Golfing in Cairo
by Seif Kamel
I am not a golfer, and about my only exposure to it is when I used to see people play golf in famous American movies like "Two Weeks Notice" by Sandra Bullock and the likes. Other than that, I have played the game on a few video machines. I was never a golf player, or even a watcher. For one thing, golf is not a popular sport among youngsters in Egypt, or at least not while I was growing up. I remember playing baseball once at my club, and we even played American football on the beach, but golf was always something that eluded us. After all, only a few years ago there were only a couple of golf courses in Egypt.
Nevertheless, I was excited about exploring something new, golf in Egypt. Although the day had a bad start when a policemen took my car licenses (they do that here), I was still happy I was visiting someplace new. I was heading to the Mena House Oberoi near the pyramids. There is this small square at the end of Haram Street in Giza. If one takes a right turn one ends up on the Cairo-Alexandria highway. Going straight leads to the Giza Plateau where the Great Pyramids are located. On the left hand side, before reaching the pyramids, is the Mena House Oberoi golf course.
When I first arrived, I was very impressed with all the greenery around me. I went and chatted with Mr. Rauf Gamal, the golf manager, and he told me that golf has been a major sport at the Oberoi for a very long time, and that they always maintain and renew the course. He arranged for a caddy to escort me about the course.
I am sure that many readers are accustomed to golf courses, but to me it was like a huge garden, a wonderful garden with many trees and perfect grass. I couldn't help but think how nice it would be to play football here (soccer). I stood for a while and watched two ladies practicing with the help of one of the pros, and then I was off again.
The most spectacular part of this golf course is not the course itself, but the Great Pyramids that loom over the course in the background. One's eyes are always drawn to them, and it is a nice spot to view them because everything is calm and quiet, not like on the Plateau itself. It is one of the only golf courses where one can play and view one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World at the same time.
I noticed a couple playing on a very far hole. I went and chatted with them and found out that they were from England, here on vacation. The man told me they came to Egypt for sightseeing but when they found out we have good golf courses, they decided to try hitting a few balls.
The Oberoi Golf Course is a shared fairway designed with nine fairways and eighteen tees and greens. It will provide one with some great photo opportunities and a challenging round of golf. The front nine yardage markers are on the left hand side of the fairway and the back nine markers are on the right hand side of the fairway. This is one of the most historical golf courses in Egypt, established in 1889.
Of course, this information came from Ahmed, the caddy who escorted me. He told me that the course here is great for golfers who prefer playing in short range pockets. He meant that the course is not very wide, and that some par golfers have problems with the fairways. However, he assured me that the golf course is great for lessons and for golfers who prefer a smaller course.
They have lots of facilities as well. They have separate golf lockers for ladies and gentlemen. They also have a pro shop with everything a golfer might need, along with pros that are available at very reasonable prices. They also rent all the required golfing equipment. The golf course is open seven days a week from seven in the morning until sunset.
After visiting the Oberoi course, I also wanted to take a look at a more recently built golf course, and one that has come to be known as one of the best in Cairo, so I headed over to Katameya Heights, another place I had never visited.
The whole place at Katameya Heights is amazing. It was not like being in Cairo at all, because there wasnt a single paper in the streets. Everything was very clean, unlike Cairo. Of course, Katameya Heights is not actually in Cairo. It is about 15 kilometers outside Cairo, but one may use the ring road around Cairo to be there in no time at all.
I had to wait about 20 minutes for Mr. Gerard, the golf manager, though I actually arrived about 45 minutes before our appointment so I could look around. Just like Mr. Rauf at the Mena House, Mr. Gerard asked me to take a tour of the course with a caddy. However, the golf courses at Katameya Heights are much larger, so this time we took a cart.
The huge course at Katameya Heights is more of a golf community, with very upscale villas built around the course, many with large terraces and swimming pools. There are three large lakes on the course, and the sound of the water falling was very relaxing. There are nice fairways along with good roughs and a few sand traps, and each hole is rather unique. It is unlike any other golf course in Egypt, with a hilly terrain that was challenging to build. Yves Bureau, the French architect, designed it, and each hole is meant to test the ability of the player.
With the Championship Course and the Nine-Hole Course, Katameya Heights boasts 27 holes to suit all playing abilities. The 18-hole Championship Course is par 72 and can be stretched to 6780 yards for tournament play. The Nine-Hole Course is a par 35 and 2985 yards. The smaller course has been operational since 1998. It is more suited to higher handicaps, with a less challenging layout but just as enjoyable to play.
They also have a fleet of 110 golf carts, pull carts and trained caddies who speak English well enough to interact with the guests. There is also a locker room with various facilities, together with a well stocked pro-shop in the Katameya Heights clubhouse where one may find a wide range of golf equipment, including name brand clothing. Golfing equipment is also available for rent.
Haitham, the caddy, explained to me that they hold a number of tournaments, but the most important one is an upcoming Jeep sponsored one. Katameya Heights also has a special golf program for ladies. An example of this is the Valentine Trophy which will start on the 4th of Feb. with four days especially for ladies to play and compete. They also have good teaching programs for women at all levels.
There are also a lot of events for kids and juniors at Katameya Heights. Every week or so there is a tournament with prizes to encourage kids to learn golf and be good at this fabulous sport. The best example of these tournaments is the Jeep 2006 Katameya Junior Open. The event is an 18-hole medal tournament open to boys and girls with a valid handicap who are 18 years of age or under on the day of the tournament.
In addition, there is the popular Kids on the Green division over the nine-hole course at Katameya. Golfers who are under 15 years of age on the day of the tournament will play 9 or 6 holes over a special course layout with a modified stable Ford scoring system. Every participant in the Kids division must bring a family member to the tournament.
Katameya Heights offers a variety of golfing lessons. Individual lessons cost 250 LE for non members of the club. Shared lessons are 160 LE. Group lessons are 95 LE. The lessons range from 40 to 50 minutes. There is also the Head Pro Individual Lesson and the 9 Hole Playing Lesson at very good prices.
There are also whole teaching programs, such as The Beginners Program that costs 1100 LE and the Player's Program that costs 1290 LE. Anyways, whatever your golfing level is and whatever age group you belong to, at Katameya Heights, you will find a program that suits you.
I had a small talk with Mr. Gerard Bent, the New Head Golf Pro who joined Katameya Heights in December 2003. He explained that everything in the golf course has improved considerably, and now they have a lot of facilities that any golfer would need to really enjoy his favorite sport.
The last scene I saw at Katameya Heights was the caddies cleaning up the golf equipment at the end of the day. I took some pictures of them and because we were all Egyptians at that moment, they had to make jokes about me taking their pictures while cleaning up rather than while playing golf or assisting people.Actually these guys were great and they seemed happy about working in Katameya Heights.
In the end, I found that golfing in Egypt is relatively inexpensive compared to many other places, and of course, the game never gets called because of rain and hardly ever for bad weather at all. One can enjoy their favorite game throughout the year, in some wonderfully unique settings, amongst the greenery of the Nile Valley. It's certainly worth a try, and these are not the only golf courses open around Cairo