“Your swing is really good, now just keep your focus and hit that white thing,” jokes Elias Soka, golf manager at the Sea Cliff Resort and Spa golf course, as he hands me the driver after I’ve missed the ball with the seven iron for the third time in a row. He attributes my fluid golf swing (‘fluid’ for a beginner, that is) to the decades I’ve spent playing tennis, but it’ll take quite a few more private lessons with their resident golf pro, 39-year-old Stanley Sanga, before I can take to the course.
Stanley offers private, group or family lessons for novices, who have never held a golf club, to seasoned pros, who want to improve their handicap. He has been playing golf since the age of nine, is PGA-qualified and was the former coach for the Tanzanian Golf Union, so you won’t find a better golf coach on the island. And he’s been with the Sea Cliff golf course since it opened in early 2014.
By the time I’ve hit my 40th ball, they’re no longer skipping off the green like stones on water. Thanks to Elias’ tutelage I’ve managed to give them some height, distance and increased their power. And I’m hitting them in the general direction of the flag, at least. We take the remaining balls to the practice green on the other side of the undercover, full-length driving range to try putting. I don’t sink a single one.
To lift my spirits, Elias takes me on a tour of the nine-hole golf course in a GPS-enabled golf cart that provides a course flyover, has an electronic scorecard, and self-regulates its speed while offering safety warnings based on the location of the other carts.
Found on the western coast of Zanzibar, the Sea Cliff Resort and Spa is home to the Indian Ocean island’s only golf course. “This is the only golf course in Tanzania with an ocean view,” explains Stanley. The championship-standard, par 71 course – that includes short and long par fours and some driveable options – takes around four hours to complete 18 holes. It is designed by South African former golfing pro Peter Matkovich, who is one of Africa’s foremost golf course designers. And has designed 27 golf courses around the continent – from across southern Africa to Nigeria, Mauritius and Tanzania – all according to United States Golf Association (USGA) specifications.
“The course belongs to the island,” Matkovich tells me. Though it’s open to visitors, guests at the Sea Cliff receive preferential rates and tee-off times. “It fits in with the landscape of Zanzibar in the way it moves and flows. We have incorporated themes of the ocean and dhows to give players an island-lifestyle feeling.” As we drive beneath palm trees, past wetlands with magenta water lilies, between bunkers and scattered coral rocks that were washed ashore in decades past, it’s clear that Matkovich’s trademark is the ability to read the land and showcase its geological features, unique location and vegetation in the design.
Hundreds of crabs, smeared in mud, scuttle into their burrows as we drive along an elevated sand road through the mangrove forest to holes six through to nine, which are alongside the ocean. If you tee off at high tide the road will be immersed in water.
I welcome the ocean breeze, as even ‘winter’ in Zanzibar is hot and humid, yet the wind can make the 9th/18th holes quite challenging on a gusty day. The variation in distance and direction on the front and back nine tees allows golfers to feel as though they have played 18 holes. From the elevation of the final holes we see guests on the resort’s horse out rides along the shore. Holes number three and nine, both par three, are the hardest due to the bunkers. The last hole seems to be an extension of the beach.
That’s where we head next. The club house and pro shop, which also offers rental clubs, are located on a white sand beach that’s book-ended by cliffs on the one side and the mangrove forest on the other. I try the Red Snapper and fries from the club house restaurant, which offers proper “golfing food”, as Elias calls it, “to replenish one’s energies”. Satiated, I wallow in the lukewarm water and later indolently lounge on the hammock in the shade of the umbrella.
It’s only a five-minute golf cart ride from the golf course back to the Sea Cliff. I’m back in time for a refreshing dip in one of the resort’s two infinity pools and a G&T sundowner at the bar on the pier. From here I watch fishermen from the nearby village preparing their dhows for their evening fishing expedition and strandlopers in the shallows.
The Sea Cliff Resort and Spa
The five-star resort, located on the cliffs of Mangapwani, is 30 minutes from Abeid Amani Karume International Airport and 20 minutes from Stone Town. There are no other hotels nearby, just open spaces complemented by palm trees, rocking dhows and local fishermen. And because it is on the west coast of the Indian Ocean Island it offers spectacular views. The 120-room resort has traditional makuti roofs and golden Arabic accents. It has three restaurants, conferencing facilities, a gym, two tennis courts, a volleyball court, a squash court, bicycles as well as a water sports centre and offers excursions around the island, so you certainly won’t be bored. Get pampered at Shwari Spa, while the children are entertained by professional child minders with stimulating activities at the full-time Kids Club or the teens keep themselves busy at the activities room with table tennis, darts and pool. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the resort for all those insta-worthy moments. Get more details here: www.seacliffzanzibar.com.
How to get to Zanzibar
Mango Airline flies from Johannesburg, South Africa to and from Zanzibar three times a week – on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The flight is about three-and-a-half hours. I suggest you try book a week-long holiday, so you have enough time to explore the fascinating slave trade history of the island, play a round of golf, and get some down time too. Find flights here: www.flymango.com.
Do I need a visa for Zanzibar?
South Africans don’t need a visa to visit the tropical island of Zanzibar for tourist stays of up to 90 days, which means there’s no hassle or bureaucracy. All you need is a South African passport that is valid for another six months and has at least two clean pages. Remember that other visa requirements are essential for entry into mainland Tanzania.
Other African countries that also don’t require a visa include: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Citizens from Hong Kong and Malaysia also don’t require a visa.
Travellers from other parts of the world should contact their respective Tanzanian consulates and embassies, though it is possible to receive a visa on arrival at the airport or port.
Please remember that a tourism levy/departure tax of $40 is required at the airport on departure.
Do I need vaccines to visit Zanzibar?
The quick answers is no. Requirements for a Yellow Fever Vaccination were lifted shortly before I travelled to Tanzania for the first time in 2014. However Yellow Fever, Typhoid and Cholera vaccinations are recommended by the Tanzania Tourism Board website.
When is the best time to visit Zanzibar?
Zanzibar is one hour ahead of South Africa or EAT (East African Time). Tanzania is just south of the equator, which means it gets hot. The best time to visit Zanzibar is from June to October, when it is cooler and drier. March is the hottest and most humid month of the year in Zanzibar. The ‘long rains’ (i.e seasonal tropical downpours that usually occur in the late afternoons) happen from March to May, while the ‘short rains’ happen in November and December.
My accommodation and introductory golf lesson at the Sea Cliff Resort and Spa were complimentary, as I was visiting on assignment as part of my freelance work. As always, I maintain editorial control of all content published on this website, but you already know that. ;)