Thursday, July 31, 2008

Entebbe Club

It's the longest course in Uganda, beating UGC by 350 yards. It has 2 very long par 3's, the longest par 4 in UG, and 5 par 5's. Play in the cool of the morning and bring water....lots of it.

Water is a main attraction here, although there is none on the course itself, Lake Victoria is just a short par four away, and you get beautiful views from many of the holes (bad light today, so maybe a picture next week).
In addition, you play along the Rhino enclosure and near the chimp island of the Zoo, so that's a bonus, as is the view of State House and a lovely old chapel and the cricket oval, with its art-deco pavilion lies in the middle of the course. You get the occasional jet fighter screaming overhead as well. All in all a busy visual golf experience.

It's got some very cute tee markers, the holes are named after club members

as usual, clicking on the small image gets you a large one

I've played Entebbe many times, even won a prize at a tournament last month, but never looked at it with a critical course design eye before. Entebbe is a monster, long, heavily bunkered and full of mature trees. Despite the dry conditions (I hit a 390 yard drive today!!!, well 290, with 100 yds of roll) the course still plays long. On 17, the longest par four, I hit a very good driver and a well struck 3 wood, and wasn't quite pin high. I even had to hit fairway woods on 2 of the par 3's!

Besides length Entebbe also defends its honor with dozens of bunkers in the fairways, rough and around the greens. They are well raked now, but it's heavy lake sand, not the light fluffy stuff, which makes for a harder sand save, especially if you try to "pick it clean". I'm a decent bunker player, and I was in the same bunker on 2 different occasions ON THE SAME HOLE today. Thank God it wasn't this one (left).

The Main challenge however is the trees and the high grass that grows around them in the rough. New stands of pine have been liberally planted around the course, which are a real menace to play out of. It's the mature trees that are the real obstacle though, forcing you to shape your shot around them or avoid them altogether. Besides the usual driving into a gap, several of the par 3's holes here force you to hit OVER very tall (and wide) trees or stands of trees .

If you go to Entebbe, bring plenty of ammo, you WILL lose balls here, and you WILL spend a lot of time looking for them. I guess that's part of what makes it so tiring. It's a real slog, but they do have a cart they will rent you for 30k UGX, they seem amenable to negotiate this price ;-)

The clubhouse is large, has a limited, though very good menu and a well stocked "pro shop". Snooker has it's own room (which seems par for Uganda), which it seems to be sharing with the flags for some reason. Perhaps they were lonely on the course?!

There are plenty of caddies here, but not early in the weekday mornings. Caddy Day is Monday, and caddy fees are 4/6k for Junior/Senior caddies. There are 5 caddies who own their own clubs (hand me downs), and all the caddies share them. Green fees are 4k if you are a UGU club member, 30k for non members. Clubnite is Fridays, and it's 5k (going up to 8k soon). I like Entebbe, it's a laid back, never busy and has a lovely setting. I think the termite damage to the greens may be the only thing that keeps it out of the top echelon of Uganda courses.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Uganda Golf Club: Kitante, Kampala

This course, at Kitante in Kampala, is widely regarded as the best course in Uganda, and at the moment, it certainly is! Hosting the Interregional tournament in August 2008 means that the course is in fantastic shape in July.

A great deal of effort has been put into the course and clubhouse facilities over the last few years, and it really shows. The greens are fast and true, the tee boxes are shaved, bunkers raked, rough mowed to a reasonable level, (they are punitive normally) and other facilities have been upgraded.

The showers for example, are the best anywhere in Uganda, unlimited hot water, seats to rest on and even monogrammed towels!

The wealth concentrated in Kampala allows the club to charge 2 million UGX as a joining fee, and membership is 1 million per year. Those fees plus some corporate sponsorship allow the club to maintain the course and clubhouse to a very high standard. The downside of course, is having billboards splashed all over the course, and clubhouse:

They do the basics right, things like built in sprinklers, and proper tee boxes

but the attention to detail is also well done, with things like numbered flags and tee markers with benches

I have seen the course in drier conditions, but never in such peak shape, the greens are immaculate (below left) and holding, even in the dry conditions. You get extra roll when it's dry, I hit driver and then just a 5 iron into the downhill par 5 8th (below right), normally a driver/5 wood/wedge hole for me.

What makes this course such a thorough examination of your golf game is the layout in a valley, which gives lots of hilly lies and slopes to hit towards for a favorable bounce. Kitante Creek runs through many of the holes, and it's possible to hit into the water twice on several of the holes (I have done it many times). The front nine is easy compared to the back side, which is much steeper and fatigue enters into the equation at about the 12th hole, which I think is the signature hole on this course.

12 (right) is a longish par 4, with trees left and right off the tee, O.B. right, swampy hazard left, Kitante Creek running diagonally right to left across the hole, and a large Mango tree in the fairway. The hole plays more like a par 5, as a short drive makes you think about laying up, or aiming a long iron/fairway wood at the big lipped bunker short and right of the green.

If you carry the bunker (left) and land in the 5 meters or so just past it (or aim at the pin, and risk going in the water), you will have a birdie putt on a green that slopes right to left and back to front.I parred this hole as part of "Golf Around Uganda: UG Golf Quest 2008", thats only the second time in 3 years I have gotten a par. There is no place to miss here, as over the green is very bushy, guaranteeing a lost ball. Four is an excellent number here, and IMO is not the hardest hole on the course (that's #15 in my book).

This is urban golf, with some interesting cityscape views, including my favorite of the Kibuli mosque, and Garden City, which is O.B. on two holes.

I would join this club in a heartbeat, if they had a pool for my kid. Another downside is the amount of play that Kampala gets. Weekends a round of golf takes ~6 hours, far too long IMHO, slow play on the part of the members is also part of the problem. Fridays are often reserved for corporate tournaments, so the course is closed often.

Caddies are "professional", they have a dress code (of sorts), set fees (6k, but give them 10), and are alloted by a Caddie Master, unless you have a favorite, then you can specify who you'd like. Ask for Henry, if he is not there, Pius or Nelson are also good.

Monday is Caddie Day, they play for free, but only have one set for dozens of guys. The caddies are, as usual, generally better players than the members. There are one or two tournaments for caddies annually, some have turned pro, but very few have sponsorship to do so. Caddies aren't allowed to play in some tournaments, in many cases, they are treated as second class citizens, both in person and as a class.

UGC has lots of good young players, I see groups of youth practising on occasion, but do not know the details of the Youth Program. I played earlier this summer with a 14 year old girl who kicked my butt!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mary Louise Simkins Memorial Golf Course: Namulonge

Namulonge is a private course 32 km from Kampala. It's in fantastic shape (except for the greens, which are UG standard shaggy). The layout is set in the midst of the National Agricultural Crops Research Institute, 12km from Gyaza. M.L. Simkins was a USAID spouse, living on the grounds and she was the driving force behind either it's rejuvenation or building, depending on who you ask. I had always heard it was built in colonial times, but my caddie told me that Mrs. Simkins did it.

It's not a club as such, but a private course where green fees are 5k, and caddie fees are 3k per nine. Ball boys get 2k per nine, but will try you on for 3. No special day for the caddies, but they play free whenever they can, which is whenever balls and clubs come their way.The course is available for rental, as are the bungalows surrounding it. Both Sheraton and DFCU have organised tourneys here in the past, but there are none scheduled this year. (click pictures to see full image)

There are two swimming pools on the grounds, neither of them operational, but I'm sure that Mrs. Simkins had them well run. There is an eco-tourism resort 6km away, but also guest houses on the grounds which rent for 15k per night (bring your own food). Ask at the administrator's office (above right).

The course itself is lovely, and well tended, as one would expect from agriculturalists. There are mature Kyatuns, Mavula and Mango trees, as well as some flowering shrubs. Allegedly greens are cut on Fridays, but I played on a Saturday and they were still too long. Fairways are in immaculate shape however.

The challenges here are tight driving holes, and smallish greens, it's a shortish course, so one has to think your way around, which is difficult for a "grip it and rip it" power hitter like me.

The signature hole here is #4, a short par four (above right) that would be easily drivable IF there wasn't a HUUUGE tree directly in front of the tee box that forces you to play a dogleg left. You CAN try to punch low iron thru the trees or hit a lofted wood over the trees, but the risk is high, and reward unlikely.

All in all, a lovely course that is easily reachable from KLA, is great value for money and deserves much more play than it gets. This is especially true now that the roughest parts of the murram road to the course is being fixed.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lira Golf Club

To call this place a golf course is extremely generous, although once it was a colonial course, it now has 9 "holes". Where once stood a clubhouse, complete with swimming pool, there is now trees in the pool and remnants of a foundation. Apparently the club was a victim of a battle between the Obote and Okello forces, as it is adjacent to the barracks. (click on pictures for larger image)

Golf in Lira has been victimized by war and poverty as has much of Northern Uganda. There are ~30 members, some who live in Kampala, and are not active at all. CPAR built on part of the course, but the club has come to an amicable agreement with them to use part of the building as a clubhouse for events. Grazing and teaching school are other more common activities on this land these days, but golf is played, although not regularly.

My sense is that without active support from the corporate community in Lira, the course will continue to struggle. Here are shots of the first tee and green.

If you want to play, contact the Captain of the club, Okai Wilson (0782326268), an extremely helpful man, and he will arrange caddies and a tour. Mr. Wilson and others try to teach the kids, how to play and caddie, but has no kit for them to use.

Membership is 60k per year, green fees are 5k, membership is 60k per year. At the moment, members are being asked for additional donations for diesel and tractor hire. You can see why in this photo:

Thrashing is done every 3 months allegedly, but it looks like longer than that to me. Greens are temporarily sand "browns" that you don't putt on, you just add 2 and pick up your ball. The second hole has an actual hole tho, so you can putt out there.
The original greens are still there, but are barren, in need of seed, fertiliser and care.

A football stadium, complete with corrugated roofing fence has been built on a par four, so that you have to hit over (or into) the "stadium", threading the needle between the two trees. I hit a monster draw into the gap, amongst cries of "playah" and "U de Man!" from the bodaboda cyclists who formed my gallery for that hole. I was pin high in one, chipped on and picked my ball and par at the same time. This is signature golf at it's most absurd, a unique hole, to say the least.

The UN is once again feeding people in Lira, due to last year's floods, but lots o folks have bikes here, and they cost 150k each, so there is some economic activity going on. The road to Lira is shocking, all the more reason to fit two truckloads of stuff onto one truck!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

West Nile Golf Club: Arua

What a joy this course is, lovely park like setting, well maintained fairways offering great lies and very friendly people. The road from MFNP to Arua is beautiful, not a single pothole and spectacular views of savanna and mountains all the way.

The challenges here are the shaggy greens (as usual), and some tight driving windows. Despite this, McTim carded a 3 over par 38, on a soggy course he had never seen before. he was well chuffed!

Once you get past the trees of the tees, the fairways are quite generous:

The club itself, started in the mid 1950's, is healthy and active, with ~120 members, of whom ~30 play. The course gets half a dozen rounds per weekday, 2 to 3 times that on weekends. Caddies are students, who are allowed to play weekends and holidays when not in school, The club got 29 sets of clubs from the R & A for the kids. I can't help but think that they can only use a few of these at a time, and that Kasese, Tororo, Lira and Mbale could use the balance of the kit for their kids.

The clubhouse is interesting in that it is part of the ground floor of the NSSF building in Arua. The club did a deal with NSSF so that they would build the building, the club gets to use part of it, and after 24 years, the ownership reverts to the club (for a hotel I gather).

The club plays a monthly mug of sorts, and have in the past hosted the Nile Open every year. There are 3 caddie tourneys every year, and former caddies pay 30k per year to join instead of 120k. All in all, the beginnings of a solid, youth/caddie program.

As in many places, the colonial era golf course is reduced in size, as the municipality that owns the land felt that too much land was given over to golf. They were probably correct, given the limited resources of most clubs to maintain 18 holes. I would rather 9 well maintained holes than 18 in an overgrown cow pasture.
The course is lush at the moment, with the tee boxes and bunkers overgrown, despite the fantastic fairways, preferred lies are in play.

A club member, Emmy gave me lots of information, and has played every course in Uganda in the year 2006 (while I am doing it in a month).

Since Arua is near the DRC and Sudan, it was a bit dodgy, but in fact, it is safe as houses, even has some first class accommodation.