Lit­eral golf sa­fari in South Africa

The East African - - FRONT PAGE -

Things can get wild on the Euro­pean Tour. Just ask Daniel Boshoff. Ba­boons can steal your golf balls, mon­keys may bite your an­kles, warthogs freely roam the gallery, mon­gooses have sus­pended play, and the geese have no prob­lem chas­ing after golfers.

“They’re usu­ally after food, or things that are shiny,” said Boshoff, who man­ages wildlife at the Gary Player Coun­try Club, home to the Novem­ber 9-12 Euro­pean Tour stop at the Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge in Sun City, South Africa.

At al­most 8,000 yards, the par72 is one of the world’s long­est golf cour­ses and re­quires a cer­tain ap­proach to course man­age­ment for play­ers.

In ad­di­tion to car­ry­ing the largely flat and sprawling kikuyu grass fair­ways that me­an­der through the brush and lakes, and read­ing the slick bent-grass greens, it of­ten re­quires con­tend­ing with wild an­i­mals. The course bor­ders the 550-square-km Pi­lanes­berg Na­tional Park and Game Re­serve, home to more than 7,000 an­i­mals, in­clud­ing lions, leop­ards, black and white rhi­nos, chee­tahs, sables, hye­nas, ele­phants and buf­faloes.

Does Gary Player have any ad­vice for golfers nav­i­gat­ing wildlife at his only name­sake course? “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t give a candy bar to any liv­ing thing, not even a ba­boon, for the dam­age it does. Sugar is poi­son,” the 82-year-old Player said.

“The an­i­mals on the golf course are gen­er­ally non-threat­en­ing,” Player said. “But you can be lucky to per­haps be on one of the holes bor­der­ing the game re­serve and see some rhino, gi­raffes or even a herd of ele­phants.”

Con­ser­va­tion plays a key part to the Ned­bank course, and Player feels golfers can co­ex­ist peace­fully with the an­i­mals.

“My de­sign phi­los­o­phy has al­ways been to work as much with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment as pos­si­ble and to in­cor­po­rate this into the golf course,” he said, cit­ing the con­ser­va­tion­ist work of his brother, Dr Ian Player.

“I have al­ways shared his love for na­ture. My brother’s in­flu­ence and ideas were in­stru­men­tal in sav­ing the white rhino from ex­tinc­tion, so the rhino is cer­tainly among my favourite an­i­mals.”

Other South African play­ers, like Louis Oosthuizen, recog­nise the sig­nif­i­cance of wildlife con­ser­va­tion, too. “It’s mas­sively im­por­tant,” he told Golf­ing World at the tour­na­ment last year. “This is some­thing I want to show my kids and my grand­kids one day. Where we grew up, wildlife is ev­ery­thing in South Africa.”

A game fence sep­a­rates the wildlife pre­serve from the golf course, which Player de­signed to in­cor­po­rate and sus­tain cer­tain an­i­mal habi­tats when he built the track in 1979. Some of that wildlife inevitably bleeds onto the course, like the few times a rhino got past the fence, Boshoff said.

Last year, of­fi­cials twice stopped play dur­ing mon­goose in­va­sions. Play was briefly dis­rupted when a pack of 20 mon­gooses made a

“A GAME FENCE SEP­A­RATES THE WILDLIFE PRE­SERVE FROM THE GOLF COURSE, WHICH PLAYER DE­SIGNED TO IN­COR­PO­RATE AND SUS­TAIN CER­TAIN AN­I­MAL HABI­TATS WHEN HE BUILT THE TRACK IN 1979.” Daniel Boshoff

pointed dash across the 16th green, paus­ing briefly at Victor Dubuis­son’s ball be­fore scur­ry­ing en masse off the hole. The pack re­turned later in the tour­na­ment.

In 2014, an ir­ri­tated ba­boon bounded by Luke Don­ald of Eng­land on his ap­proach shot dur­ing the sec­ond round. Don­ald caught sight of the charg­ing pri­mate and ran for cover be­hind his caddy, Johnny Mclaren, who did not flinch.

Both quickly laughed off the in­ci­dent. Don­ald ad­dressed the in­ci­dent on Twit­ter: “Cou­ple of things hap­pened to me that haven’t hap­pened in a while . . . one, I shot 63, and two I let a ba­boon play through on the course.”

He later added: “The fact that my caddy John­nie didn’t even flinch makes my re­ac­tion look even more pa­thetic!”

Player was amused, too. “That was a very funny in­ci­dent. But it doesn’t hap­pen that of­ten that the an­i­mals dis­rupt play,” he said. Weather and light­ning are more of a con­cern, he said.

It was not the only time a ba­boon made an ap­pear­ance at the Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge.

One exchange left rules judges puz­zled after a ba­boon picked up a golfer’s ball. “It caused quite an is­sue they had to re­solve be­cause of the rules of golf,” Boshoff said, speak­ing on the phone from his Sun City of­fice within earshot of a wak­ing nest of 50 mon­gooses ris­ing to for­age for their din­ner.

“Ba­boons usu­ally rely on their size to give you a fright and get what they want,” he said about the event with Don­ald. “Ninety-nine per cent of the time they mock-charge you so you drop what­ever it is that you have — usu­ally some­thing that you’re eat­ing or that’s shiny.”

Scare tac­tics

While ba­boons rely on scare tac­tics, the much smaller mon­key has a dif­fer­ent strat­egy, ac­cord­ing to Boshoff. “They bite your an­kles,” he said. “We’ve had a few mon­key bites over the years. It’s al­ways food re­lated. The last time it hap­pened, a mon­key chased a staff mem­ber suck­ing on a lol­lipop. He chased her scream­ing down the path­way.”

He added: “The mon­keys are om­ni­vores and will eat any­thing. They’re re­ally spoiled around here — they’ll eat burg­ers from the waste bins.”

“THE AN­I­MALS ON THE GOLF COURSE ARE GEN­ER­ALLY NONÒTHREATENING. BUT YOU CAN BE LUCKY TO PER­HAPS BE ON ONE OF THE HOLES BOR­DER­ING THE GAME RE­SERVE AND SEE SOME RHINO, GI­RAFFES OR EVEN A HERD OF ELE­PHANTS.” Gary Player

Teem­ing with wildlife

Lucy, the course swan, sticks to her­self, but the Egyp­tian geese can be ag­gres­sive. “The geese are used to peo­ple, but they don’t tend to in­ter­act with them in the way we want them to — they’ll come after peo­ple to steal food,” Boshoff said.

The course is teem­ing with wildlife. There are 25 im­pala, in­clud­ing 24 males and one fe­male, that mainly avoid golfers, staff and spec­ta­tors, hid­ing just off the fair­way in the brush. And there are also warthogs, bush­bucks, and the oc­ca­sional rhino that es­capes from the nearby wildlife pre­serve.

At the ad­ja­cent Lost City Golf Course, the 13th hole wa­ter haz­ard holds Nile croc­o­diles. “No re­triev­ing your ball from this haz­ard, please,” Player said.

Player’s cour­ses are not the only ones with wildlife sight­ings. Last year, there were sev­eral tour­na­ment ap­pear­ances. A mon­key strolled onto one of the fair­ways at the El Ca­ma­leon course dur­ing the OHL Clas­sic in Playa del Car­men, Mex­ico, and a 6-foot python tra­versed a green at the CIMB Clas­sic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And sun­ning caimans were a com­mon sight dur­ing play at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The an­i­mals at the Ned­bank venue are used to golfers, Player said, but ad­vises them to be alert. “It’s al­ways good to re­mem­ber that they are wild, so re­spect their bound­aries and they’ll re­spect yours,” he said, ad­ding not to feed the ba­boons or mon­keys, and to watch for snakes.

“The wildlife adds an ex­tra el­e­ment — it’s very unique for a Euro­pean Tour event,” Player said. “I thought it was just fan­tas­tic to see that fam­ily of mon­goose grab a bit of tele­vi­sion time for them­selves.”

Pic­tures: Cour­tesy and File

Some wildlife inevitably bleeds onto the course at the Gary Player Coun­try Club in Sun City South Africa. Below, the Euro­pean Tour Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge.

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