Situated less than an hour’s drive north of downtown Mombasa, the Baobab course is the first of two 18-hole layouts planned for an ambitious residential development at Vipingo Ridge and its location – only a couple of miles from the coast – affords golfers spectacular Indian Ocean views to the east as well as wonderful African sunsets over the interior to the west.
Laid out in 2009 by former Kenya Open winner David Jones from Northern Ireland, the course was constructed to USGA specifications. A system of interlinked lakes, streams and waterfalls runs through the course, adding beauty and strategic interest to the design. Thousands of new trees were also planted during construction which will, in time, give greater definition to the fairways.
The signature hole at the par four 16th requires a precise drive down the left side of the fairway, flirting with water on that side. An uphill approach shot then has to find a raised green that’s defended by sand to the front and yet more water to the left.
In 2016, the Professional Golfers Association formed a partnership with Vipingo Ridge to endorse the championship Baobab course as East and Central Africa's sole PGA-approved golfing facility. General Manager Mike Round-Turner announced that the club had also acquired a PGA Golf Academy brand license to create opportunities for youngsters to take up the game or even join the golf industry as pro shop staff, administrators, caddies and green keepers.
Architect David Jones exclusively commented as follows:
"I’m pretty pleased with Vipingo Ridge, considering it was built with ONE professional shaper and literally hundreds of local casual workers who we trained to do the various jobs. I got that course built for a very reasonable sum of money, including all the earthworks, engineering, irrigation and water features.
The water and stream system was my bit of real inspiration that makes the whole thing work so well. Originally the site was quite barren as an old derelict sisal estate. I decided to pump water up from the natural dam to the large dam I created at the 16th, and from there to the clubhouse.
I then designed the gravity fed streams all the way back down through the cascades and smaller lakes of the 8th, 9th, 16th and 18th. As I developed the water system, the 16th really grew into a strategically challenging hole with a lot of character; it’s actually a lovely finish, the last few holes.
I managed to find an eccentric American shaper called Dan Kain who’d been working on 'The Green Monkey' in Barbados. He came over from a little town called Point Blank, Texas, to work with us… quite a character.
The owners originally were four Kenyan guys, and they are all still involved. They put in some cash but really the whole thing was funded through plot sales, and project managed by a pro pal of mine called Saleem Haji, who I’d met down there years before when I won the Kenya Open in 1989.
I always liked Kenya and took a real shine to this project, so I spent a lot of time there as the work was very labour intensive and needed a lot of supervision. I go back quite regularly, about two or three times a year, and they have plans for a second course which I have already done some concept design on but will fine-tune when the time comes.We are intending to change the greens on the Baobab Course to Paspalum grass, which will eventually make finer putting surfaces and I also have plans to re-do some of the weaker bunkers that were originally built in rather a hurry."
It’s generally a sound policy to save the best until last and so it worked out on my recent trip to Kenya. My hosts, after introducing me to a selection of good courses in and around Nairobi, had me visit this place just before I was due to return home, thus ensuring I headed back to the UK with nothing other than positive thoughts of a very chic, upmarket golf facility that can surely compete with any other modern residential golf development on the continent of Africa.
The course is set out within a massive 2,500-acre property to the north of Mombasa, with in-house security ensuring the safety and well-being of residents who have constructed houses on site. Although a number of holes are flanked by housing units, there are no walls or hedges to separate grassed back yards from the fairways so they blend in beautifully, giving rise to local rule number 2) on the scorecard: “There are NO out of bounds on the course”. Now when were you last allowed to play your second shot from somebody’s garden, having pulled or pushed your drive a little wide of its intended line off the tee?
The quality of the Vipingo Ridge layout is apparent right from the off, with hardly a blade of grass out of place anywhere. I swear, after two rounds of looking very closely, I was unable to find a single weed on any of the closely mown areas between tee and green on any of the holes – and that takes a very special regime of course maintenance to achieve, especially in such a fast growing climate.
Conditioning aside, the course is a marvel of engineering, as water gently cascades down from the highest point on the course - either side of the 9th and 18th holes - to the lower reaches, via an aesthetically pleasing series of small streams and waterfalls. I never thought the background noise of cold water tinkling over stone would ever sound so sweet under a hot, burning sun…
Highlight hole for me (amongst many) on the front nine was the par five 6th, which is fronted by a cunningly concealed little pond. Despite my caddy warning me about it, I still managed to find the water, I’m afraid. On the inward half, the right doglegged 16th, with a strategic nest of fairway cross bunkers to be avoided, is another fabulous hole, flanked down the left side by the water feature already mentioned.
Architect David Jones did a fine job at Vipingo Ridge, arguably one that deserves a little wider recognition. Suffice to say, it’s a must play on any golf trip to Kenya.