Situated four miles from the centre of Kitwe, the second largest city in Zambia, the Nkana course was constructed by one of the copper mining companies not long after exploration began in this area in the mid-1930s.
Currently under the ownership of Mopani Copper Mines, Mark Wiltshire recently upgraded the course when he renovated the layout in advance of it hosting the Zambia Open in 2014 and 2015.
The main thrust of the upgrade was the installation of an automated irrigation system (involving the construction of four new dams on holes 8, 11, 15 and 8) and the lengthening of the course by adding a few new tees.
Bunker drainage was also addressed, with railway sleepers inserted in the face of some of these sand hazards for stabilisation and aesthetic appeal. Improvement work continues on the course, where the priority is now to improve the playing surfaces of the greens.
Our African Correspondent, Stuart McLean, played at Nkana in March 2016 and had this to say about his visit:
Built in the bushy countryside outside the city of Kitwe, it is a tranquil haven for members. It’s flat, heavily treed, and virtually every hole is in its own quiet world. Small, raised greens give it an old-fashioned look, and increase the scoring challenge, as do numerous doglegs.
Nkana had never previously hosted the Zambian Open until 2014, following all the work done by golf management company MWG in not only restoring the course back to its best condition, but also rebuilding tees and bunkers, making changes to holes, and introducing new water hazards.
Good use has been made of sleeper logs around tees and bunkers to enhance the look of the layout. There’s a new golf academy and range. Greenkeeper Dawie Klynsmith, who spent many years building courses in Nigeria, has rejuvenated a course where fairways were once devoid of grass.
The par four 18th, previously an innocuous hole, now has a magnificent water hazard guarding the green, and complements the refurbished clubhouse which overlooks it. I happily spent time with a beer on the outside deck watching the antics of a few domesticated ducks, and a kingfisher diving for fish.
Whatever you do, take lots of balls if you are in anyway a slightly inaccurate hitter, especially off the tees. The fairways are narrow, and the rough deep. When I played here in an interclub tournament, I won the first hole with hacked out sideways from the rough bogey. Thus, the trend of the round commenced. On mostly flat land, the architect asks you to drive straight, but little else. This, sadly, left me feeling a bit hollow after playing the course. It had been set up for the Zambian Open on the Sunshine Tour, and one can't help but feel the constant need to have deep rough for the pros ruins so many fine golf courses, and Nkana could be that with better use of the angles the doglegs should provide. Great golf course ask questions, Nkana simply gives you a map to follow. Even the 18th, with its water carry to the green, whilst pretty to look at, is two dimension golf; lay up or go for it. We see too much of this on the pro tour; great for TV, no fun for the average golfer.
Having said that, this is a good place to play, as the members are friendly, the amenities as good as it gets in Zambia, and the location definitely gives you a sense of being isolated in the world, as good golf courses always do. There are some very pretty holes, especially 10 and 18, and the green complexes are of a modern standard; in short, Nkana will challenge you to match your handicap. Just bring a few balls.
One should be prepared to always try a course a second time, and so it was that I returned to Nkana and tried it again. This time, with the rough not so penal, the course opened up it's charms. When I first played it, I spent too much time hacking out of rough that was the edge of the very narrow fairways, to really appreciate the green complexes in my red mist of anger.
This time I played it, the fairways were still narrow, however, they have instituted a first and second cut of rough and that has improved the course now end. The greens are mostly small, well bunkered and tough to hold, which places a premium on your short game. However, if you are playing well, you always feel you are a chance.
I thoroughly enjoyed this second visit, always having to think my way around rather than bash a ball sideways. Golf is a thinking game, and Nkana, when set up correctly, is just such a course. I would now rate it a birdie course.