Part 2 - Gammarth, Tabarka and back to Tunis via Sidi Bou Said
As the week hots up, so does the quality of the golf, next stop The Residence. This Robert Trent Jones II course is one I enjoyed previously. Quite open in its design, I found it harder to see the RTJII usual design go to’s- not such a bad thing to show his diversity of design. Again the grass was quite brown, but this didn’t detract from its playing ability. Water was in play for a few holes, and playing around that water bought in the inevitable narrowing of the fairway. Playing 6285 from the back and 4804 meters from the front tees, it is a fair test of golf. Hole 5 was the start of the water side holes. A pretty par 3, 153/80 meters, SI7 had water cutting in from the right, the water was planted with high reeds and beyond that, a green side bunker - clever in design and clever in aesthetics. The par 4, hole 6 kept the water expanse to the right before moving away with the water behind us as we played hole 7, another par 3 of only123/82 meters. These were some of the holes I stepped back to play them slightly longer. Three pretty holes in succession with a huge beach just beyond
the reeds. The openness of the course is ever more apparent on these few holes. Arriving at the 11th, one can see the string of bunkers guarding the green and again narrowing the landing spot of this par 4. I also liked the 15th hole a 176/116 par three hole with scrub to hit over and little bail out. Funnily enough the tee signage showed the shrub as water, so maybe during high tide it is water? The day we played it was shrub, a little like heather with patches of sand between. With many undulations across the course, playable bunkers weren’t in short supply, great putting surfaces and water either in play or picture framing the fairways - I thought The Residence is a course of beauty and one I’d like to return to again. Great food too!
A journey North towards the Algerian boarders to play a new course for me - La Cigale in Tabarka. A grey day met us to play this little, but arguably the best course in Tunisia. The course was set in amongst trees with wonderful elevation changes throughout. Being North near the Algerian border the temperatures aren’t always as high as in the South. But the damp air did not damped the course, its condition or our spirits- maybe having more rain enabled the course to shine? Unfortunately the course had been hollow tined on some of the fairways, leaving small plugs dotted along the fairways but this wasn’t on all of the holes, and as I’ve said before, I’d rather see maintenance than see the course not being managed or invested in. Besides the greens were the best I’d played in Tunisia. I understand that the signage was being upgraded, so the tee box boards weren’t as helpful as they will be when the new ones have been installed. That said, the course and its strength in design carries off any anomalies with ease. More like playing an established course in the UK any other Northern European country, the lush greens against the white sandy bunkers and
imposing trees was a pleasing sight. The topography of the course did mean it was up and down hill a bit, but in truth, it encapsulated the changes in elevation and worked with it. Hole 3 with its elevated tee and the sweep of the green fairway swishing around to the distant far reaching views of the ocean and drew the eye towards the flag stick just before the ocean. This par 4, SI 18 measured 301/275 meters and was as inviting as some of the best with the waves crashing against the back of the hole - well the sea was actually a bit further away, but the visual effect was that of the waves crashing agains the back of the green! Lovely.
Sadly the rain came in and my game went to pot! It came back a few holes later, but not without pulling some horrible shots left almost into the ocean then having to recover over a wire fence - but an image tells that story better!
So taken with this course that a few of the holes remained me of Kawana in Japan or Whalsay in Shetland with their oceanside holes - different oceans, different parts of the world but all similar in terrain and appearance.
The 8th took you away from the Ocean and into a parkland style of course again. I particularly liked the bunkers at La Cigale, the sand was gritty and the club came through with ease to pop the ball out.
A big tree is in play the par 5 9th which forces a strategy of careful play - I’m not best known for safety shots. But you need to keep the ball fairly left on the 494/428 meter hole.
For a pleasing vista view, take stock on the 14th tee with its through the valley far reaching views framing the ‘castle’ in the distance. Deceptive off the tee the 18th, with its floral tee exit looks difficult with water in play, another sign of a good well thought through design lends itself to a great finishing hole with a water fountain marking the end of this wonderful course. A course that transports you from natural beauty to the modern designed club house which weirdly sit in harmony with each other.
There are plans for La Cigale to be changed; more bunkers added and of course new signage, so watch this space to see how these new improvements also benefit the overall experience on the course.
Obviously travelling so far North, you need to stay somewhere and the luxury La Cigale Hotel is only minutes to the golf course. Comfortable beds with each room being given plenty of water bottles to go about your day, not to mention the evening meal being superb, sadly the breakfast was a little sparse but did the job. This hotel and course are, in my opinion, worth the journey North, but allow yourself some time to enjoy it.
Travelling back to Tunis didn’t take as long, but we did take a slight diversion via Sidi Bou Said - the picturesque ocean side village painted in strict blue and white shades offset against the blue ocean was a welcome stop over.
As I had time to reflect on this latest trip to Tunisia, I came back to my original question - has Tunisia sunk or swam during a global torrid time? I guess, a bit of both. Some hotels and golf offerings were not up to par, others offered the same good experience and one stood out as a must visit. The hotels were, in the main, better than five years ago, with the exception of one which was dated and tired, the others were upbeat, clean, welcoming and modern or traditional in equal measures. Could it be a golf destination to rival other more established ones? Most likely but not yet - however, it could be a great destination which has golf. A destination for all the family and who knows one day, with some investment and cohesive thought, it could well be one to watch in the future.
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