18-hole golf course by Lake Victoria

Saturday October 6 2018

Bunkers and greens by Lake Victoria.

Bunkers and greens at the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa. PHOTO | GAAKI KIGAMBO | NMG 

By GAAKI KIGAMBO
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Well-manicured golf courses are the ultimate image of beauty and serenity. They are perhaps only rivalled by large water bodies whose health and wellness effects are empirically proven.

So, imagine a landscape that provides both these features and you have the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa.

Located 18km south of Kampala on the banks of Lake Victoria in Kigo off Entebbe Road, the 18-hole course is part of a luxury real estate complex on about 300 acres.

It includes, among other features, Uganda’s first marina located on a man-made bay that, like the course, was sculpted out of Lake Victoria. The marina’s channel is about 30 metres deep and 100 metres wide, and meanders between the ninth and 18th hole.

The 18th is touted as the course’s signature hole — an island green near the centre of the channel that is well-guarded by bunkers.

Some local golfers who have already played the course lost several golf balls over its stretch of 347 yards from tee to green.

The course was developed in two phases by Golfplan Inc, an American architectural company that has built a global reputation for the finest golf courses in the world. The choice of architects aligned with the aspirations of the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa to build the best possible course in the region and tap into sports tourism.

“The vision of the developers for the entire complex is to offer a fulsome experience both to guests at the hotel, which was developed first, people who take up residence in our Italian-styled villas and apartments and national and foreign golf enthusiasts seeking to play a tough course. Although the location of the complex at the lakeshore is already pristine, the course enhances that natural beauty and introduces the sort of challenge we believe is irresistible to golfers,” said Frank Nyakundi, the resort’s general manager.

PGA ranking

The completed Serena Golf Course aims to attain the rating of Baobab Golf Course in the 2,500-acre Vipingo Ridge estate on the Kenyan Coast.

The course is the only one in East Africa approved by the world-renowned Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), joining the ranks of a select number of clubs around the world.

The affiliation, as the PGA touts it, “serves as a highly valued international seal of approval and assures visitors and owners that the course is built and maintained to a certain set standard.”

Interestingly, works on both courses actively began in 2009, with Serena’s involving part reclamation of some marshland adjacent to the picturesque Kampala-Entebbe Expressway.

Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa

The Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa clubhouse. PHOTO | GAAKI KIGAMBO | NMG

The course incorporates small water bodies that teem with birdlife. The downwind from the lake supplies a constant breeze.

To golfers, this is certain to add to the challenge of playing the course. The course also utilises natural growths, especially the studded acacia trees, to amplify its natural theme and to blend in with its surroundings.

The result is a work of fine art with immaculate zigzagging freeways offering as much a cool ride for golf carts as a quiet stroll for anyone seeking some quality time alone. It is unsurprising that its proprietors position it as ideal for a romantic walk as well.

The first nine holes were completed in 2015, and unveiled in a championship sponsored by Johnnie Walker whiskey.

The second phase, which includes the marina, was started in early 2016 and will be unveiled on October 6, in an invitational-only competition slated to attract some 220 players, 42 of whom are professionals. Once again Johnnie Walker is the main sponsor and has put up Ush25 million ($6,500) as the prize for the overall winner. Such partnerships are central to the resort’s ambitions to get PGA approval.

“Partners are very important in the development of these facilities, since the bigger the prize money the more attractive the event. We are already in discussions with the organisers of the Sunshine Tour since it offers great short cuts to PGA recognition,” said Nyakundi.

Uganda Breweries, which markets Johnnie Walker in the country, agreed about the importance of partnerships. The company views the Serena Golf Resort as “an embodiment of progress” as its expansion provides world class facilities previously unavailable in Uganda.

“It is a triumph for golf in the region that Johnnie Walker is proud to associate with as a stylish global icon, which represents the idea of personal progress,” said Anne Nakiyaga, UBL’s luxury portfolio manager.

She added that the company is keen to maintain and grow its relationships with golf in general, and the resort in particular, because, “It is only through associations like these that the game can grow. UBL is keen to facilitate the building of progressive networks and connections at both personal and corporate level.”

Previous attempts

Previous attempts to build professional golf courses in the country have failed. For example, Marasa Holdings tried to develop courses at its breathtaking safari lodges at Chobe and Mweya, located in the middle of Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks in the north and west of the country respectively.

Their plans were successfully resisted by conservationists who made watertight arguments about the distortions the specialised nature of golf course development would introduce to wildlife habitats, to the detriment of tourism.

Luckily, both lodges are within a short distance of existing courses in Pakwach (for Chobe) and Kasese (for Mweya). With or without courses inside the national parks, luxury golfing in Uganda is about to tee off.

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