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Cyprus – a golfing jewel in the Mediterranean

04 January, 2023
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Jim McCann

Cyprus – a golfing jewel in the Mediterranean

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located in the eastern part of that huge expanse of water. It attracts about four million tourists every year and more than a quarter of those visitors arrive from the United Kingdom, though an increasing number of people come here annually to seek the sun from Russia and other eastern European countries.

Excluding the 18-hole layout at the Korineum Golf & Beach Resort in Northern Cyprus – an area that’s only recognised by Turkey after it invaded in 1974 – there are half a dozen courses available for play in the central and southern portion of the island. Four of these tracks nestle close to the coastal city of Paphos and the other two reside further east, near Limassol and Larnaca.

Of course, when we flew in last month to check out the golf offering in Cyprus, we made a point of surveying all six of these facilities.

Eléa

First stop on our Cypriot tour was to the Eléa Estate Golf Club on the southeast outskirts of Paphos, where Nick Faldo’s design team set out the golf course in 2010. The clubhouse sits at the highest point on the property, offering panoramic views over the course to the nearby coastline, with eighteen holes laid out across a hundred and twenty acres.

Eléa can stretch to 6,775 metres from the black tees (with a slope index of 142) so it’s a championship-standard layout in anybody’s book. Factor in the large number of big bunkers, several greenside water hazards, and an interesting routing that traverses some really rocky terrain and you’ve a course capable of testing the very best – so choose your tees wisely!

Aphrodite Hills

The Aphrodite Hills complex is located twenty kilometres to the east of Eléa and its PGA National Cyprus course is an early new millennium design from Cabell Robinson which hosted a couple of events on the men’s professional European circuit in 2020. Holes are set out over two distinct plateaux: the 1st, 2nd and 8th to 18th lie nearest to the clubhouse with the remaining five holes laid out on the other side of a deep canyon.

Access to the 3rd and from the 7th is via a very long, winding path (and a tunnel to the 8th tee) so the use of a buggy is mandatory when tackling the front nine holes. It’s probably not a journey to find favour with golfing purists but even the most hard-bitten golfer is bound to raise at least a smile arriving at the teebox of the par three 7th to play an all-carry tee shot across the floor of a ravine to the green on the other side.

Secret Valley

Situated next to Aphrodite Hills, the Secret Valley Golf Resort first opened in the mid-1990s but the course was radically altered in 2013 by Hans-Georg Erhardt and Snorri Vilhjalmsson of Golf & Land Design, with Tony Jacklin as their headline architect. Set out along the floor of a narrow valley, the tree-lined holes are routed in an out-and-back fashion along the banks of the Cha-Potami riverbed as it winds its way slowly down towards the nearby coast.

Measuring 5,714 metres from the back markers, it’s a tight track with little room for error off the tee, especially on the slightly longer front nine. A large artificial lake comes into play at a couple of holes early on the way home before the round concludes with the shortest par five on the card at the 460-metre 18th, offering a late birdie chance for those who can avoid the cunningly positioned fairway bunkers on the home hole.

Minthis

You’ll find the village of Tsada in the hills to the northeast of Paphos and close to this small settlement lies the Minthis Resort, where the golf course occupies hilly ground next to a 12th century monastery. Donald Steel originally laid out the eighteen holes around thirty years ago and Tom Mackenzie, one of the architect’s former design partners, has spent quite some time in recent years upgrading the layout.

The resort staff are proud of their efforts to integrate the course fully into the landscape with holes weaving through olive groves, vineyards and orchards as they fan out from the clubhouse in two returning 9-hole loops. Several spectacular holes have also been developed, including a new par five 10th and an upgraded par three 15th which plays downhill to the only island green in the country.

Dhekelia

On the last day of our trip to Cyprus, we got the chance to visit the 18-hole course at Joint Services Golf Club Dhekelia on the other side of Larnaca, around a 90-minute drive from our accommodation in Paphos. This military course isn’t open to the general public but we made the necessary arrangements by email beforehand to get signed in at the gatehouse then escorted around the property.

Founded in the mid-1960s, the Dhekelia course was constructed by engineers who built the concrete tee boxes, fashioned the fairways and set out the browns using oil and sand – and these elementary putting surfaces have since been replaced (in 2016) with artificial grass to further enhance the playing experience at this delightful little course.

Today, it measures 5,590 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 70, and it unusually starts and finishes with a par three. Seven of the holes (#4 to #10) lie on flatter ground outside the perimeter fence so golfers leave then re-enter the base during their round. It may not be as manicured as any of the Paphos courses but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in charm.

Vikla

The final golf stop on the way back to Paphos took us off the beaten track, into mountainous territory above Limassol and the rustic course at the Vikla Golf & Country Club, beside the tiny village of Klonari. Here, in the early 1980s, owner Robin Houray’s plans were to operate an olive plantation in a similar manner to the coffee business he’d run in East Africa but when this didn’t work out, he decided to build a golf course instead.

The original layout had sixteen holes in play (the 6th and 7th were also the 17th and 18th) but most of the back nine holes have been returned to nature now – leaving 11 greens in play – and golfers play twice to the same putting surface seven times (only the 2nd, 4th, 14th and 15th are single-use greens). It all sounds a tad complicated but it’s a basic setup that seems to work, with minimally shaped holes draped out across the landscape.

The clubhouse exudes homeliness and we were told it’s very much the focal point of the local community, with barbeques and social get togethers taking place all the time. Truth to told, it’s more of a family club than a golf club and many who come here for the first time become regular visitors. If you like to play “uniquely affordable” golf or you just fancy a more down to earth place to tee it up then Vikla’s worth a try sometime.

Postscript

We arranged to speak to Kelvyn Bailey, secretary of the Paphos Golfers Association, at one of the clubs we visited and during that discussion he told us of a new residential golf development taking place at Limassol Greens, with Cabell Robinson designing a new 18-hole layout next to the largest salt lake on the island at the RAF Akrotiri base. We've emailed the developers to ask for more details about the course which is onpaper scheduled to open at the end of next year.

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Jim McCann

Editor

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