Uganda is as deep and dark Africa as you can get. Villages are carefree shambles’ of pot ho led clay roads and rusty tin shacks, while urban centres like the capital Kampala are noisy hubs of total chaos. Yet the locals are friendly and most roads leading in and out of the capital are lined with roadside pubs blaring reggae music out into the streets and packed with people having a good time. Clapped-out motorbikes rule the roads and the few traffic lights that work are totally ignored anyway. Flea market vendors lure tourists to their stalls with signs promising “half prise speshils”, and every merchant yells the same pick-up line to foreigners walking past: “You’re welcome in Uganda”.
Luckily I was travelling with a group of crazy people and as the saying goes, “no road is long when you’re in good company ”. We laughed at the scenes happening around us and absorbed the culture like we were on another planet. Travelling through Uganda is an eye-opener. But I wasn’t hereto city-slick or go shopping, I was here to play golf, and so we headed out into the tropical countryside in the direction of Lake Victoria. Thirty minutes later we turned off the tar and onto one of the aforementioned clay roads. We dodged the many aforementioned potholes, and drove through a few of the aforementioned shantytowns. And then all of a sudden we were in a different world.
We’d arrived in an Italian hillside village overlooking Lake Victoria, where Tuscan Villas stood amongst terraced rose gardens which seamlessly flowed down to a boating marina on the shoreline below. This is Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa, the self-proclaimed standout amongst properties in Uganda, and what a magnificent property it is. My eyes quickly focussed in on what lay just beyond the marina in the distance below: The PGA-affiliated championship golf course-my sole reason for being here.
As an avid golfer I could quite quickly identify the course’s most obvious challenge, even from my room’s balcony up on the hill. What I could see was a few strips of green and a lot of water. Water lapping the edges of the fairways. Water surrounding the greens. Water in front of the tee-boxes. The designers clearly made good use of the resources available to them as this once marshy wetland has been reclaimed and converted into a pristinely manicured golf course. And so after dinner I sunk back into my four-poster bed and tried to visualise hitting a straight ball. We’d booked our game for 10:00am the next morning and so after a massive 5-star breakfast we were ready to go.
The hotel transported us down to the Tuscan-styled clubhouse which is at the boating marina on the water’s edge and our mandatory caddies led us to the first tee. The process here runs like clockwork: our caddies knew our names before we’d even met them (these guys are locals from the surrounding villages who have been taught the skill of caddying – part of the hotel’s job creation initiative) and golf carts are provided should you prefer not to walk.
Up close this course is a work of art and so immaculately well maintained. Underfoot is packed sand and the fresh water from the lake ensures the fairway grass is greener than green. What I couldn’t see from my balcony is that the rough flanking some fairways is, in fact, marshland from which your ball will never be retrieved. So, if you don’t slice your ball into Lake Victoria or hook it into a sludgy quagmire, you’ll have a brilliant game…and without going in to a blow-by-blow account of my round, here’s a tip for any golfer who isn’t on the PGA tour: Take a crate of balls. You will lose lots of them.
Unfortunately a sudden tropical storm put paid to our round before we were finished, raindrops the size of golf balls made it impossible to carry on. We hurried back to the clubhouse where South African Cedric Brummer, the Club Pro, was waiting for us with a tray of sherries and towels to dry off with. I was a little disappointed not to have played every hole, but I had seen enough to know that this is probably one of the best “unknown” courses on the continent at the moment. The greens are like glass, the bunker sand is like powder, and the views across the lake from almost every tee-box certainly make for a very memorable game. The golf course was planned in conjunction with ‘Mark Wiltshire Golf, a South African based company that specialises in developing and managing courses.
So, although Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa is predominantly a business hotel, it’s working hard to attract leisure travellers too. While you’re cursing your bad shot on the course, your wife and her friends can get pampered in the uber luxurious Spa. Or, why not jump into a speedboat and head off to Ngamba island for the day.
The 1-hour boat ride takes you across the equator to a chimpanzee sanctuary on an island in the middle of the lake – a day trip that will melt your heart. The chimps on the island have been saved from becoming bush meat and are so human-like that you’ll want to take one home as a pet. The hotel offers a number of other day-trips as well, although you won’t want to leave the hotel too often, this Tuscan-styled oasis of luxury is a very rare find in a very unique country.