Changing Its Spots
Golf Digest South Africa|December 2018
Changing Its Spots

Leopard Creek Has Undergone A Variety Of Attractive Changes In Terms Of Turf, Bunkering And Design.

Stuart Mclean

A “new-look” Leopard Creek awaits tour professionals and a worldwide TV audience when the Alfred Dunhill Championship returns to the European/Sunshine Tour from December 13 to 16.

The biggest change to Leopard Creek since the Dunhill was last played there in 2016 is the wall-to-wall eradication of all kikuyu grass on the course and surrounds by the maintenance team under course maintenance director Derek Muggeridge. It has been replaced by a more sustainable indigenous cynodon which not only requires less water and chemicals but thrives in the heat of summer.

Kikuyu works well as a playing surface on fairways in the dry summer heat of Gauteng and Sun City, but it never enjoyed the same compatibility in the humid conditions of the Mpumalanga Lowveld.

Leopard Creek owner Johann Rupert decided a few years ago that the future turf for his acclaimed course lay with an endemic local warm-season grass for fairways and rough, and after testing several varietals at his adjoining National Junior Development Centre, selected a fine textured hybrid known as Barbados.

Tour players will also find a very different looking 18 holes from the ones they had become familiar with since the Alfred Dunhill first moved to Leopard Creek in 2004. They should react favourably to the beautifully shaped modern bunkering which frames each hole, part of the extensive remodelling work by course construction specialists Golf Data, proven experts in this area.

Visiting the course in November, standing on the new back tee at No 1, the bunkering with its white sand immediately makes a splendid visual statement on this gentle opening hole. Two bunkers sprawl diagonally across the middle of the fairway, asking golfers to come up with a strategy on how to play the tee shot and avoid the sand.

Members have been back on the course since April, when Leopard Creek was re-opened for play, and are enamoured with the changes, saying they improve the playability of the experience for mid- to high-handicaps. Shots from the fairway or semi-rough glide through the new turf, generating good clubhead speed. The water channels in front of the first and third greens, intimidating for members, have been removed, only the one guarding the 14th remaining in place.

I particularly liked what Golf Data have done in terms of changes on the ninth and 18th, two of the most memorable and scenic holes on the property, running down a hill parallel to each other to greens wrapped into the large water hazard fronting the clubhouse.

The iconic island green at the par-5 18th is unchanged, still an anxiety-filled threat to every golfer, from Ernie Els to a 24-handicap, who has faced a pressure shot over the water to its narrow putting surface. Now, though, there is a new bunker to be wary of, left of the fairway not far short of the water, in an area where many will lay up with their seconds.

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December 2018