At Kenya’s Vipingo Ridge, animals roam the greens alongside golfers

(CNN) – Six feet before the hole itself, a golfer lines up his putt. Six meters behind him, a giraffe passes idly by.

From birds and eagles to deer and alligator sightings, golf has long enjoyed a connection with the animal kingdom. Seldom has that couple been more harmonious than at Vipingo Ridge, Kenya.

A sprawling 2,500-hectare mixed-use development on the country’s coast, Vipingo Ridge is home to Africa’s only PGA-accredited course, as well as an abundance of wildlife. With many arriving as rescues, the region’s many wildlife species are free to roam throughout the Baobab Trail, which is dotted with indigenous trees planted for animal guests.

At Vipingo Ridge, Kenya, golfers play alongside all kinds of wildlife.

“It’s such a beautiful thing to be able to play golf and have wildlife around you,” Saleem Haji, director of golf at Vipingo Ridge, told CNN. “It’s not fake, not a zoo … they want to be there.”

Conservation of the project

Vipingo Ridge is an example of how large areas of privately owned land can be turned into animal sanctuaries or conservancies, Kenya’s Wildlife and Tourism Minister Najib Balala told CNN.

Vipingo Ridge from the sky.

Bending Ridge

It is hoped that animals such as antelope and Grévy’s zebra brought from other African countries can find a safe haven among the green Baobab, Balala added.

For Vipingo Ridge President Alastair Cavenaugh, being proactive in protecting wildlife is key. “Our plan is to eventually create a breeding program where we can grow the stock and improve the gene pool, then work with KWS (Kenyan Wildlife Service) to reintroduce them into the wild, parks or other sanctuaries and conservancies like us. some sites,” Cavenaugh explained.

“With the way the population is expanding, human-wildlife conflict is going to go one-way and it’s going to get worse. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity and scope for the government to engage developers and landowners to come together. It’s going to sanctuaries and conservation areas to create space for wildlife. ».

Swing technology

Preserving and enhancing the future of golf in Kenya is also a priority at Vipingo Ridge, which serves as a training base for some of the country’s top young women.

Back on the course was the Magical Kenya Ladies Open, a Ladies European Tour event, in February, after a two-year hiatus, with Germany’s Esther Henseleit successfully defending her crown.

Vipingo Ridge will be hoping that future winners can come out of the local PGA Academy. Supervised by a PGA professional, the academy features a range of state-of-the-art equipment and offers personalized club fitting and swing analysis for all players, courtesy of a high-tech launch monitor. Using four high-speed cameras to track the club head and ball, the monitor will spit out data that can be used to adjust technique and equipment.

Finland's Sanna Nuutinin at the 2019 Magical Kenya Ladies Open at Vipingo Ridge.

Finland’s Sanna Nuutinin at the 2019 Magical Kenya Ladies Open at Vipingo Ridge.

Tristan Jones / Vipingo Ridge

“Golf technology has been phenomenal in the last 15 years,” Haji said. “The impact of technology … (a) understanding how to generate the most speed, which means you can hit the ball more — is key in today’s game.”

Adjacent to the academy, a club repair and assembly facility offers nearly 200 club shafts of various materials and weights, offering players an almost endless amount of customization to adjust the contents of their golf bag.

A new dawn

According to Haji, Vipingo Ridge’s efforts to blood the next generation of golfing talent reflects the growing popularity of the sport in Kenya. “I think golf is growing in the country,” he said. “There is general agreement that we need to involve a wider range of players, starting with children.

“This has to be moved away from being an area where rich kids can play and poor kids can’t because Kenya intends to produce champions.

“The more people you get to come and try it, the more likely you are to find a champion, that’s for sure.”