Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake and its shoreline extends to more than seven thousand kilometres. The southern half lies inside neighbouring Tanzania, with most of the northern shores occupying Ugandan territory, and it’s along this wonderful waterfront the fairways of the Lake Victoria Serena golf course are arranged.
It took more than a decade to build the 5-star hotel and associated villas, marina and golf complex. Work began on the project in 2008 but the global recession drastically slowed construction and the golf element opened initially with only nine holes. An additional nine was completed – holes 2 to 8, 12 and 13 – in 2018 to bring a full 18-hole layout into play.
The resort was something of a challenge to build as a large part of the site was covered in thick papyrus growing within a swamp. Architect Kevin Ramsey also incorporated a huge man-made lagoon into the design and this channel separates holes 1 and 9 from 17 and 18, allowing boats to access the integrated harbour and clubhouse from Lake Victoria.
Water hazards form a large part of the playing strategy, especially on the 549-metre 8th and 395-metre 18th holes, both of which feature spectacular island greens in the lake inlet that leads to the mooring in front of the clubhouse. On course playability is enhanced by using SeaSpray paspalum grass, except on the greens which are carpeted with a creeping bent.
“This was to be the second 18-hole course in the region, as far as I know,” says Kevin Ramsey of Golfplan. “The Uganda Golf Club in Kampala dates back over a hundred years and is a by-product of British colonization. Lake Victoria golf course is the only one in the country built to modern USGA recommendations.
Similar to many developing countries that we work in, it is difficult to find proper equipment and, on top of that, nobody knows what a golf course is, let alone what it should look like. It was imperative to not only provide highly-detailed plans and drawings for the engineers to follow in the general earthworks, but also to provide a team of highly skilled expats to direct and implement the detailed work.
This involved a group of shapers, supervisors and an irrigation manager. The project involved two phases of nine holes each. The first phase was completed seven years after the project’s conception, and the second phase took another three years.
The main delay in construction was due to the earthwork as we got closer to what we believed was the shoreline of Lake Victoria. A large part of the site ended up being some form of swampland of papyrus, and needed to be filled and stabilized. This was a time-consuming task with the equipment on hand and the need for additional fill material.
The site was generally flat or was slightly tilted towards the lake. It required excavating many lakes to generate material to build the features of the golf course and to create positive drainage. As this was to be a championship resort course, we needed to be able to accommodate resort golfers with the majority being higher handicap.
Since it began, it has employed at least 100 local people. It has created an immense amount of pride to the people of Kampala and Uganda by having a high-quality, modern, championship golf course in their country. It adds a marketing benefit to the Serena Hotel Group and to the owners, The Cementers Group, it is a badge of honour and pride to have created this in their home country.”
I remember the first time I drove past the Serena golf course on Lake Victoria, seeing its 9 hole manicured fairways and thinking what a joy it would be to play. Fast-forward 12 months and with the additional 9 holes now open, I was certainly not disappointed. Water on all 18 holes, narrow fairways, tough protected greens, ball eating rough and a high elevation all combine to make this a memorable golfing experience. The first dog leg right holes provides the starting block for a very tough opening set of holes. Despite having an excellent caddy guiding me around, a slight draw or push could easily see your ball disappear completely into the rough or the water which appears to be lurking everywhere. For me it was the par 5, 8th hole where the course came into its real element. A slightly more generous fairway allows 3 good strategic shots to a small green. From here the course opens up and whilst the water appears everywhere the back 9, the run in from 14 are an absolute joy to play. This course will increase in stature over time as it beds down and I can’t wait to get back there to play again.