If you’re a golfer looking for that different golf vacation, I have a proposal for a trip that you will not soon forget. Next time you plan a golfing trip, try southern Africa — specifically, Zimbabwe. Before you decide that I must be crazy, read on.
International media coverage of Zimbabwe, and the rest of Africa, for that matter, tends to focus on negative events, leading most westerners to think that this is a place of unrelenting poverty and violence. Yes, there is poverty, and all too often, Sub-Saharan African countries like Zimbabwe are still ruled by the parties that fought for independence and cling tenaciously to power and are willing to resort to violence to do so. There is also beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, and friendly people. And in Zimbabwe there are nearly 50 golf courses that offer an unforgettable golfing experience for every skill level, from scratch golfer to weekend duffer.
While there are no direct flights to Zimbabwe from the United States, both United (through code sharing with South African Airways) and Delta have flights to Johannesburg, where there are daily flights to the capital, Harare, and the famous Victoria Falls. Harare is also served by Emirate Airways, British Airways, Ethiopian Airline, and Namibia Air, with flights to and from Windhoek, Nairobi, Dubai, and Addis Ababa that also connect with other countries in the region. While it is advisable to apply for a visa at the Zimbabwean embassy in Washington, American citizens can also obtain an airport visa upon arrival with payment of a $20 fee.
Where to Play and Stay
With golf courses scattered throughout the country, there is actually a wide choice of places to play. With a variety of game parks and other historic and cultural sites also throughout the country, your golf expedition can be combined with other activities. The following four courses, in widely diverse sections of the country, give a sampling of what awaits the intrepid golfer.
Royal Harare Golf Club, Harare
Built in 1898, Royal Harare Golf Club ranks as one of the 50 best golf courses in the world outside the United States. Located not far from downtown and adjacent to both the Harare Sports Club cricket ground and Presidential Palace, where the country’s president has one of his offices, Royal Harare’s 18 holes are the venue for the Zimbabwe Open Golf Tournament each year. Located on scenic parkland with no water hazards but over 80 hellishly placed bunkers, the course also has an abundance of bird life and antelope sharing the fairways and rough with golfers.
From its 19th-century dress code (no short pants in the upstairs bar and lounge) to the tea break at the turn, Royal Harare takes you back in time.
Harare has a number of quality hotels, but by far the best in the city is the Meikles:
J. Moyo Avenue and Third Street
Direct reservations line: 263-4-250-550
Bulawayo Golf Club, Bulawayo
Bulawayo Golf Club was reportedly built in 1895, making it the oldest golf course in the country. Located in the suburbs of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, its 18 holes are on rolling terrain, and golfers are likely to have to compete with foraging baboons for space on the course. Bulawayo is a five-hour drive from Harare and about three hours from Victoria Falls.
While the city itself is interesting, it is located north of Matobo National Park, where Cecil Rhodes is buried, and south of Hwange National Park, one of the largest in the country.
For an interesting place to stay in Bulawayo, nothing can beat the experience at Nesbitt Castle, a replica of a medieval castle built in 1905 by Theodore Holdengarde, one of the colonial-era mayors of the city.
6 Percy Ave.
Elephant Hills Golf Course, Victoria Falls
At Elephant Hills Golf Course and Resort in famous Victoria Falls, you share the course with water buck, impala, vervet monkeys, and wart hogs, with the occasional baboon sitting at green side looking as if he’s critiquing your putting. Located on the banks of the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, the course is only a few minutes’ drive from the falls, and from several points the column of mist from the falls can be seen.
In addition to the wildlife that roams the course and grounds of the resort, nearby game parks offer glimpses of elephants and other wildlife, either during game drives or from the bar of establishments like Safari Lodge.
For convenience, most golfers will want to stay at Elephant Hills Hotel.
Elephant Hills Hotel
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
U.S. toll-free reservations: 888-790-5264
U.K. toll-free reservations: 00-800-7297-2900
Email: [email protected]
Leopard Rock Golf and Country Club, Mutare
Leopard Rock Golf Course is located in the Vumba Mountains near the northeastern city of Mutare. One of the country’s newer courses, it was built in 1994 and was voted the best golf course in Africa and the Middle East by Hertz Awards in 2000. There’s not as much wildlife to see on the course as on other courses in the country, but the magnificent views, including over the border into neighboring Mozambique, make up for that lack.
Because of its location, Leopard Rock is seldom crowded, and it’s fun to play year-round.