Leopard Creek: a walk on the wild side

12/11/2012 11:36:12 AM
A giraffe looks on at Leopard Creek, the unique home of the Alfred Dunhill Championship  (EuropeanTour)
A giraffe looks on at Leopard Creek, the unique home of the Alfred Dunhill Championship (EuropeanTour)

The host venue for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, Leopard Creek Country Club, is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque layouts visited on The European Tour International Schedule and its incredible location will this week once again provide players with an unrivalled experience of South Africa’s varied and spectacular wildlife in the second event of the 2013 season.

Leopard Creek, perched on the southern border of the Kruger National Park in the country’s Mpumalanga province, was designed by South African legend Gary Player, opened in 1996 and has hosted the Alfred Dunhill Championship since 2004.

Player’s layout incorporates many characteristics of the local area as the course winds among trees, bushes and grassland and features several water hazards ranging from large lakes and ponds to brooks, streams set in rocks and cascading waterfalls.

But it is the plentiful variety of animals, wildlife that often makes an appearance as some of the world’s top golfers plot their way around the course, that makes the Alfred Dunhill Championship one of the most special stops on The European Tour.

Deon van Rensburg, Head of Security at Leopard Creek, knows more about the layout’s wildlife than most.

“We have two male leopards currently – one on either side of the estate,” said van Ronsburg. “In the dam between the 15th and 16th there is a hippo called Harry, who you always see there as he has his own grazing area behind.

“And in most of the other dams and water features you can find crocodiles – there’s actually a very big one in the 16th lake that we are trying to move at the moment because it is getting too large so we will relocate it to the farm next door.

“Then we have waterbuck, bushbuck, kudu, impala and, at this time of year, a lot of snakes. There are black mambas, Mozambique spitting cobra and the most dangerous of the whole bunch - puff adders.

“So you probably want to take an iron and scratch ahead of you if you find yourself in the rough this week!”

With a golf course unlike many others in the world, the setting and natural habitat sometimes presents van Rensburg and the Leopard Creek green staff with some unusual problems.

He continued: “The baboons sometimes cause a bit of a nuisance of themselves. They come over – especially in the winter when there’s not a lot of vegetation – and swing on the flags, take the cups out and roll the green up.

“We had two big female giraffes here before but sadly had to take them off to the farm because they used to go onto the greens and scratch their stomachs on the flagpole and that can destroy a green.

“We have a game fence on the park side so haven’t had any elephants or lions coming in so far and hopefully it will stay like that!”

The Kruger National Park, which technically begins on the far side of the Crocodile River across from Leopard Creek, became South Africa’s first national park in 1926 and covers more than 7,000 square miles – making it one of the largest game reserves on the continent.

In it can be found all of the 'Big Five’ of lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and buffalo, while 517 different species of bird, 114 species of reptiles – including more than 3,000 crocodiles – and 147 species of large mammals also inhabit its vast planes and waters.

Leopard Creek’s Course Superintendent Derek Muggeridge has also had a number of close scrapes with some of the country club’s most dangerous inhabitants.

Just one week before the last edition of the Alfred Dunhill Championship 12 months ago, Muggeridge was driving his golf cart by the ninth tee when his foot – which had been casually hanging off the side of the vehicle – hooked onto a deadly, two and a half metre long Black Mamba snake.

The reptile was dragged along for a few yards until Muggeridge managed to shake it off and with that the snake disappeared back into the bush.

The players love coming to Leopard Creek every year, though, with high praise for the venue and setting frequently heard from all quarters including Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal, who recently described it as his “favourite week of the season”.

In any case, with the crocodiles, hippos and snakes roaming freely in and around Leopard Creek, it certainly brings a new perspective to the word ‘hazard’…