Literal golf safari in South Africa
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.”
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.”
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.