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Magical Kenya - the ultimate golfing safari

02 March, 2015

Magical Kenya – where golfers and wildlife share the fairways

European journalists on golfing safari, courtesy of The Kenya Tourism Board

For most of us, East Africa might not feature high on our wish list of golfing destinations - especially when there’s tried and trusted old favourites like Spain and Portugal so close to home - but, for the more intrepid golfer, Kenya is such a great choice for an adventure holiday AND a fantastic golf trip.

The Kenya Tourism Board recently hosted a familiarization trip for ten European journalists and the Top 100 Team was fortunate enough to receive one of the special invitations. The visit turned out to be something of an eye opener because the quality of the golf on offer far surpassed any prior expectations.

The itinerary was one that most tourists would probably adopt, mixing safari with golf, which allowed a day on the course, followed by a day in a wildlife sanctuary or relaxing at a beach club on the coast – why play round after round on a daily slog when you can pace yourself, taking time out to observe the multitude of animals that roam around the national game parks and reserves?

The opening day was actually a combination of golf AND safari, beginning with a visit to a Nairobi elephant orphanage, followed by a look around a local giraffe centre. After lunch, there was time to explore the old house of Karen Blixen (the Danish authoress best known for her “Out of Africa” book) before a quick look in at the Royal Nairobi clubhouse. Sadly there was no time to play the course before darkness fell which was a pity as this grand old dame looked very inviting.

Next day, the media group was let loose on the 18-hole layout at Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club, which is a championship-standard course attached to a rather impressive 130-bedroomed 5-star hotel. The off course amenities are first class and the course didn’t disappoint in any way either. Configured in two returning nines which are laid out over pleasantly undulating terrain, the course is exceptionally well bunkered, with the peninsula green at the 18th providing a grandstand finish to the round.

There was just enough time for a very quick visit to nearby Muthaiga, where the Kenya Golf Union has its headquarters, but a late afternoon heavy rain shower curtailed even the short 9-hole round that had been scheduled. The clubhouse is currently undergoing extensive renovation work and a number of water hazards are being added to holes on the back nine so Muthaiga was not exactly at its very best, unfortunately.

Having safely negotiated a way out of the early morning rush hour traffic in Nairobi, day three of the Press Trip took us to Sigona, a remarkable old Tom Simpson design from the 1930s, where much of the architect’s original work remains in play. The clubhouse exudes the lovely vibe of a “proper golf club”, which complements a classy old layout that sits effortlessly on the landscape. For great value golf, where green fees are significantly lower than other leading clubs in the local area, Sigona is hard to beat.

All too soon, it was time to leave the golfing time capsule of the Sigona clubhouse and head along the very busy main upcountry highway to The Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort where, after a long day on the rather dusty road, the media group settled in for the night.

Out on the course early next morning, previous sightings of the odd little monkey at Windsor or the baboons scampering around Sigona were nothing compared to the herds of zebra that freely roamed the fairways here, a number of them taking full advantage of the bright red earth patch close to the 14th tee to roll around in a “dust bath”.

Tommy Fjastad designed the course here - he also laid our Leisure Lodge near Mombasa - and he’s still retained by the club on an on-going basis as course consultant. His course is very much a resort layout, which allows plenty of fairway width off the tees, but it’s one that also needs to be treated with respect, especially at the water-laden holes.

Day five of the Kenyan trip and before flying from Nairobi to Malindi for the last leg of the tour, it was time for another little safari excursion and some close encounters with the local wildlife. The media group members each donned an orange life vest before heading across Lake Naivasha in a couple of small, 6-man narrow boats, passing herds of hippos basking in the shallow waters, to Crescent Island Game Sanctuary, where buffalos, giraffes and zebras have the run of the place - thankfully, the wildlife ranger in charge ensured that a safe distance was maintained at all times between the roving animals and their inquisitive visitors.

And so to the highlight of the Press Trip: Vipingo Ridge, located to the north of Mombasa, on the eastern seaboard of Kenya. The club very kindly asked the Press team to join the members in their weekly afternoon competition so a very enjoyable morning was spent snorkelling at the club’s private Beach Club on the Indian Ocean before heading out onto the course after lunch.

The first of two intended 18-layouts within a massive 2,500-acre property, the Baobab course has been constructed to exacting USGA specification. Designed by David Jones, former Northern Ireland professional and winner of the 1989 Kenyan Open, much of the course was constructed by local labour and it’s something of a technological marvel, with cool streams of water gently dropping down from the elevated clubhouse, alongside the closing fairways on either nine.

We took the opportunity to canvass opinion from all sorts of people - architects, general managers, professionals and even caddies - as we moved from course to course during our stay in Kenya. All of these considered opinions have now been collated and evaluated to produce the latest re-ranking of our Kenyan Top 10 chart.

Vipingo Ridge now moves up two places to take over the coveted Kenyan number one slot from Muthaiga, which drops down to number three. Sigona also makes a significant leap up the table, climbing six places to number two. Great Rift Valley, previously featured on this site as a “GEM,” now enters the national chart in position seven, at the expense of Kitale.

If you have experience of playing golf in Kenya then please let us know if you think we’ve got things right with this new listing. Alternatively, if you feel we’ve got it all horribly wrong with the new national rankings then by all means tell us. We value each and every email that we receive, no matter the point of view expressed by the sender.

Sincere thanks to Muriuki Murithi and Wausi Walya from the Kenya Tourism Boardfor organising such a wonderful trip. Thanks also to Private Safarisfor their assistance with transportation and to Hotel Royal Orchid Azurein Nairobi, Heritage Hotels at Great Rift Valley and Vipingo Ridge for their superb accommodation.

It was the first time that most of the journalists had set foot in the country but there’s absolutely no doubt they’ll all be hoping it’s not the last time they visit Magical Kenya – an extraordinary country where top class golf and wildlife safari intermingle so naturally.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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