After watching the red hot rays pierce the sun from his window for about 20 minutes, John Campioni’s attention turns to the manicured greens to the South of his villa where a team of golfers are teeing off to an early round.
He, too, had planned to take an early shot and had risen early to step out to the lawns but getting out of the shower into his balcony had him glued to the relaxing combination of morning breeze and the arresting sight of the African sun rising above the Indian Ocean.
Campioni is one of the very early guests at Vipingo Ridge Golf Club, the leisure and living piece of real estate that a group of investors is developing as a showcase of what the future of the top end of Kenya’s real estate looks like.
“We are creating a new lifestyle that moves golf from its current positioning as a game of the rich to an activity that is part of a community of recreation, leisure and living,” says Robert Ward, the resident manager of the Vipingo project that is now in the third year of construction in Kenya’s North Coast.
The property, which sits on 2500 acres of land is a two 18-hole golf estate owned by a group of investors with interest in shipping, construction and oil distribution.
Pointing to the dozen villas to the North of the clubhouse, Ward says the vision is to develop a world class golfing and residential property that would be attractive to investors from any corner of the world.
“We are creating a lifestyle that should sit in the top class in any part of the world,” he says.
Creators of the exclusive real estate haven have used a good mix of greens cultivated with Bermuda 328 grass, meandering lakes, trees, a game conservancy, a beach club all surrounded by Victorian type villas and served by a private air strip.
Ward says part of the reason he and his partners are putting their money into Vipingo Ridge is because the global real estate market has proved that properties with golf courses or clear views of it near a large water mass command premium prices.
The Vipingo development, which is expected to be complete by 2015 is a private golfing club whose membership is restricted to ownership of the villas surrounding the course. Each villa is priced at between Sh12.5 million and Sh43 million.
Ward says non members will be allowed to play after paying a yet-to-be fixed daily fee. Prices range between Sh12.5m and Sh43m.
A computerised irrigation system and state-of-the-art green keeping equipment are some of the cutting edge services that buyers of the property will enjoy.
“To create an international standard golf course, you have to meet certain construction standards and the course has to be of a certain distance,” says Ward.
The Baobab course, a creation of Irish designer David Jones, has already hosted international amateur and professional golfers.
“We have had a number of prominent personalities play here but Vipingo Ridge is all about exclusivity and privacy, making it difficult for us to discuss who came and played.
Unlike traditional courses built in the early 1920s and 30s that stand alone, modern courses are created for both recreation and luxury living.
“This is a change of concept. The projects are located in remote and quiet places because the aim is to offer buyers an environment for relaxation and recreation,” says Stephen Wamae, chief executive SBeM Projects Limited, the company that is developing the proposed Thika Green Golf Estate in Thika.
A recent expansion of Kenya’s middle class and the accompanying take off of the real estate market has awakened developers to the opportunity that exists in the residential golf communities’ concept that is hinged on the idea of luxurious living with easy access to recreation and leisure facilities.
That opportunity has seen billions of shillings invested in creating residential golf communities properties in different parts of Kenya.
Besides Thika Greens, SBeM is also developing the Buffalo Hills Leisure and Golf Village in Thika and the Sangare Hills and Home Resort in Nyeri that is sandwiched between the Aberdare mountain range and Mount Kenya.
There is also Mt Kenya Holiday Homes in Naro Moru, central Kenya and Kingdom City – a 2400 acre controlled gated community project located at the foot of Mt Longonot.
Creators of Kingdom City have set aside 700 acres set for an 18-hole golf course leaving the remaining 1700 acres for residential homes and attendant amenities.
Promoters of Thika Greens have pitched it as the first complete residential golf estate in Thika county and perhaps only the second in Kenya after Vipingo Ridge.
The prime piece of real estate is being built by Rainbow Golf Construction and Management of Beijing China, signaling its developers’ desire to create something that moves Kenya’s real estate market to a new frontier.
In the mean time, thousands of Kenyan golf lovers remain attached to their traditional golf courses.
Though lacking the touch of modern courses, the old clubs have continued to attract more golfers helped by the increasing popularity of golf among the young corporate executives and the youth.
Developers of the modern golf courses say a significant fraction of the properties have been bought by young people who are taking the advantage of their lavish income to live their dreams.
Topping the list of seasoned golf courses is the Great Rift Valley Lodge and Golf Resort which was the first true golf resort in East Africa, offering golf course living to Kenya’s elite.
Great Rift has since grown to become one of the top conference and holiday destinations in the country and offers its guests various exclusive services including a private air strip for those who prefer to fly.
Records at the Kenya Golf Union offices show that Kenya has 38 active golf clubs from the 9-hole golf course in Malindi to the 18-hole layout in Kitale.
The 18-hole Royal Nairobi Golf Club and the 9-hole Mombasa Golf Club are Kenya’s oldest golf clubs, whilst the Muthaiga Golf Club, home to the Kenya Open Golf Championship is widely regarded as one of the best golf courses in Kenya.
The Nyali Golf and Country Club and Leisure Lodge at the Coast are some of the toughest 18-hole Championship layouts whilst the Karen Country Golf Club and the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club personify “exclusivity!” Thika Sports Club, the Kitale Club, Eldoret Club, Machakos Golf Club, Vet Lab Sports Club, the chic Limuru Country Club, Railways and Kiambu Golf Clubs may not boast of the best fairways, but their club house atmospheres, the camaraderie is legendary.
Muthaiga Golf Club
For many years, or more accurately, before Vipingo was built, the Muthaiga Golf Club was considered the crème de la crème of golf!
Established in 1913 and remodeled by South Africa’s Peter Matkovich in 2004, Muthaiga was the first golf club in Kenya to seed Bent grass greens.
It is home to the Kenya Open Golf Championship, part of the European Challenge Tour and Kenya’s top golfing event.
The members register at Muthaiga includes His Excellency the President, Hon. Mwai Kibaki, who is also the Patron of Golf in Kenya, the likes of Hon Amos Kimunya, out-going KRA Commissioner Michael Waweru, Jeremiah Kiereini and Dr Evans Kidero among many other dignitaries.
Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club
The Windsor golf course is in a class of its own; boasting an imposing Victorian hotel and perhaps one of the most challenging golf courses in Kenya, the Windsor is an architectural marvel.
The golf course was carved into the Karura forest, creating an instantly mature golf course.
The water features around the finishing hole and around the golf course, give Windsor an element of tranquility and adventure.
Royal Nairobi Golf Club
Royal occupies a unique position in Kenya’s golf landscape. Firstly, it sits just 10-minutes away from the City Centre.
Secondly, it is the oldest golf club in Kenya, having been founded in 1906.
The then Nairobi Golf Club was granted the Royal Charter in 1936 by the Keeper of the Privy Purse, putting the club at par with all the Royal golf clubs around the world.
Thirdly, Royal plays host to the popular Easter Tournament, aka the Tannahill Shield; arguably the most popular amateur event in this part of Africa.
The Tannahill Shield, now in its 88th year, features the top golf clubs in Kenya, in an event that is deeply rooted in golf tradition and culture.
In its entire history, the Tannahill Shield has been played in the four-somes format and to date, women are not allowed to the Sunday lunch!
Karen Golf and Country Club
Founded in 1937, Karen personifies “exclusivity and prestige.”
Among the country’s golf clubs, Karen is the seat of “old-money.”
A highly organised, rich and structured country club, Karen is only comparable to the Muthaiga Country Club.
Popular with the local elite and expatriates, the Karen Country Club is perhaps Kenya’s most prestigious golf address.