Golf's next great course – in Nigeria?

Calabar golf course in Nigeria
Thomson Perrett & Lobb
The second hole on the Calabar course will wend through an old rubber plantation.
By John Holmes

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 | 8:07 p.m.

South Africa has several world-class golf courses, but the rest of Africa? Outside of Morocco, not so many.

The western Africa nation of Nigeria, however, soon will add the continent's newest high-end golf destination.

Construction has begun on a new championship course just outside the city of Calabar, the capital of Nigeria's Cross River State, that was designed by Thomson Perrett & Lobb, the golf course architecture firm founded by five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson. The layout begins in a dense plantation of rubber trees before moving into several valleys and up onto a ridge before it finishes alongside the Calabar River.

''We have worked very hard to ensure the course will fit seamlessly into the landscape,'' said TPL principal Tim Lobb, who is leading the design team. ''For example, we have marked the clearing lines by hand to give a natural looking edge, rather than the hole corridors being straight, and we have retained clumps of trees in strategic spots.''

Lobb said that he developed a routing that that makes the best possible use of the land's natural contours, and minimizes earthmoving. 

''Calabar is less than five degrees north of the Equator, with a challenging tropical climate, especially during the rainy season, so enhancing the site's natural drainage channels will be key to making a course that's playable year round,'' he said. 

Construction of the course should be finished by the end of 2014, Lobb said, with the opening planned for 2015.

The new course is part of a $200 million improvement project by the state government that incorporates an international-standard convention center, five-star hotel and a residential community.

''The Calabar International Convention Center, the golf course and the rest of the development will be a world-class amenity for the State, and one of the leading facilities in West Africa,'' said Liyel Imoke, the governor of Cross River State. ''We are delighted that the course construction is under way, and we look forward eagerly to seeing it completed.''

Nigeria has a population of around 170 million, but only about 50 golf courses and 200,000 golfers – so far. The new course will be just the second 18-hole layout in Cross River State, and its greens are made of dirt, not grass.

"An up-to-date standard golf course becomes relevant in an economy like ours in Nigeria, that is growing rapidly," Imoke told CNN. "We now see a new emerging middle class, what they used to call the yuppie class. The yuppie generation is here, and they play golf. If Calabar has something to offer, and they come to Calabar, then the people in Calabar benefit from that expenditure."