Golfing holiday in Kenya

Kenya has always been the ultimate safari land: a place of magical creatures, ancient cultures, postcard-perfect beaches, and one of the world’s warmest welcomes. But with the opening of several new championship courses and a wealth of luxurious golf estates, Kenya is striding onto the international golfing stage with the swagger of a confident old hand.

Golfing in Kenya - Windsor with Nairobi skyline
Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club

Some of the world’s best players have endorsed Kenya as their holiday destination of choice. It’s no surprise that in 2009, Africa’s most celebrated safari country was also voted ‘Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year’ by the International Golf Travel Writers Association.

Golfing in Kenya – a long history

It was in the year 1906 that the idea for what is now Kenya’s most venerable course, the Royal Nairobi, was conceived. It had a chaotic start in life: mistakenly located in a swamp, it was then infested by lions. Golfing in Kenya had begun.

Thereafter, golf courses sprang into life all over Kenya. Most still exist and they’re as eclectic a selection as you’ll find anywhere on earth. Some rise from rolling hills green-quilted with tea. Others float amid a sea of coffee plantations. Some lie on the shores of flamingo-fringed lakes, others cling to the flanks of dormant volcanoes. One, the now famous Sigona Golf Course, was built around an elephant watering hole. Another, built on the shores of the vast soda lake known as Magadi, is probably the hottest course on earth. 

Kenya, the awakening giant of golf holiday tourism

As Kenya became hailed as the ‘awakening giant’ of international golf tourism, the interest in golfing safaris grew rapidly. A parade of internationally acclaimed golf course designers arrived to create a number of truly revolutionary courses and, in their wake, came all the big names of golf. The Muthaiga Golf Club hosted the Masters Champions: Seve Ballesteros (1978), Ian Woosnam (1986) and Trevor Immelman (2000). While in 1969 Karen Country Club served as the venue for a triangular match between Roberto de Vicenzo, Bert Yancey and Tony Jacklin. A golfing holiday in Kenya was now high on the list of every keen golfer.

‘Playing golf in Kenya is a wonderfully evocative experience that every golf traveller will cherish. There is such variety, not only between the city and the coast, but between individual courses.’

Peter Walton, CEO International Association of Golf Tour Operators

In 2009, when Kenya was voted the ‘Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year’ by the International Golf Travel Writers Association, fame spread even further. Now everyone wanted to tee off from under the nose of a hippopotamus (Kenya’s golfing rules allow you to take a second shot if interrupted by a hippopotamus) or under the watchful eye of a Sykes monkey.

A golfing holiday in Kenya – the top ten Kenyan courses

According to the golfing cognoscenti, (and specifically Jim McCann, Editor of Top 100 Golf Courses Magazine), the top ten 18-hole courses are – in no particular order:

1. Vipingo Ridge (Baobab Course) – North Coast

Golfing in Kenya - Vipingo
Vipingo Ridge, Baobab Course

Idyllically situated on the cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean, this course was designed by David Jones and was the first in Africa to obtain PGA accreditation in 2016. Described as a marvel of engineering, wherein the water gently cascades from its highest to its lowest point, this former sisal plantation has been transformed into a superlative resort with restaurants, bars, accommodation and more.

The natural beauty, the stunning new course, and the amazing facilities at Vipingo Ridge have all inspired me to build a holiday home here. I believe this is one of the most beautiful coastal courses anywhere in the world.

Ian Woosnam OBE, former World No.1 and US Masters Champion
  • 18 holes, par 72
  • Altitude: 125 metres (410 feet)
  • Tee distance (championship): 7,314 yards

2. Muthaiga Golf Club – Nairobi

Golfing in Kenya - Muthaiga Golf Club
Muthaiga Golf Club

Established in 1913 and reputed to be the ‘prettiest course in East Africa’, this is the Grande Dame of Kenya courses and hosts the Kenyan Open, a professional event held regularly since it became part of the European PGA Challenge Tour in 1991.

  • 18 holes, par 71
  • Altitude: 1,710 metres
  • Tee distance (championship): 7,169 yards

3. Sigona Golf Club – Nairobi

Picturesquely perched on the lip of the Great Rift Valley just outside Nairobi this course, once a wattle plantation, was designed by the accomplished English course designer, Tom Simpson and opened in 1938. Reputed to be ‘tough’ not least because it is six-and-a-half-thousand-feet above sea level.

  • 18 holes, par 72
  • Altitude: 1,980 metres
  • Tee distance (men’s): 6,890 yards

4. Karen Country Club – Nairobi

Golfing in Kenya - Karen
Karen Country Club

Established in 1937, this course occupies the former coffee plantation of Baroness Karen Blixen, whose memoir ‘Out of Africa’ was made into the epic 1985 film of the same name. Renovated by David Jones, it offers a challenging and beautiful game.

  • 18 holes, par 72
  • Altitude: 1,830 metres
  • Tee distance (championship): 6,924 yards

5. Nyali Golf & Country Club – Mombasa

Just north of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coastline this course was established in 1940 and planted entirely with Polana grass from Mozambique. And it still is. Nyali is famous for its Madagascan flame trees, sea views and vervet monkeys.

  • 18 holes, par 71
  • Altitude: sea level
  • Tee distance (championship): 6,715 yards

6. Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club – Nairobi

Golfing in Kenya - Windsor
Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club

Designed by the acclaimed Tom Macauley to championship standard and length, this course features forests and coffee plantations while the resort, just outside Nairobi, is a triumph in convincing you you’re NOT in Nairobi.

  • 18 holes, par 72
  • Altitude: 1,830 metres
  • Tee distance (championship): 7,290 yards

7. Limuru Country Club – Limuru

Close to Nairobi and beloved for its spectacular tree-lined fairways and rolling vistas of farmland and tea country, this course was established in 1940 and hosted the prestigious Africa Amateur Team Championship in 2015.

  • 18 holes, par 71
  • Altitude: 2,135 metres
  • Tee distance (men’s): 6,739 yards

8. Great Rift Valley Lodge & Golf Resort – Naivasha

Golfing in Kenya - Great Rift Valley
Great Rift Valley Lodge & Golf Resort

Kenya’s most spectacular course, this magnificent course offers stunning views of the dormant volcano Mount Longonot and the storm-lashed waters of mesmeric Lake Naivasha. Designed by Tom Macauley, it caused its builder Thomas Fjastad great stress due to the fascination it exercised over the local buffalos.

  • 18 holes, par 71
  • Altitude: 2,088 metres
  • Tee distance (championship): 7,107 yards

9. Leisure Lodge Beach & Golf Resort – Diani Beach

Golfing in Kenya - Leisure Lodge
Leisure Lodge Beach & Golf resort

A cliff top course with stunning views over the Indian Ocean this course allows you to get from the 18th hole to the beach in minutes. And what a beach it is. Situated on Kenya’s most famous beach, Diani, Leisure Lodge has it all.

  • 18 holes, par 72
  • Altitude: sea level
  • Tee distance (championship): 6,632 yards

10. Royal Nairobi Golf Club – Nairobi

In the heart of East Africa’s most vibrant capital, easily reached from all the downtown hotels, this is Kenya’s oldest and most respected course.

  • 18 holes, par 72
  • Altitude: 1,795 metres
  • Tee distance (championship): 7,021 yards

Jane

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