Sri Lankan Golf Trip Report
By Jacques Gous, PGA Pro and Chaka Travels Escorted Tours Manager
With comments by Mark Marais, Managing Director, Chaka Travel
Well, Mark and I are back after an epic adventure in Sri Lanka and let me tell you that this is a magnificent country to visit for all sorts of reasons. We did of course go to investigate the golf holiday possibilities and trust me when I say that this was great from a golfer’s point of view. (Mark – also from a hacker’s point of view!)
We started off in Colombo with a wonderful overnight stay in the Jetwing Colombo 7 Hotel. This new hotel is well located and has great views from the sky-roof restaurant both in the day and at night
Mark – We overlooked the floodlit T20 match against Bangladesh below us, as we enjoyed dinner in the open air, overlooking the city with Hiran Cooray, the charming Chairman of Jetwing. We learnt a lot about the ongoing growth of tourism in Sri Lanka from him and his son Dmitri as well as from Ramesh, the very experienced general manager of the hotel. Sri Lanka has moved on a long way since the civil war which ended in 2004 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Colombo’s tower-crane littered skyline reflects the inward investment resulting from the country rebuilding and moving rapidly forward. The meal was a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable affair – the natural friendliness and hospitality was something we enjoyed throughout the week.
We woke up early the next day and we were off to Royal Colombo Golf Club for our first round with two lovely Sri Lankan gentleman and let me tell you it was a pleasure. The temperature was a mere 34 degrees and we had to keep drinking water all the way. I thought it was a great course and the greens were pure as anything.
Mark – We played with two members, Priath Fernanado, the President of the Sri Lanka Golf Union and Rinal Pieris, both could not have made the round more enjoyable or informative as they shared their knowledge about the course and the history of golf in Sri Lanka. Enjoying their company plus the wonderful colonial clubhouse and the, at times quirky, course made for a super morning. It’s not often you wait for a train full of commuters to pass the tee box before you continue with your game! Royal Colombo opened in 1879 and is the second oldest ‘royal’ golf course in the world outside of the UK)
After golf we drove to Kandy (Mark -the less said about the drivers in Sri Lanka the better, but it’s definitely not for the faint hearted!) where we stayed and overnight at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel. This had a very colonial feel to it and sat on the riverside with some great views. We enjoyed dinner with the owner Jay who had kindly upgraded us to superb suites. The next morning was another early wakeup call and we were off to Mark’s and my number one course in Sri Lanka, namely Victoria Golf Club designed by Donald Steel. This course was set between the hills and valleys and the views with the Victoria reservoir in the distance was amazing. We had two great caddies and trust me when I say that these are the most happy go lucky people you have ever met and we really enjoyed their knowledge of the course and company.
Mark – as you drive in to Victoria Golf Club you pass a par-5 with the narrowest fairway I have ever seen – my accuracy has always been a problem so my heart was in my mouth as we prepared to tee off. Fortunately the rest of the course was much more forgiving and thoroughly enjoyable, and I played some of my best golf in a long time. This stunning course with its amazing views, huge trees and clever layout is in my top 10 courses and I’m delighted to have finally played it after hearing Ian Botham raving about it during a cricket commentary many years ago. I understand that he never fails to play here when cricket tours bring him to Sri Lanka. On one occasion, he wrote in the visitor’s book; “try to stop me playing at Victoria.” I can fully understand why and know my next trip to Sri Lanka will involve at least one round at Victoria!
After finishing our game and a quick shower we enjoyed a light lunch washed down by a few cold Singha beers before heading off to Nuwara Eliya, also known as “Little England” which was set at one of the highest points in Sri Lanka. We left Victoria which was set at 1,800ft above sea level to drive and reach our next hotel, Jetwing St Andrews which was at 6,000ft above sea level. This drive was amazing, climbing all the way through the most beautiful scenery, with waterfalls and tea plantations whereever you looked. This hotel and golf course was epic and the course boasts as not only one of the oldest in Sri Lanka, but the world, constructed in 1889.
Mark – I didn’t have particularly high expectations of Nuwara Eliya golf course but was delighted to arrive at a lovely old clubhouse and a well-maintained course. Being such an old course it was no surprise to find that the trees lining the fairways were all very mature. It’s definitely a quirky course which has been moulded to fit its location in the centre of the town, it has a few crossing fairways and one of the tee boxes is across a narrow laneway next to the course. One tee box is virtually in the high street so as you are teeing off, the local shoppers are watching from behind a fence just a few yards away! Jacques and I both came off the course very pleased with having played a well designed, clever layout with some superb holes and all in a stunning region high in the more temperate mountains.)
We left Nuwara Eliya after golf and headed down south to Hambantota, where the luxurious Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort awaited us. Just before arriving at the resort we were treated to a game drive in the Yala National Park. This was the closest thing to a game drive in Africa that I have ever experienced and the park and surroundings were awesome. Then off to the resort where everything was as expected, fivestar from start to finish and the golf the next morning did not disappoint either.
Mark – the course only opened in June 2016 and apart from a few holes where they are replacing the fairways, was excellent – A great finish to a wonderful golfing adventure was watching Jacques and super caddy Kurunda work hard to ensure he rolled in a birdie putt to take him to one under for the round. As always it was a real pleasure to play with Jacques, he makes the game look so easy and is always cool, calm and collected…Kurunda the caddy was charming, helpful and knowledgeable and never stopped smiling even when I nailed drives into the long grass – which unfortunately I did quite a lot of for most of the front nine…..)
We left straight after golf and headed back to Colombo where we would spend our last night at the Jetwing Lagoon Resort, only a short hop away from the airport. On the way there we stopped at the beautiful Jetwing Lighthouse Resort for some sight-seeing and lunch in Galle where the famous cricket ground also sits. We saw the fort and the lighthouse which was built by the Dutch way back in 1663.
Mark – one of the highlights of the week was Jacques asking me if the Lighthouse was inland or up the coast……I was tempted to say it was in an arid region to warn the ships of the desert!)
In Galle we also witnessed a Sri Lankan trying to make a living by risking his own life and throwing himself of a ten metre cliff diving into some of the shallowest water you can imagine. This was impressive. Our last night was spent at the Jetwing Lagoon at Negombo near to the airport. Breakfast the following day was enjoyed watching the sunrise over the lagoon.
Mark – Once we got to Colombo we were treated like kings at a superb final dinner with Chandana and Ayomal from Island Leisure Lanka. Chandana is known by many of his friends as Chaka!!!! Ayomal accompanied us around the island and is a charming, well-mannered and extremely courteous young man, he is a rugby player also which went down well with Jacques and me!! We were looked after like royalty from start to finish and we couldn’t be more grateful for the wonderful hospitality we enjoyed!!!)
All taken into consideration, this was an epic adventure and one that myself and Mark will remember for a very long time. Thank you Sri Lanka, it was great!!
Mark – yes Sri Lanka was a fascinating, diverse country – great scenery, food and thoroughly enjoyable golf. Jacques many thanks for the laughs – you were great company! We both really appreciated the wonderful hospitality and friendliness we enjoyed throughout the trip and like IanBotham I’ll definitely be back!)