Thursday, 22 June 2017
Tunisia IS coming back for golf
So I’m minding my own business getting on with some work when I get a call out of the blue from the Tunisia Tourist Board in London inviting me to participate in their inaugural journalist golf tournament in Tunisia a few weeks later. My gut response - yes please. I’m a bit of an adventurer, I keep an eye on world affairs but also I’m a journalist and I feel it is my duty to go to various destinations to report my findings. Two weeks later meeting my fellow journalists and the colourful Tunisian Tourist Board representative who made it all happen, Moncef at the airport, we were set to go.
Arriving in Tunis airport, we transferred to El Kantaoui (el - can- too-ee), a bit late for dinner but ready for a welcome rest after the journey - after a quick drink in the welcoming bar! I quite like arriving in the dark to hotels, crashing on the bed then waking up to you don't know what when you open the curtains the next morning. To my delight it was the large turquoise pool with vacant contrasting blue sun-beds, clean fresh and poised waiting for their next guest to take up their spot for a day, enjoying all The Concorde Green Park Hotel has to offer. A U-shaped purpose built 5* hotel right on the beach with stretching tiered views from the room to the pool to the sea and sky beyond, a beautifully decorated new hotel not without charm yet still developing its character and colour of Tunisia. The staff smiled constantly and were incredibly willing to please. In fact that was the theme of the whole time in Tunisia - all the people smiled as they went about their days, they seriously couldn't do enough for you, in many respects we were treasured like individual jewels in their precious crown. The Concorde Green Park with it’s fine sandy beaches in the Port of El Kantaoui, Sousse, next to the famous El Kantaoui golf course - host of the Tunisian Seniors Open and oldest course in Tunisia, offered everything a holiday golf venue should. I was there for a Media Golf Tournament, I was one of two representing Great Britain and I hadn't played well for a long time, so I had to dust off my summer golf shoes and get on with it, I was here on business, not pleasure! but playing well was part of it. El Kantaoui is a 36 hole golf complex housing the Panorama and Sea Courses. The tournament was played on the Panorama (but we did sneak a further 9 holes on the Sea Course after lunch for good measure! )
Things were hotting up - people were actually practicing before play, on the extensive outdoor range, on the short game area and on the putting surface - I began to wonder and panic at the same time what standard of golfers these people were. Maybe I’d been put into the wrong group! Chastising myself for getting ‘het up’ a welcome thought popped into my head- any golfer of any standard can play another of any standard and still win or loose. Despite knowing this, a little gurgle in the pit of my stomach developed as I stood on that first tee, a similar kind of feeling when one holds a card with that dreaded word ‘Medal’ on it!
The Panorama Course meandered around the houses on this 130 hectare plot of land with the first taking you up the side of the road to feast my eyes on something I expected to be everywhere in Tunisia - a camel. OK I may have been a bit naive with my expectations but I was equally delighted when the chap paraded the camel along the road side past the golf course whilst we prepared for our games. I felt as though I finally arrived in Tunisia. Little did I know that would be the first and last sighting of a camel because believe it or not, but the Tunisians drive cars! Albeit badly and through gritted teeth with tourists hanging on for dear life!
We set off down the first tee, I saw my competition and relaxed! Two challenging yet different golf courses offering links style golf with open fairways and good greens - what else could one want from their golf - oh yes, good play.… The course meandered upwards for the majority of the holes to be played before dropping back down for the closing holes; a good all round challenge. Elevated tees in places with wide welcoming fairways add to the delight of this course. On offer for lunch in the club house afterwards was a varied menu, being part of a group we were given two options - meat or fish, no further description just meat or fish. Opting for the fish I was delighted with my colourful tasty choice of fish - I still don't know what type it was but trusted my judgement (and the chef’s!) and being slightly righteous by not wanting to looking like a pig on our first meal together, fish was a good option for me, however I didn't really expect it to be as delicious as it truly was. Overlooking the golf course eating lunch with its panoramic views soaking up the sunshine, it was difficult to tear myself away for the second game of 9 holes - thankfully not part of the competition! The Sea Course differed to the Panorama in so far as and as the name suggests it is by the sea for holes 12 to 15 which we played giving the best view of the course, with these holes wrapping around the hotel. Other than that it was quite difficult to say which one was better - both were in good condition and played really well - you’ll just have to make time to play both!
A welcome second night at the Concorde Hotel allowed us to sample the vast buffet, everything one can image was on offer, from salads to weird and wonderful delicious deserts. Buffets of such variety have their pros and cons - great for a diet if you have will-power, otherwise a disaster in the nicest possible way of course! But the choice was outstanding. Seated in large refectory style room was a bustling, noisy and jovial affair.
An early start to day two at Golf Citrus. An established golf course whose condition was fantastic. Just a few minutes away from the gulf of Hammamet, trees abundant on this beautifully laid out golf course. We played La Foret Course a reasonably hilly course lined with pine trees, one of two 18 hole choices on site, the other being Les Oliviers. Well kept yet in places narrow fairways and gently undulating greens are a treat for the visiting golfer. Being told the wind could be in play to ruin a good shot I was looking for a strong wind to blame that day! A delightfully different layout and play to El Kantaoiu thereby offering a great combination together for the ultimate golf break in this part of Tunisia, especially if taking in the sights of Tunisia are on your agenda when visiting this beautiful country. It is always difficult to comment too much on condition of the golf course, as it may change the following week, but the course layout is a varied one with well placed hazards and playable fairways to good sized putting greens. Food choice after the golf - fish or meat. Meat being my choice this time (Not so conscious by now, I ordered the biggest and most filling option this time!) I was treated to the most delicious steak cooked to perfection, again something I wasn't really expecting for golf club food in Tunisia.
Checking into Sinbad Hotel after golf, a different and quirky hotel in so far as it ‘spiders’ in corridors from the central lobby like an octopus of many legs reaching to the far ends of the site to maximise the plot of land Simple, sprawling irregular shaped yet comfortable rooms greet you, with a little seating area outside the ‘back door’ for the late sun worshippers amongst us. Pre-dinner drinks in the outside bar with its infinity pool tricking the eye of an illusion of cascading into the sea below was a particular highlight of the evening. A little cooler at night by the sea we drank local cocktails and chatted until dinner before being hustled into yet another large dining room and waited on by attentive and friendly waiters falling over each other to please.
A rest day from golf allowed us to visit Carthage (cart-age) and Sidi Bou Said (sid -e - boo -say). Carthage with its wonderful rich colourful history dating back to ancient Carthaginian times and the centre of Tunisia at the time. Evolving from the 9th Century it was force to be reckoned with at the time in the Gulf of Tunis. An equal force to be reckon with was our incredibly enthusiastic guide, who to be honest did go on a bit, but listen and we were treated to the history of the area and its governance during this evolving period of time, a time of dominance and history making. Mosaics line the entrance to the museum and whilst a little dull in colour as time takes it tolls, you can see the richness of bygone days with each little piece able to tell it’s own story. Ruins abound, this is a must visit for visitors to Tunisia to understand the countries evolution into what it is today.
Sidi Bou Said is a tourist area known as the blue and white town - every building has to be in particular shade of blue and white which coupled with its location overlooking the sea makes the village stand out against the camel brown earth. A monument to Roldolphe d’Erland and his foresight to apply this strict colour scheme in the 1920’s. Local artists sell their wares along the streets of Sidi Bou Said where you can indulge your retail therapy for ornately decorated small pots to large artefacts as your luggage allowance prohibits. A lovely lunch in a local restaurant in Sidi Bou Said followed our day of sightseeing.
The final couple of nights we stayed at the Movenpick Hotel in Gammarth. Reputed to be the best hotel in the area we were treated to a Hamman - a large steam room with off-shoots for privacy if required, and an incredibly cold pool - which I did not partake having seen my colleague turn a Sidi Bou Said shade of blue upon exiting. Good sized, rich, dark rooms overlook the outside pool to the rough sea beyond exaggerated by the dull day which it had unexpectedly turned out to be. Excited to be going to a local Moroccan restaurant, we were served with - you guessed it fish - for all courses. Delicious.
The last day dawned for the golf tournament, now it has to be said I was nowhere near the prizes, but still enjoyed the game on the final day playing The Residence - a Robert Trent Jones junior design tackling the natural landscape of the water inlets as only a good course designer can achieve, and one he is known for internationally. Working in harmony with the local flora with Gazania in their masses lining the fairways which in turn plot themselves between the sea and the salt water lake make for a strategic yet pretty (viewing I might add!) game of golf in this natural nature reserve. A links style course with its sand base and grass being cut short, with open fairways and enticing large greens a course that once again compliment Citrus and El Kantaoui varying styles.
Finals night and we were really treated, no holds barred. A restaurant where locals go to eat where all of the hosts over the last few days, dignitaries from the Tunisian Tourist Board, and of course ourselves the lowly golfers, photographers, and journalists sat and enjoyed each others company for the final night whereupon the winner was announced, a worthy French journalist who spent an obscene amount of time on the driving range before (and after) his golf whilst we were in the clubhouse enjoying the various wines (a welcome by-product of the French influence in Tunisia!), toasting our bad rounds of golf and chatting over the shots of the day.
Three different golf courses, over four days with more to choose from at some venues which provide more than 18 holes, a great choice of varying hotels to choose from, and history to get you thinking, with people so eager to please Tunisia should be in your bucket list for your next golf trip.
Personally, at no stage did I feel threatened, unsafe or uncomfortable during my visit to Tunisia and as the Tunisian national anthem eloquently states :
Inflict defeat on foes,
Offer peace to friends.
And in true Tunisian form, this is exactly what these wonderful people do.
Freelance journalist whose views are her own and are not intended to insult but spoken from the heart based on true experiences.