Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 April 2012
Issue No. 1092
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Gamal Nkrumah

Left and light

Gamal Nkrumah finds the perfect quick getaway for golf lovers

"Isn't it fun to go out on the course and lie in the sun" -- Bob Hope

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Lilac and violet Red Sea hills surround the still waters on all sides of the Ain Sokhna Bay that glitters in enticing hues of gold, turquoise and azure. Watching in utter amazement the myriad bolts of colour that tumble out from the golf links, sea and skies is a slackening distraction.

One would say this paradise on the sandy shore of the Red Sea is a landscape sketched by an artist who put slosh of colour before it was touched by the brushstroke. Everywhere, there is wind off the Red Sea, seducing seasoned golfers -- even though on this morning, the wind appeared to be adamant to prove that it can blow people off their feet.

The wind-strewn atmospheric setting does not stop golfers and sightseers alike from taking leisurely strolls along the endless beachfront promenade. Among those promenading might be guest golfers from China, Japan, or Cairo's expatriate community. The first joy upon arrival at Jaz Little Venice is walking across the immaculately manicured grass of the fairway, the windswept expanse between the tee and putting green. This is a different kind of resort to anywhere else by the sea within 300km of Cairo. In this year's gales, it was prerequisite for visitors of the golf resort in the eerily secluded bay to hold on to their hats.

A group of journalists are waiting on the first tee. Most had never played golf before. "The teeing ground, of course, is the starting place for each hole on the golf course," explains the instructor with dazzling combination of piercing greenish and hazel eyes -- as if reflecting the very course itself, chestnut hair and an abundance of bonhomie.

This, though, is certainly not the place to throw a riotous party. And though it might sound terribly sanctimonious, the visitor is not likely to encounter celebrity neighbours either. It is this that really matters to serious golfers. Then a group of boisterous Chinese businessmen arrives and their Japanese counterparts par for the course with their impeccable golf shoes. They are obviously eager to score par on the course.

For golfers wanting sunshine, the course was a bitter disappointment this time. But for this particular group of Chinese and Japanese golfers the globalised welcome of the Red Sea resort was attractive enough, and I don't seriously think that they gave a toss about the weather for there were plenty of sunny spells. They appear at home in this picture- perfect seaside resort -- wherever there is golf, they go. Then the ball rolled across the green and into the bunker, or sand trap. Big boys do cry, too.

"Birdie," yelped one of the Chinese golfers. "One stroke under par for a hole," he excitedly exclaimed with a distinct accent.

Then there is really getting away from it all. What's on offer varies greatly from the perennially thronged streets of Cairo. Ain Sokhna is the perfect getaway precisely because it is less than an hour and a half's drive from Maadi, say, or Heliopolis. Economic chills have dimmed prospective investors' spending power in 2011 -- and probably for most of 2012 as well. Only the most intrepid investors have the heart, or guts, to invest in projects such as new vacation resorts in these troubled times, but the reader would be surprised by the zest for living the carefree abandon that seaside resorts of Egypt's Red Sea coastline furnish. Worries about the stability of the country have taken their toll.

Visitors, though, have fallen in love with the open space. This will probably never be the star attraction of the global rich. However, many Cairenes are prepared to pay the price to escape the city and relax in the serene surroundings of a seaside golf course. Where else can you have peace and solitude so close to bustling Cairo?

"Albatross," someone exclaims, in the peculiar parlance of golfers that is three strokes under par on a single golf hole, I believe. "Double bogey," someone, or something, screeches. This is not exactly the place for fancy-dress soirees, but still its rustic aesthetic is arresting. This is certainly one of the prettiest golf courses in Egypt.

I wonder how much precious Nile water is used to water the course. I try not to calculate the costs. I was never a good mathematician anyway. "The course is greener in summer," our beautiful instructor notes. Now the grass is a shimmering lustrous olive. I grin at the incongruity of it all. This course has endeavoured successfully to respect the ground on which it sits. I was half expecting to see Tiger Woods and his caddie at this particular Red Sea course. And, perhaps one day he might show up.

Continuing our walk along the beachfront a left-handed colleague inquires about why left-handers seem to play golf right- handedly. Well, come to think of it, left- handers naturally lead with their left side, left eye and turn anti-clockwise.

I guess, sometimes events can happen almost by accident. And, this weekend was one of those inexplicable events. Golfing events naturally add a sporting slant, but the far-sighted organisers turn this into metaphysical advantage. A yogi turned up to help us relax and the organisers proved prescient.

Meanwhile, it was time to head for our suites for a nap, a siesta before dinner. The commercial aspect of the golfing weekend turned out to be rather irrelevant in this idyllic setting. Our group, mostly journalists and photo-journalist and at least one seasoned photographer, were more interested in exchanging ideas informally -- and not necessarily about golf. The game metamorphosed into the sort of platform for political and cultural debate, in the fashion of 18th Century literary salon.

Out of the bedroom window, actually the suite terrace, the view is a turquoise swimming pool -- shame it's too cold, but perhaps by the time this article is published the weather will have warmed up. To call the terrace an extended veranda is more apt an appellation, but it was the venue for the most heated disputation. The discussion on the terrace overlooking the golf course and the Red Sea turned from small talk to intense intellectual exchange.

Somehow, the conversation drifted to drugs, narcotics and Sinai across the Gulf of Suez. "Drugs are very much part of professional sports today, but when you think about it, golf is the only sport where the players aren't penalised for being on grass," Bob Hope is reported as once saying.

You won't need phials of morphine in the resort, though. Relaxation, meditation or just kicking back, perceived as bestowing the primary attractions bolstering this exclusive resort in these difficult economic times, are designed to revive a tradition of tourism as refreshing and regenerating both body and soul. Yoga and aqua-aerobics underscore the resort's timeliness.

You can build up your stamina when it comes to playing golf by the sea. Summer is upon us, but this is no excuse to stop playing golf. Yes, many professionals believe that the torrid summer months are not ideal for a game of golf, but those who play to relax and unwind beg to differ.

"Many golfers have hectic professional lives and find it difficult to devote an entire weekend away from the city. We want to ensure that The Little Venice Golf Resort offers them a golfing experience well worth travelling for," Managing director of Hassan Allam Properties, Mohamed Allam, explains. The project began with a regular nine-hole golf course and was soon amalgamated with the adjacent Ein golf course to create the Sokhna Golf Club, boasting a 27-hole championship golf course 100km away from Cairo International Airport.

"With the two projects right next to each other, it was a logical step towards creating a real first class, 27-hole golfing destination in Ain Sokhna," Allam expounded.

Renowned golf course designers John Sandford and Tim Lobb were hired to landscape Egypt's latest state-of-the-art championship golf course. Hassan Allam Properties' brainchild was the first in Egypt to use Paspalum Platinum for its fairways, greens and driving range.

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