As the editor of Golf Digest for two decades, Stuart McLean has played on many courses around the world. These are his picks on our continent.
Golf is played in 206 of the 239 countries on our planet. I discovered this when the first “official count” of the world’s golf facilities was completed. The global reach of this ancient game was revealed in a survey conducted by The R&A, which governs the game everywhere except in the United States and Mexico.
The survey report included a raft of fascinating statistics. About 45% of the world’s golf courses are in the United States, for example – and they are so abundant in North America that there is a golf hole for every 1 846 people. Even in Europe, where golf has only boomed in the last 40 years, the figure is 5 811 people per hole.
Here in Africa, it’s a different story. Golf is played in 50 of 59 countries, yet so few courses exist that there are 89 229 people for every golf hole. Several African nations are among 50 globally that have just one course to their name.
Germany, a relative golfing newcomer, has almost as many golf facilities as there are throughout Africa. Half the continent’s courses (about 500) are in South Africa, which is among the top 10 nations in the world in terms of facilities.
These include ranges and short courses, not just full- length layouts. From Cape to Cairo, I’ve chosen 10 destinations in 10 countries where you can experience the best of African golf.
Fancourt is recognised as one of the world’s leading golf resorts, and the Garden Route is a favourite golfing destination of foreign tourists. Fancourt’s three courses, originally designed by Gary Player, all rank among the country’s top 20, with the exclusive Fancourt Links rated by Golf Digest as one of the 100 best courses in the world outside the United States.
The Links, where tee times are only available for members and resort guests, is a remarkable creation: a man-made championship links closely resembling those in Scotland or Ireland, chosen to host the Presidents Cup in 2003. Fancourt is renowned for the pristine conditioning of its facilities, including two impressive academies.
The number-one course here is Omeya – a Peter Matkovich design, opened in 2013 in the desert savannah 35km south of Windhoek. It’s one of a handful of courses with grass greens in this arid country.
The beautiful bushveld 18-holer in mountainous surroundings threads its way through a dry riverbed and among numerous camel thorn trees. In the local Oshiwambo dialect, the word omeya means water – and the golf course and estate draw its precious supply from boreholes that tap into an underground reservoir. There’s plentiful wildlife to be seen while out playing.
South African golfers are familiar with Sun International’s Royal Swazi Spa resort in the neighbouring kingdom. Another attractive destination is Nkonyeni Lodge & Golf Estate in the bushveld of the Manzini district, 80km from King Mswati III International Airport. This 18-holer was opened in 2008 as part of an estate on former farmland.
The hilly course – magnificent views are a feature of the back nine – finishes with a dramatic par 3 over the swift-flowing Usutu River. Nkonyeni will soon gain a second 18-holer, a design collaboration between Peter Matkovich and Louis Oosthuizen.
Golf was first played in Kenya in 1906 at what is now the Royal Nairobi Golf Club, yet the course most popular with tourists today has only been around for 10 years. The Baobab Course at Vipingo Ridge estate is a short distance inland from the Indian Ocean, and an hour north of Mombasa.
Irish designer David Jones transformed a barren, derelict sisal plantation into a layout of lakes, streams and waterfalls cascading from the highest point to the lowest. It might be more like golf in Florida than in Africa, but it offers sea views and a challenging modern design.
Close to iconic wildlife reserves is Kilimanjaro Golf & Wildlife Estate, a 30-minute drive from Kilimanjaro International Airport, where on a clear day Mount Kilimanjaro looms large.
This estate development by two brothers from the Netherlands who had a flower-growing operation in Tanzania opened in 2015 at Usa River and boasts a David Jones-designed layout. The attractive site has mature bushveld trees, lakes and small waterfalls among its scenic features. The round concludes with a long par 3 over water to an island green.
With more than a dozen superb courses at magnificent resorts, this island paradise regularly wins awards as the top golf destination for Africa, the Gulf States and the Indian Ocean.
Guests at Anahita Golf & Spa Resort on the east coast have free access to two spectacular layouts: the Ernie Els-designed Anahita, which hosted the Mauritius Open on the European Tour; and Bernhard Langer’s Ile Aux Cerfs, which uniquely has 18 holes on an island that can only be reached by small boat. Both are very special experiences. Green fees in Mauritius are the most expensive in Africa, so golfers prefer to play at one resort during a holiday.
Golf might seem an unnecessary distraction if you are a guest at the opulent Constance Lemuria resort on the northern tip of the island of Praslin, but this is a fabulous course for fun and exercise during a luxury stay.
At 5 600m off the back tees (par 70), it’s an ideal length and challenge for holidaymakers – and testing enough to have hosted the European Senior Tour at the end of 2018. The first 12 holes are flat, within a tropical forest; the fun begins as the course climbs up a hill and produces six dramatic closing holes – two short par 4s, two par 3s and two par 5s, including the risky downhill 18th with water lining the right side of the fairway.
Greg Norman was the designer of Egypt’s new number-one layout at The Allegria, one of Cairo’s exclusive residential estates. Opened in 2010, the Great White Shark’s signature creation resembles the one he built at Dubai’s Jumeirah Estate (which hosts the Race to Dubai finale).
Although it’s flat-ish, The Allegria’s interesting undulations give character to the course’s lush fairways. With plenty of trees, large water hazards and streams as well as rock features, it’s an attractive experience – head and shoulders above other Egyptian developments of the past 20 years.
The resort town of Hammamet, an hour’s drive south of Tunis, has three 18-holers, headed by Yasmine Valley – an attractive, hilly layout through pine forests and olive groves.
The neighbouring Citrus resort has 36 holes, designed by American Ronald Fream. The 1982 Tunisian Open – the first European Tour event in Africa – was played at the 36-hole El Kantaoui, the oldest facility in the country.
The Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam designed for the late King Hassan II nearly 50 years ago by famed American architect Robert Trent Jones. It has long been one of Africa’s premier golf venues, with three courses south of the capital city of Rabat on the Atlantic seaboard.
The Red Course has hosted several European Tour events over the decades on a beautiful, affluent property in a large forest of cork oak trees. There’s a luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel on site.