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.


Anonymous said...

The golf course at Namulonge originated in the 1950s.The research station was then run by the Cotton Research Corporation. I lived and worked there at the time.

Peter Le Mare said...

The golf course and the two pools were built in the 1950s. Research then was by the Cotton Research Corporation of London. I worked there and lived in the house shown.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a date for MaryLouise's development of the course or her rejuvination of it, but I was born in Kampala in 1956, and from as early as I can remember there was a golf course in front of the house we lived in, so that will be at least 1961-ish. All the same - very interesting.

robs said...

I lived at Namulonge in the '50s (house No. 4 like that in the photo). One day Baraza (one of the caddies and member of our gang) and I did 9 holes with the same score as the then Director, John Munro, did 18. Well, that's how I remember it - I must have been 9 or 10 because it was before secondary school and a move to Tanzania. We probably had a driver, putter and Nos. 5 & 8 between us and, of course, bare foot. The greens and fareways were fine. It was the height of my golfing career - haven't played since! Baraza was a dab hand at making clubs from branches and practiced pitching and putting next to the tennis courts into a hole in the ground. The swimming pools were tremendous - the other one being at the other end of the station - as was the dam and farm.


Anonymous said...

By the 1980s, the course had fallen into an unplayable state. Chuck Simpkins, who worked for a USAID funded agricultural development project, lived at Namulonge and refurbished the course in the late 1980s. His wife, Mary Louise, passed away while he was living there and the course was renamed in her honor.

Anonymous said...

Play golf for £2.50 per head I.e 10000 shillings per person. My wife and I paid 40000 shillings for e golf, clubs and balls and caddy and 2 drinks.

The course is not as bad as some reviews suggest and is run by the members who volunteer to maintain it.

You enter the course via a dirt track from the main road just before a blue building on the right hand side. You stop at the gates of the research centre, write your name in the book and enter. Take a left at the tennis courts and there is e golf course.

Everyone is so welcoming and it's a lovely experience. The greens are rubbished then you do pay £2.50 rather than £70 for kampala. The challenge is great despite the yardage which is about 2500 yards.

Hole 1 is 275 yards par 4 dogleg. Drive towards the tree near the green and chip on. Hole 2 is 136 yrds over Sand to a slopping right to left green. Aim right of the green and it will feed left. Hole 3 is 190 yrds, straight up the slope. A punch shot is needed because of the hanging trees. Hole 4 is technically behind a tree. Play a 9 iron about 100/120 yrds leaving a 150 yrd approach to a green sloping away from you. Simple unless you get too confident. Hole 5 is a 527 yrd par 5. Out of bound lefts (internal) and right. Play to the brow and hit a mid iron short of green for a simple par. Hole 6 is SI 5 and is 250 yrds. OOB left and sand guards the green. Play a drive left of the green, preferably long of the green for a simple up and down. One of the best greens on the course. Hole 7 is a 500 + par 5 downhill and reachable in 2 good shots. Anything short of the green by 10-15 yrds should run on. The tee for the hole is about 150 yards before the 6th green so you are advised to play 2 balls. This is the main benefit of having a caddie. They can remember where both balls went! Hole 8 is 247 and very tight. Take an iron off the tee for position and play to the 2nd green. Being left of the green (near OOB) after 2 shots in not a bad result. There are lots of trees on this hole so be straight. Hole 9 is 250 uphill and is the beat birdie opportunity on the course. The hole is driveable for the big hitters as long as you avoid the trees. The get out of jail shot is a slice right as OOB is left.

The course is a good challenge and requires a good array of shot management. It plays like a links course in places because of the type of land/ grasses based on.

You will enjoy a good game of golf here. Be sure to tip the caddie as they are normally kids supporting their families.