Golfing in Egypt
A papyrus inscription discovered in the tomb of one of Egypt’s pharaohs shows him holding a wooden stick and hitting small balls. While the Scots claim to have invented golf, could its roots really date back thousands of years?
Golf was introduced by the British in Egypt in the 1880s. By the late 1990s, there were just three courses, all of them at venerable clubs from that golden era. But since then, Egypt’s barren deserts have literally blossomed with lush fairways and greens, putting it firmly on the global golfing map.
There are now almost 20 courses, with the highest concentration around Cairo and in purpose-built Red Sea resorts. The calibre of architects stamping their name on new courses underlines Egypt’s determination to join golf’s premier league, with designs by the likes of Gary Player, Greg Norman and Sir Nick Faldo and others from fellow Open champions Peter Thomson and Jack Nicklaus to come.
Playing golf in Egypt is a unique experience. You can tee off in the shadow of the iconic pyramids or at new complexes in Cairo’s suburbs, sink putts next to the azure Red Sea and play on fairways carved through the desert like emerald carpets close to where the ancient pharaohs were buried.
It is also just a five-hour flight away. Value is another trump card. Green fees and hotel rates are well below those of many other destinations. And since stability returned following the popular uprising earlier this year which saw the exit of President Mubarak, there have been fantastic deals from tour operators as hotels have slashed prices to try and lure back visitors.
Throw in the incredible history, sightseeing and other sporting and activity options Egypt also has to offer, and it becomes a compelling place for golfers to visit, either as part of a golfing group or on a family holiday with a few rounds thrown in.
Here’s where you can tee it up in Egypt:
There are now nine golf courses in and around Egypt’s capital. The most dramatic setting of them all is at the Mena House Golf Club, where you can almost reach out and touch history. The Great Pyramid of Cheops towers high above this nine-hole course, originally created in 1889 and now part of the luxury Mena House Oberoi Hotel. Double tees and greens allow rounds of 18 holes.
Greg Norman in the new Sheikh Zayed City community west of Cairo which is managed by Troon Golf, and Sir Nick Faldo’s first layout in Europe, a desert oasis-styled course at Katameya Dunes Golf Resort, has very much upped the ante for quality. Designed in conjunction with Schmidt-Curley Design, Katameya Dunes features 27 holes playing as two championship 18-hole courses, both over 7,300 yards long. A hotel is planned for 2012. There are academies at both developments.
The 7,108-yard Mirage City Golf Club is part of a 400-acre development which includes the luxury JW Marriott Cairo hotel that offers facilities including floodlit tennis courts and a themed water park boasting Cairo’s only beach. The Peter Harradine-designed course belies its desert origin, featuring numerous lakes, streams and waterfalls set among lush fairways lined by trees and exotic plants.
The 27-hole Dreamland Golf and Tennis resort, which also includes the Hilton Pyramids hotel, is close to Giza’s pyramids and offers superb views of them, the best from the newer nine-hole addition. The tee markers mimic the nearby pyramids while miniature obelisks imaginatively portray each hole.
In Cairo’s eastern suburbs, Amarante Golf City has a course by French designer Yves Bureau as well as a floodlit driving range and an elegant clubhouse.
Katameya Heights is a private members club but does allow visitors on its undulating 18-hole course. It also has a nine-hole par 35 course. Orange Lakes opened in 2008.
Egypt’s main holiday golf region now has over half a dozen courses. The first, the Jolie Ville Golf & Resort, opened in Sharm el Sheikh in 1998 with the rose-pink Sinai Mountains as a glorious backdrop. Its 18 manmade lakes attract many migrating bird species.
At the top of the Sinai Peninsula looking out over the Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel and set between the sea and the stark Sinai Mountains, is Taba Heights Golf Resort. It is part of a purpose-built resort complete with striking, pastel-shaded hotels. You may even have the club’s resident camels as spectators for your final tee shot.
El Gouna is a sister resort to Taba Heights with equally-stylish architecture. Its Gene Bates and Fred Couples course is laced by the lagoons which are a feature of the resort. Just 20 minutes from Hurghada, El Gouna has over a dozen hotels, connected by shuttles, tuk-tuks and water taxis which also transport guests to the Mediterranean-style marina where there is shopping and dining. A second course, by Karl Litten, is being built as part of the adjacent, new Ancient Sands Golf Resort and opens in 2012.
Half an hour south of Hurghada, the upscale resort of Soma Bay is set on a peninsula. Centrepiece is Gary Player’s stunning Cascades course, described as desert links because it combines both elements. Strips of fairway carve through desert scrub in a figure of eight, with several holes set along the top of low cliffs dramatically edged by the deep-blue sea. A nine-hole par three course and golf academy complement the course.
Among its hotels are the luxury La Residence des Cascades, which houses the huge Les Thermes Marins des Cascades thalassotherapy centre, and the pharaonicstyled Sheraton Soma Bay.
Crown jewel in the new tourist resort village of Madinat Makadi, 35km south of Hurghada City, is its 7,500-yard, John Sanford course – one of Egypt’s longest. Built to USPGA standards, it features three lakes, waterfalls and a meandering stream, while five holes offer views of the ocean and the resort. The five-star Jaz Makadi Golf Hotel is adjacent to the course, with a par-3 executive course and academy the other side.
Ain Soukhna, near the top of the Gulf of Suez, offers Karl Litten-designed The Links at the Stella Mare Golf Resort and a nine-hole course at Jaz Little Venice Golf Resort. Thomson Perrett & Lobb’s El Ein Bay course opens with 18 holes next year.
An undiscovered gem, Luxor’s Royal Valley Golf Club is just 13km from the city and its archaeological treasures, but you may well have the fairways to yourself. Located on Luxor’s East Bank, it offers generous fairways with water hazards on the front nine and narrower tracks with larger waste areas on the back nine. The clubhouse is an impressive Nubian-style edifice, while evocative tee markers echo the names of the tee positions: King Tut, Ramsis (Ramses), Sphinx and Nefertity (Nefertiti).
The 1889-vintage Alexandria Sporting Club is a tranquil oasis amid the hurly burly of Egypt’s second city. Short by today’s standards, it has small greens and fairways lined by mature trees.
Golf is now being developed at Mediterranean coast resorts, the first new facility being Porto Marina (18 holes played on nine fairways), near El Alamein, where German’s “Desert Fox”, General Rommel, was defeated by Allied forces in World War II.
egypt golf facts
Egypt is a year-round golf destination. While winter is the ideal time to play, summers are less fierce and less humid than in the nearby Gulf. Cairo’s summer day temperatures rarely exceed the mid-30s Celsius and sea breezes temper the heat on coastal courses.
British Airways (www.ba.com), Egyptair (www.egyptair.com) and bmi (www.flybmi.com) all fly to Cairo. EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Egyptair fly to Sharm el Sheikh while several charter airlines serve Sharm, Taba, Hurghada and Luxor from various UK airports.
Tour operators include Longwood Holidays (0844 770 4907, www.longwoodholidays.co.uk), Peltours (0844 770 9960, www.peltours.com), Elegant Golf Resorts (020 8421 7019, www.elegantgolfresorts.com), Golf Breaks (0800 279 7988, www.golfbreaks.com), Supertravel (020 7459 2984, www.supertravel.co.uk) and Golf Planet Holidays (0845 601 2175, www.golfplanetholidays.com).
Visit the official Egypt tourism website at www.egypt.travel or call 020 7493 5283.
Katameya Dunes: www.katameyadunes.com
Mirage City Golf Club: http://golf.jwmarriottcairo.com
Dreamland Golf & Tennis Resort: www.dreamlandgolf.com
Taba Heights Golf Resort: www.tabaheights.com
Maritim Jolie Golf & Resort: www.maritim.com
The Cascades at Soma Bay: www.somabay.com
El Gouna Golf Club: www.elgouna.com
Madinat Makadi Golf Resort: www.madinatmakadigolf.com
Royal Valley Golf Club: www.golfluxor.com
All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you travel to Egypt.