.