Other than the Covid-19 pandemic and its adverse effects, 2020 is one year that I will remember for visiting the most golf courses in the country.
I was part of a team that put into practice the ‘Tembea Kenya’ initiative of Kenya Tourism Board as we visited all golf courses in Kenya for a course rating exercise in preparation for the World Handicap System.
After rating Kakamega Golf Club, which was the last of the courses to be rated in mid-December, the course rating team was in agreement that we live in a beautiful country.
The sights and sounds of the Kenya countryside are breathtaking. We live in a Magical Kenya and despite the fatigue exercise, it was a great experience. While still at Kakamega, the team voted for the best 18 holes in the country.
Here are the best 18 holes based on either beauty or difficulty in playing as voted by part of the team of course rating team:
Hole 1: The par-four first hole at Kiambu Golf Club won this because of the difficulty in rating. It has an interesting canopy about 100 yards from the tee box that requires some thought from one who has not played here before.
Hole 2: To play the par-three second hole at Gilgil Golf Club, a new golfer will require guidance from a local. The brown (yes, they have a brown, not a green) is not visible from the tee box and one has to play their tee shot over trees.
Hole 3: The team couldn’t settle for one so we had the par-five third hole of Limuru Country Club and the par-four at Kisii Sports Club. Limuru was chosen for the beauty of the downhill fairway with a dam near the green. As for hole three at Kisii, it is a difficult hole with a tee box that seems to be out of bounds. The tee shot at Kisii has to go over a stream in a valley to get to a fairway that is not visible.
Hole 4: A tee shot over a creek at the par-four fourth hole at Mombasa Golf Club makes for an interesting shot. It is not uncommon to be told by a caddie at the course to aim for a passing ship out on the Indian Ocean and let the wind bring the ball back to the course. This is when the new golf balls are replaced by old ones for those who don’t trust the power of the wind to blow the ball back onto the course.
Hole 5: The fifth hole at Nandi Bears Golf Club is an interesting hole with a chute just 54 yards from the tee box. A well struck tee shot will need to go under the trees to a very wide fairway. This is when a golfer is expected to employ a stinger; a low penetrating shot.
Hole 6: The sixth hole at Nyeri Club is one of the most breathtaking sights that you will see. On a clear day, the snow-capped peak of Mt. Kenya is a wonder to behold. The bushes on either side of the fairway will force one focus on the shot.
Hole 7: At the dogleg right par-five seventh hole at Vet Lab Sports Club, a player has to decide whether to lay up at the corner or go over the bush, which is out of bounds to land the ball on the fairway. This is not difficult for the long hitters but it is very easy to lose a ball out of bounds.
Hole 8: Malindi Golf and Country Club is the only course where we found double greens. The par-four eighth hole is one with a very large double green. Though short, a golfer has to go over a pond just before the green which makes it a testing hole.
Hole 9: On the ninth par-four hole at Mombasa Golf Club, the tee shot has to go over Mama Ngina Drive and there is a water feature a few yards from the fence. Unfortunately, this is a hole that a bogey lady golfer cannot play since her tee shot will not carry the water feature.
Hole 10: One of the most deceptive holes in Kenya is the par-five tenth hole at Sigona Golf Club. Standing at the tee box which is several feet above the fairway, it looks quite short. The downhill tee shot makes it a very beautiful sight.
Hole 11: From tee to coffee is probably the best the course rating team remembers the 11th hole at Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club. The interesting thing about the hole are the Sykes monkeys which seem to feel safer on the fairway than they do on the trees. A wayward tee shot finds the neighbouring coffee farm, hence the term “tee to coffee”.
Hole 12: The par-four 12th hole at the Karen Country Club has a lot of character. It may be a short par four but it is fraught with danger. On the right of the fairway, the out of bounds is about 30 yards from the centre of the fairways and on the left is the dam that attracts golf balls. There is a majestic fig tree next to the green that is probably the oldest landmark of the course.
Hole 13: With a dam that stretches from the women’s tee box to the green, the par-three 13th hole at Muthaiga Golf Club is one that tests club choice for golfers. The large green looks easy to reach but the green has protection almost all around.
Hole 14: The view of Nairobi City from the tee box of 14th hole at Railway Golf Club was one of the reasons it was voted in. It is also one of those holes that though short, presents a lot of challenges for golfers.
Hole 15: The 15th hole at the Leisure Lodge Golf Club is another par-three hole with a lot of protection. There is a dam that stretches from the tee shot to the green with part of the dam continuing to the side of the green.
Hole 16: The course rating team had to duck at the 16th green at Nyahururu Golf Club because of a swarm of bees but this is not the reason it made the list. The tee box is at the bottom of a hill and the tee shot has to go over a ravine. Playing uphill makes the par 4 hole a memorable challenge.
Hole 17: With several animals on the course, a zebra crossing can be very literal at the Great Rift Valley Golf Club. The par five 17th hole here is like no other in the country. It is one that tests skill as well as patience.
Hole 18: There are very many memorable closing holes on golf courses across the country. The par-five 18th hole at Nakuru Golf Club is the cherry on the cake that completes the 18 most memorable holes in country. The magnificent view of Lake Nakuru gives the golfer the feeling that a well struck ball can reach it.
Part of my new year resolution is to play in some of the beautiful courses that we rated in the year 2020.
I would like to welcome readers of this column to join me in visiting a new golf course every so often and be part of ‘Tembea Kenya’.
We live in a beautiful country that is open for exploration. Please let me know your best 18 holes for 2021.
– Wang’ombe is the General Manager of Kenya Open Golf Limited