The golf course at Lugasi is a carefully kept secret. It appears in no tourist brochures or guide books. How did we hear about it, then? By word of mouth, of course. Admittedly, we had just discovered that playing Kampala Golf Course costs £70 for a round compared with £3 at Lugasi. However, there were other considerations beyond the £67 difference. A visit to Lugasi would let us see a bit more of the country. More importantly, its golf course is unique, or at least unique to us. You may, of course, know of many golf courses sited in the grounds of sugar cane processing plants, but we do not. The golf course at Lugasi is the inspiration of one man, one of the most successful businessmen in Uganda, Dr Mehta. All more than enough to whet our appetite.
But first we had to get there.
It’s not far to Lugasi, say 30 miles, and we live on the right side of town. How long would it take? Half an hour or so, one would think. We started off joining the standstill traffic on the Jinja Road. We weren’t in an enormous hurry, which was just as well. The sides of the Jinja Road were lined with market stalls of one sort or another.
There were people making furniture and even herding their cattle through the traffic.
And everywhere there were the boda boda drivers waiting for business, and then suddenly shooting out half an inch in front of the bonnet.
Before long, the businesses started to thin out and we began to come across small rural communities surrounded by banana plantations. Businesses of various kinds were going on there too, but at a rather slower pace.
And the kinds of businesses were also different, for example, weaving cane baskets and stools.
Small houses suddenly appeared, half buried in the trees.
A sudden splash of colour caught our eyes. The children in the boarding hostels had spent the weekend washing.
We passed elegant mosques and grandiose churches and little chapels which looked as if they had been lifted straight out of the Welsh valleys.
There were the usual idiosyncratic Christian slogans, and not just on the places of worship. One of my favourites was a lopsided sign over a rickety stall announcing that it sold ‘Blessed Man Garments’.
We passed cows grazing in peaceful meadows, thick wild forest and, as we got nearer to Lugasi, tea plantations on gently rolling hills. And sugar cane, lots of it. Eventually, just over an hour after we left Kampala, we reached Lugasi. We followed the lumbering sugar cane lorries as they turned off to the left, and there we were. We had arrived at the Mehta estate.
Dr Mehta is a twenty-first century entrepreneur with many of the characteristics of a nineteenth century benefactor. The processing plant which supplies much of the light brown sugar stirred copiously into Ugandan tea and coffee cups, is just one of the structures on the site. Within the same grounds are also the Dr Mehta Primary School (West), the Dr Mehta Primary School (East), the Dr Mehta Secondary School, the Dr Mehta Nursery School, the Dr Mehta football stadium and the Dr Mehta hospital. As we drove along the tree-lined avenue, we caught glimpses of the Dr Mehta colony, a term used just as it is in Edinburgh to denote housing built specifically to accommodate workers and their families. We swung round to the left, up a hill, and there we were. We had reached the Mehta Golf Course.
This is Dr Mehta’s personal golf course, but he kindly allows other enthusiasts to share his passion. The course has been developed over a period of time – basically it’s a nine-hole layout with inventive alternative tee positions for outward and inward halves. Golfing readers (and only golfing readers!) will wish to know that the yardage is 5102, par 70.
The first hole is a 195 yard vertical drop, followed by a number of climbs and dips that would be familiar to Joan and Ian at the Merchants. In fact the course is a sort of combination of Lothianburn and The Merchants with the addition of jungle (literally) rough – so a piece of cake for you two. You’ve never seen anything like the 9th/18th - absolutely unique: a 110 yard par three over a deep gully with a bunker dividing 9th and 18th green; and if you land on the 18th when you should be playing the 9th (or vice versa!!), you must take a drop in the identified zone. And the greens are the slowest in the universe, bar none. (NB. It might not surprise you that Stuart wrote this bit.)
For those willing spouses prepared to trudge the hills behind their partners, the views are splendid, the flowers magnificent and the birdsong glorious.
Golfers wishing to tackle its challenges may wish to consider pre-emptive heart bypass surgery. Alternatively, playing the course is a very good way of testing out the effectiveness of any previous procedures. (Thinking about applying for a second pre-emptive stent.) The staff could not be more pleasant or more welcoming. And the course makes a difference, not just to the Saturday afternoons of busy Kampalans, but also to the lives of people in the community. Locals, who would otherwise never have the chance to learn the game, are able to practise when they feel like it and supplement their earnings as caddies and ground staff. Our pleasant and courteous teenage caddy had had to leave school at the end of Primary 7 when his father died. He was using his caddying fees to support his brother through secondary school while dreaming of going back to school himself to recoup his missing four years of education and eventually become a car mechanic.
Lugasi was definitely worth the journey.
Subsequent instalments will include descriptions of the golf courses at Jinja and Entebbe. We might even make it to Kampala and we are already finding mysterious references to golf courses in the more remote areas of Uganda. You readers have such a lot to look forward to!