The following is the note I received from the management at Leopard Creek a month before my “big game.”
“If Anita has a friend/partner joining her around the golf course, that should be fine provided the person stays with the golf cart. Without wanting to be alarmist, the Club does not like people walking around the estate or on the golf course if they are not playing golf. The estate adjoins the Kruger Park and management is very nervous about someone being attacked or injured by leopard in particular which are known to occur on the estate. In addition, as it will be very warm in November, snakes are an issue so care must be taken when venturing into the bush to find a golf ball (I once found a small black mamba curled up in the hole/cup on a green)! Also there are crocodile (mostly small) in a number of the dams around the course so again golfers should refrain from trying to retrieve their balls from the water. A hippo can usually be seen late afternoon in the dam adjoining the 16th tee box. Notwithstanding all these risks, it is an amazing golf course with an awesome location!!!”
Following the animal warnings was a list of proper and acceptable attire both on and off the course. After all, you must look good while being consumed by a leopard. Given the “risks,” I assumed I’d play in a foursome with a caddie armed with something to fend off attackers. Imagine my surprise, after signing a disclaimer, to find out I was playing alone and that there were no caddies. A club employee pointed me to the first tee and it was just me, the bronze statue of a leopard and 18 holes of verdant fairways on the championship course designed by Gary Player. A warning on the GPS on my cart reminded me to be careful of serpents. When I hit my Titleist into the creek that snakes around the first green I decided not to go fishing. So far, one hole down and one antelope sighting.
As I pulled up to the second hole, James appeared.
“I didn’t think you should be alone so I’ll hold the flag for you,” he offered. I enthusiastically accepted, wrapped a cold towel around my neck as it was now 9:30 a.m. and the temperature was teetering at 40C.
Leopard Creek Country Club is a private course in Malelane bordering on Kruger Park. Friends of friends had arranged for me to play and I wasn’t about to let a few mambas or soaring temperatures deter me. (Note that the club does allow guests of approximately 15 nearby lodges to play at select times. See website).
In terms of leopard sightings, golfers have 18 of them in the form of magnificent life-size bronze sculptures of these elusive cats on each hole by artist Dylan Lewis.
The Crocodile River winds around the many of the fairways so it’s best to avoid fishing for balls. Thankfully I encountered no black mambas but Johan Pief, the Club Director showed me photos of one he had found coiled near his toilet last week. He “took it out” with a six iron. There was a cute kudu on the 8th and a river full of frolicking hippos on the par-five 13th where the green teeters high above the Crocodile River and adjoining Kruger Park. The course guide includes eight pages listing the common birds of the course and Kruger so birders can note their sightings along with their scores.
Each hole is impeccably manicured. Plenty of elevation changes and bunkers provide challenge. Gary Player is justifiably proud of the 18th hole with an island green.
Behind both the 9th and 18th greens stands the clubhouse built to resemble the Colonial style of the 1930s, complete with thatched roof, brass bells, ceiling fans and rich mahogany furniture. Another nod to the British Colonial times is the halfway snack—a three-tiered plate with sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam. It’s included in the green fee.
Leopard Creek lives up to its lofty and exclusive reputation. I’m happy to report I can cross it off my bucket list and that I managed to avoid all of the potential “risks.”