Friday, April 8, 2011

Golf Courses of Uganda Part 5: MaryLouise Simkin’s Memorial Golf Course, Namulonge

Uganda certainly has some golf courses in most peculiar places. We have already written about the idiosyncratic, stunning but taxing Mehta course in the heart of the Lugasi sugar plantations (Golf Courses of Uganda Part 1).  We have not yet ventured out to the golf course which we have heard resides in the middle of the Kenyara sugar works near Masindi.  We have, however, penetrated to the depths of the countryside to the north of Kampala where, after a bit of searching, we found the splendidly-named MaryLouise Simkin’s Memorial Golf Course (MLSMGC). The only relationship that MLSMGC bears to the Augusta National currently filling your screens is that in terms of manicuring, it is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The first hole at Namulonge, the research centre building behind.
We have not heard of many golf courses in the middle of agricultural research centres.  MLSMGC is buried deep in the grounds of the National Agricultural Research Organisation’s Crops Resources Institute at Namulonge.  Namulonge itself is buried deep in the countryside beyond Gayaza, right in the middle of undulating acres of banana plantations.  And Gayaza is on the quiet, lazy and circuitous route between Kampala and Jinja, beyond the furthermost limits of the Northern Bypass and only a few miles from the city itself.  Indeed, its location is one of its major merits.  If you cannot face being bankrupted yet again by the extortionate fees at Kampala Golf Course and, like us, live at the opposite side of the city from Entebbe, probably the best golf course in Uganda, and cannot face battering through the city yet again, then the Namulonge course is for you.   It is clearly marked on Uganda Map No. 3: Beyond Kampala.  Cross the bypass and on reaching Gayaza, turn left.  Drive five or six miles along a brand new tarmac road.  Ignore the first agricultural research centre you come to: the askari hadn't heard of golf.  Continue a couple more miles and there you are. 

As soon as you hesitate at the right hand turn, not really believing that you have actually reached a golf course, you are accosted by an enthusiastic caddy who hops into your vehicle and directs you through the grounds to the course itself.  At first you can’t really believe your eyes.  You would almost think that you were venturing into a miniature version of an English country estate.  That is, until you see the ‘club house’ and you are brought rapidly down to earth.  ’Club house’ is a bit of a misnomer: really a booth for selling beer and sodas and making sure you pay.  Still, it does the business and the welcome is warm enough (and the prices low).  The friendly local youngsters hang around, treating the crumbling fencing as an adventure playground.  Their parents cross the paths, loaded with firewood or jerry cans of water.  Across the greens you can see the long low buildings of the research centre itself.  But you are here to play golf, so off you go.

The 'club house'.
The course comprises nine holes in pleasant parkland surroundings – like Ratho Park Golf Course – but, when we were there at the height of the drought, burnt bone dry.   The greens were terrible.  Unlike most of Uganda’s other courses, there is no watering. The tees were in a similar condition. However, the rains have now reached Kampala and its surrounding area, so don’t be too put off by our pictures.  Indeed, even as I type these words I can see pink sheets of lightening across the dark sky towards Namulonge, the thunder is growling and heavy rain is on its way once again.  The course is probably as pleasantly green now as the fields all around it.  Apart from the par 3s, most holes are well designed, including three attractive dog legs, and a couple of long par 5s. There are no bunkers.

Teeing off at the first hole.
The 2nd green and the 8th (and, of course, the 11th and 17th)
Actually, there are only eight greens – the second also serves as the eighth but is attacked from a different angle. The course is unlikely ever to be “busy” but imagine if it was, with several groups playing 18 holes – potentially 4 groups simultaneously playing the 2nd and 11th and the 8th and 17th  all heading for the same green. Contemplation of that scenario drives Stuart to drink.

The 3rd green.
The course has one ridiculous hole – a 250 yard par 4.  To protect the par, the tee is placed directly behind a huge tree. You MUST aim away from the tree (and therefore the green), otherwise you will be felled by the rebound. Makes Augusta seem straightforward.

That tree!
And another! Same hole.
But Stuart played with a Namulonge member who plays off 4 in a Jinja competition – and yes – he was a real golfer. I guess playing anywhere else other than Namulonge must give you the feeling that you’re playing Augusta.

Long par 5.

Still long par 5.
Another par 5.

What a green!


  1. HI. I am a minister who is hoping to visit Uganda to teach the Bible in some churches of Christ. I also love to play golf. Are there any new courses planned? I did not see your email listed anywhere, and instead of leaving my email open on the internet, you may email me via our website or my wife's website

  2. it is a very good course and it has greatly improved my golf skills.

    1. Thank for getting in touch, Joel. I think we visited this course at the worst possible time, when the ground was as dry as bone. I am pleased that you are enjoying playing it. Elisabeth

  3. Thank you for posting a review of the course. This course was named for my grandmother, Marylouise Walker Simkins, who died of malaria while living in Namulonge with her husband, Charles Simkins, who worked at the agricultural research center. As they were both avid golfers, he built the course for local recreation and named it for her after her death.

    1. Hi, I knew your grand parents Chuck and Marylouise Simkins. I also met your family from Burma. In fact I worked on an Agricultural development project that collaborated with the one that Dr. Simkins worked on. I also got to play many a game of golf on this course and to enjoy a cool refreshment afterwards at the Simkins residence that had a magnificent view of the Golf course. I also saw the kids from the local area, who helped Dr. Simkins develop and maintain the course, grow up into young men and graduate from the University (Daniel) ! I do not know how the course is now but back then, it was in great condition and I did enjoy many a game of golf there.

  4. How kind of you to get in touch! It is moving to hear from the family of Marylouise Simkins. What a wonderful memorial of her life.

  5. Nice to see a review of a course from which I learnt golf just two years ago. In 2003, all I could see, as an agricultural student, was a 'well maintained' large compound. More surprising, Stuart whose photo I see here was my boss when I part-timed as a gardener at VSO field office in Kampala.

    MaryLouise Simkin’s Memorial Golf Course, Namulonge, is not near any of the good golf courses in Uganda, but it is home to me and some of the best golfers in Uganda. We have formed a club already. The Namulonge Agricultural Institute has approved land for its expansion from a 8 hole course to 9 or possible development into a 18 holes.

    Individuals have volunteered to develop and maintain some tee-boxes and green. We currently pay an extra $2 per game as development fee. We have now acquired a reconditioned green mower (though it regularly breaks down). We are working hard to acquire a gang-mower. On a good day, Elisabeth Ritchie should enjoy the greens. We hope to restore the pride the course. We are told that MaryLouise Simkin’s Memorial Golf Course was once the best maintained course in Uganda

    With the current efforts and growing number of visiting golfers, we hope make it a 9-hole course, and register with the Uganda Golf Union. I know of many who will be swinging clubs on Xmas day

    Merry Christmas everyone.

    1. Good to hear from you, Simon. Also good to hear about the developments at this course.

  6. I lived and worked at Namulonge from 1952 to 1963. The golf course there was established about 1960 by the then director of the Cotton Research Station, the late John M.Munro.