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Getting into the swing of things with golf tourism

By Harriet James
Thursday, April 15th, 2021
Players during the recent Magical Kenya golf tournament. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES.
In summary

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Recently, Kenya hosted the Magical Kenya Open as well as the Kenya Savannah Classic, which were part of the elite European Tour Events, which attracted 156 players from 30 countries. 

Started in 1967 at the Muthaiga Golf Club, The Magical Kenya Open Championships is one of the competitions that has played a huge role in promoting Kenya as a leading golf destination globally since it was elevated in 2019 to be part of the elite European Tour competition. 

The sponsorship for the events by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) was a show of commitment to continue supporting golf in the country as part of its efforts to boost tourism.

Over time, Magical Kenya Open has been a catalyst to the growth of golf in Kenya giving local players an opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world.

So committed is KTB in the course that this year, they made golfing  one of magical Kenya’s signature collection for 2021.

Among the newly recognised golf facilities is the Great Rift Valley Lodge. 

In addition, hosting such events has helped to elevate Kenya as a giant in golf as well as other sports. 

Also, the fact that the event is usually broadcasted live to over 490 million homes across the world, makes it significant.

However, this year, due to logistical difficulties there was no live broadcast.

“Hosting of the two events is a sign of confidence on the destination’s Covid-19 preparedness for the safety of visitors.

It is also an endorsement of our capability to host such global events even at these difficult moments, and the ability to host events of international status,” said the CEO Kenya Tourism Board, Dr Betty Radier 

From Kenya to the world

Dr Radier adds that by supporting and leveraging on sports is one of the long-term strategies that KTB is looking at to boost the country’s tourism sector.

Golfers being treated to a tour of the Nairobi National Park by Kenya Tourism Board. Photo/PD/Harriet James

“Golf is one of the key sports that continue to play a major role in showcasing Kenya to the world.

This year, we have had the privilege of hosting two major golf tournaments, which are part of the European Tour.

These events attracted a lot of global attention and also presented an opportunity to showcase to the world that we are safe for travel and ready for business,” she said.

“The addition of the Kenya Savannah Classic to the list of European Tour events for this year is testament to the trust the outside world has in the destination.

It is also a testament to the growing stature of the sport of golf in the country,” she added

According to the International Association of Golfing Tour Operators (IAGTO) in 2019, global golf tourism market was worth over US$17 billion.

The studies also indicated that there are 56 million golfers globally with the US, UK, Japan, Canada, as well as continental Europe as our key source market with the leading market being the US.

Before the pandemic, the report indicates that 10 per cent of these  golfers travelled out of their countries just to play golf making the international size of the golf tourism market between 2.8 million and 5.6 million. 

There has been an increasing interest in the sport here in the country with the infrastructure already in place to support the game.

In the past, golf was deemed as the sport for the elite, but today this perception has changed to embrace all social statuses, supporting of the players is also an important aspect of growing the sport.

We already boast of having over 40 world-class courses and a growing local and international fan base, which provide the players and travellers an opportunity to enjoy golfing under serene climatic conditions and sceneries.

For instance, Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club, the Royal Nairobi Golf Club, Muthaiga Golf Club, Sigona Golf Club, Mount Kenya Safari Club, Thika Greens Golf Resort, Limuru Golf Club as well as Nyali Golf Club.

As a result, Kenya has received various awards, such as being named as Africa’s leading Golf Destination by the World Golf Awards beating countries, such as Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa, which are considered as the cream of  Africa in golf. 

40 golf courses

“Destination Kenya is blessed with many well-manicured golf courses that boast international standards and offer players and fans alike a magical golfing experience.

We take pride in our over 40 golf courses across the destination that would give any golf enthusiast a memorable experience, we are tapping into this to ensure that visitors see another aspect of Kenya that is magical besides beach and safari experiences we are known for.  

Straddled across Kenya, the golf courses provide players and travellers a chance to enjoy golfing under serene climatic conditions and sceneries,” says Dr Radier 

One of the resorts that have taken advantage of this interest in golf is Thika Green Golf Resort, which has been marketed as a golf resort.

“As the course becomes a reality, it also drove up the uptake of the residential plots and residents started constructing their homes.

The public reception to the vision has been great and as we speak, the resort is home to more than 340 occupied homes with construction of more ongoing.

We have managed to grow our membership at the golf club and now with our digital marketing positioning, it has allowed us international patronage from golf lovers and leisure seeking patrons.

We continue to grow and compete with some of the seasoned golf resorts in the country,” says Paul Masai , the resort’s General Manager 

Mugie conservancy in Laikipia county is another location where golf is played in the wild.

The first tournament was held in 2018 and has always been supported by the Old Africa Magazine— whose editors are avid golfers themselves.

“We started the tournaments to try and raise awareness of the Mugie Golf Course, which  few people know exists.

We have not managed to gather great numbers so far, probably because it is far from the city, and there are not many golfers in the Mugie area, but now, with the tarmac road almost at Mugie’s doorstep, this could change,” explains Margaret Njuguna, the Mugie Community and Tourism Officer.

The lack of high capacity in terms of accommodation too is a challenge, but they have expanded by the opening of Governors Mugie House open.

The tarmac road too has made it accessible for travellers from Maralal and Nyahururu to attend any tournament.