Construction begins on Benin’s first ever golf course

  • Benin Golf Avlékété Pern Gregori
    Jeremy Pern

    Jeremy Pern and Gregori International have started work on Avlékété Golf Course, a new 18-hole project in the West African country of Benin

  • Benin Golf Avlékété Pern Gregori
    Jeremy Pern

    The masterplan for the golf course, on a site near Cotonou, Benin’s largest city

  • Benin Golf Avlékété Pern Gregori
    Jeremy Pern

    The course will be routed around protected trees, marshland, voodoo temples and a sacred grove

  • Benin Golf Avlékété Pern Gregori
    Jeremy Pern

    Pern (fourth left) will be on site regularly during construction, which is being handled by Gregori International. Around 250 local people will be employed to help build the course

  • Benin Golf Avlékété Pern Gregori
    Accompagnement Paysage

    A visualisation of Avlékété Golf Course, with the driving range in the background

  • Benin Golf Avlékété Pern Gregori
    Accompagnement Paysage

    The course is expected to open by the end of 2025

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Construction firm Gregori International has started work on Avlékété Golf Course, a new 18-hole golf layout by Jeremy Pern, near Cotonou, the largest city in Benin.

Pern, a British golf course architect now living in southern France, has worked with Gregori International on several projects, including the nine-hole course at Golf Soldeu in Andorra, which opened in 2008, and Casa Green Golf Club in Casablanca, Morocco, which opened in 2013.

“Coincidentally, Gregori’s offices happen to be about 50 kilometres away from my home in Toulouse,” said Pern. “They have built golf courses all over the world, including the Caribbean, Tahiti and Africa. They have a presence all over the world, including Benin.”

In 2021 Gregori International asked Pern to assist with feasibility studies for a new golf course in Benin, which would be the first in the country. Benin’s president Patrice Talon is seeking to diversify the country’s economy and develop industries such as tourism, banking, and services. Its main industry is agriculture; cotton accounts for 40 per cent of Benin’s GDP.

“Several years ago, the Benin government started putting in infrastructure, main roads and so on, for an area of land about 25 kilometres west of Cotonou,” said Pern. “The golf course is part of that infrastructure along with work by various other big international tourist operators. They’ve had the idea for this golf course for four or five years.”

The Benin government identified the town of Avlékété as an ideal spot to build a tourist development. It is around 150 kilometres west of Lagos, Nigeria, and 330 kilometres east of Accra, Ghana. Lagos has a population of around 15 million, while Accra is home to over two million people. “It’s a tourist development, and as well as Europeans, one of the main sources of visitors will be coming from the burgeoning West African middle class,” said Pern. “I was in Rwanda last year and saw how golf there has been taken up by locals on the Kigali Golf Club [designed by Gary Player and built by Gregori International] – it was very encouraging to see.”

The Benin government officially awarded Gregori International with a turnkey contract to build the course and clubhouse at the start of 2024.

“With government procedures in Africa being quite lengthy, I started working on the project on an unofficial basis around 18 months ago, producing sketches and looking at sites,” said Pern. “I went out there a year ago, and had a discussion with government ministers, and again in October where I had a meeting with President Talon to present our project. After going through all the procedures, we got the official green light at the beginning of the year. We more of less started building the course straight away; quite unusual, but that’s how it works in Africa.”

The site for the golf course is one kilometre from the coast. “It’s a long, thin stretch of land of about 100 hectares,” said Pern. “Parts of the land are great, and parts are a bit of a challenge. About half of it is rolling sand, very ‘linksy’, plus or minus a couple of metres in height, where farmers were growing tomatoes, peppers, manioc, maize and all sorts on the sand. Surrounding the sandy area is swamp land and a coastal lagoon. There’s also a wide range of trees – including a variety palms, coconut and mango.

“It’s a pretty interesting site, and it’ll make a great golf course. It will also be the longest golf course I have ever designed – the government want it to be a championship test.” The back tees will play to around 7,100 yards, with Pern also creating forward tees to allow Avlékété to play as short as 4,400 yards.

“A golf course has to have 18 decent holes and I don’t think you can judge a golf hole, much less a course, until it’s built,” said Pern. “What you see on paper is seldom what you get! I do detailed plans, but they are only indications for the guys on site. If I can improve the final result by modifying a plan, then I will, and usually do!

“Avlékété will comprise four par threes, four par fives and ten par fours. Although each site is different, the basics of golf course design are all there and that’s what you put on the plan. You have a few long holes, a short par three, a long par four, and you compose your symphony, movement by movement. The vision thing only gets you so far and until you hear the music, you can’t really say what the course is like.”

Pern and Gregori International were told about the environmental and cultural restrictions during the early stages of the project and have planned the course on the 100-hectare site accordingly.

The site has “100 per cent” dictated how Pern has devised his routing plan, especially in terms of trees. “There are all sorts of parameters that we have to respect environmentally,” said Pern. “One thing that I have been impressed by is the level of environmental surveillance and permitting. At the beginning of the project, I was vaguely under the impression that it would be like my experiences in Africa many years ago when you did what you liked. But no, things have changed for the better, there have been comprehensive environmental impact studies extending to social, cultural and financial issues including government compensation to the farmers.

“There is an inventory of every tree on the site – and there’s lots of them! And then the process goes from identifying any protected trees, avoiding them at the design stage or transplanting them as necessary. Basically, all the coconuts and palms in the playing areas will be transplanted into the rough. However, we have to avoid the forest clumps.  If there is a special tree that we can’t move, then the golf course has to be routed around it. And with 100 hectares to play with we have plenty of room.”

It is not just trees that will be protected.

“There are seven voodoo shrines on the site, of which there are several we can’t touch,” said Pern. “Three or four of the voodoo temples – they’re shrines and altars in the trees – can be moved by their priests. And in the middle of the site is a sacred grove, a clump of trees covering about half a hectare, that has to be preserved and isolated. The sacred grove sits beside the big lagoon and is dedicated to the fishing deities.

“The marshes, dunes, trees and voodoo shrines mean the golf course has to thread its way through these areas or take them into account. This backs up my point that architects are completely guided by their site.”

Construction is expected to take two years, with 250 local people employed to help Gregori International build the course. Pern hopes to complete grassing within a year and before the region’s wet season begins. “I tend to be on site fairly regularly during the construction phase,” he said. “Probably 10 visits in total, or perhaps once every four to six weeks, depending on progress. I like to be there in case I need to change my plans; that’s just the way I build courses.”

Avlékété Golf Course is expected to open by the end of 2025.