Gold 6501 metres, CR76.0/147
White 6000 metres, CR73.3/141
Blue 5484 metres, CR70.7/134
Red 4996 metres, CR67.9/129
Green 4414 metres, CR64.8/124
Women’s blue, CR76.7/149
Women’s red, CR74.0/141
Women’s green, CR70.6/129
R5750 Associate lodges only
Inclusive of golf cart and halfway house
Gary Player 1996
013 791 2000
Leopard Creek, one of only three South African courses in the World Top 100, symbolises the beauty and grandeur of African bushveld golf while at the same time evoking an exclusiveness comparable to Augusta National.
The property occupies a singularly unique site in golf, bordering the broad Crocodile River on the southern boundary of the vast Kruger National Park, and it is this remote location that has captivated television viewers around the globe while watching the annual hosting of the Alfred Dunhill Championship on the European Tour. There is as much interest in the wildlife shown on their screens as on the golf itself.
Golf Digest ranks it among the Top 100 Courses in the World outside the United States, and Leopard Creek achieved its highest ever ranking of No 47 in their 2022-23 list of the World’s 100 Greatest Courses.
Unlike Augusta National, though, visitors are welcome, at a price. You firstly need to be a guest at one of several approved lodges in the area, and then the green fee itself is R5 750.
The course itself has recently undergone a major upgrade (by Golf Data) in terms of bunker design, greens complexes, and turf replacement which has both transformed the look and feel of the layout, and improved its playability for members. The par-3 12th was reconfigured, a different shaped green replacing the original Redan creation. The course was re-opened for play in May 2018 after being closed for eight months.
The biggest transformation was the wall-to-wall eradication of the thirsty kikuyu grass on the course and surrounds. It has been replaced by a more sustainable indigenous cynodon which not only requires less water and chemicals but thrives in the fierce heat of summer. It gives the course a greener look.
Kikuyu works well as a playing surface on fairways in the dry summer heat of Mediterranean climates like Gauteng and Sun City, but it never enjoyed the same compatibility in the humid conditions of the Mpumalanga Lowveld.
The holes at Leopard Creek have a wonderful flow to them, the design challenges varying all the time. What appears initially to be a relatively flat course suddenly presents surprise changes in elevation. Water is a hazard on eight holes, and the gently sloping greens are a visible strength of the course’s defence.
The new grass on the greens is Champion G-12, the newest strain of a genetically engineered ultradwarf Bermuda. It was planted at Quail Hollow (North Carolina) for the 2017 US PGA Championship.
Three par 5s are on the back nine, and these are among Leopard Creek’s most memorable holes. In tournaments this is where bold play can be rewarding or costly, as it is at Augusta in the Masters. The 13th is justifiably one of the world’s best holes, its green sitting high above the bank of Crocodile River, offering a dramatic vista of the park.
TV coverage of the Alfred Dunhill Championship has made the par-5 18th a compelling hole to watch. It’s one of the most daunting finishing holes in the game because of its island green. The hole swoops downhill, curving slightly from right to left, and every golfer who plays it faces the anxious hurdle of clearing the water and holding a green which might look wide and inviting, but has limited room from front to back. Many an approach shot has rolled over the back into the water.
Ernie Els concluded his final round of the 2007 Alfred Dunhill Championship with an 8 at No 18, losing the title by one shot to Englishman John Bickerton. Four-time champion Charl Schwartzel had a 9 at No 18 in the first round of the 2022 tournament, as did Darren Clarke in 2016. Welshman Sion Bebb, in the 2009 Dunhill, finished the final round with an 11 when a birdie would have given him a share of third place. Jacques Kruyswijk also had an 11 in 2016.
63 by Scott Jamieson and Ockie Strydom in 2022 Alfred Dunhill Championship. Strydom had 29 on front nine.
Amateur: 64 Ryan van Velzen, 2020 African Amateur
Visitors wishing to book a tee time must be guests at an approved list of lodges in the area and within the Kruger National Park. The closest is Buhala Lodge, just 10 kilometres away, while others are as much as a three-hour drive. The full list is on the website.
There is a sizeable warm-up range close to the first tee, and a large practice putting green. In addition, members have the use of a separate and secure state-of-the-art facility alongside the 9-hole Par 3 course – the National Junior Development Centre. One of its fun areas is the Himalayas putting green.
2022 Rurik Gobel & Eugenie Wolmarans
2021 Pieter le Roux & Cara Traherne
2020 No championships
2019 Erwee Botha & Biance van Dyk
First played in December 2004 as part of the European Tour and won by Charl Schwartzel, who developed a special affection for Leopard Creek with an exceptional run of performances. He’s won the Leopard trophy four times – further victories came in 2012, 2013 and 2015 – and been a runner-up on another four occasions. He posted the lowest 72-hole total of 24-under 264 in 2012 when he won by 12 shots, having 25 birdies and an eagle. Other SA champions have been Ernie Els (2005), Richard Sterne (2008), Garth Mulroy (2011), Branden Grace (2014), Brandon Stone (2016), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (2020) and Ockie Strydom (2022). There have been three Spanish champions in Alvaro Quiros (2006), Pablo Martin (2009 and 2010) and Pablo Larrazabal (2019).
Established in 2016 to host junior golf development, this is one of the most comprehensive golf practice facilities in the world, built on a 30-hectare tract of land purchased from Riverside Farm which includes the original farmhouse – now a dormitory building to accommodate SAGDB & GolfRSA squads. The contribution fee to access the facility for the day is R1 110 per golfer, and bookings can be made at www.nationaljuniordevelopmentcentre.com
There are 3 coaches, headed up by Edwin Compton, Mpumalanga regional manager for the SA Golf Development Board.
1/ Leopard Creek’s 9-hole Par 3 course holes are inspired by 8 famous courses, including Augusta National (2), the Old Course at St Andrews, Muirfield, North Berwick and Sawgrass. There’s a version of Leopard Creek’s 18th. It’s fun and open to visitors (see National Junior Development Centre).
2/ The club has a strict dress code for golfers on and off the course, which can be found on the club website. Only traditional clothing and peaks or hats, while socks must be predominantly white. Shirts tucked in, caps worn forward. No bold commercial advertising is allowed.
3/ Thomas Aiken has the lowest competitive score, 61 in third round of 2008 Alfred Dunhill. He was out in 30 and back in 31 with nine birdies and an eagle three at 18. Branden Grace had 62 in first round of 2014 Alfred Dunhill (31-31 with 10 birdies) which he won.
4/ When Richard Sterne won the 2008 Alfred Dunhill he played the 18th in 24 shots during the four rounds, having an 8 in round 2 and a 7 in round 3.
5/ Leopard Creek inaugurated the 72-hole African Amateur in February 2016 and hosted it five times. Winners: Casey Jarvis (2022), Martin Vorster (2020), Euan Walker (2019), Liam Johnston (2017), Albert Venter (2016). The lowest winning score was 273 by Jarvis.
6/ The first professional tournament at Leopard Creek was the 2001 Tour Championship (won by Darren Fichardt) for 75 Sunshine Tour players, the final event of the season in February. Nicholas Lawrence won in 2002, Hennie Otto in 2003, Andrew McLardy in 2004.
7/ Leopard Creek was No 47 in the 2022-23 World’s Greatest 100 Courses rankings by Golf Digest (this excludes the United States). It had previously been No 69 (2020), No 65 (2018), No 88 (2016) and No 84 (2014).
8/ Membership is available by application approval through the Country Club and purchase of shares in the Share Block.
9/ Rurik Gobel has won the club championship 14 times since 1997, the latest in 2022 when he beat Jacques Kallis by one shot.
10/ Christiaan Rossouw was first member to have an ace on the “new” course in July 2018, and followed it with another three days later. They were at No 12 and No 5.
Leopard Creek is one of a few courses in South Africa that always provides a memorable experience. Playing the week after the Dunhill Championship, as I did, makes one appreciate the skill of professional golfers. The greens are excellent with exceptional consistency in roll and speed. There is no weakness in the layout with each hole presenting its own challenge. Missing greens on the wrong side makes an up-and-down difficult. The 16th is one of the most challenging of par 3s and the 18th one of the best finishing holes in the country.
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