AB­SENT LEOP­ARD CREEK

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents -

For­mer No 1 course Leop­ard Creek is no­tably ab­sent from the Top 100 rank­ings for the first time since it made its de­but at No 4 in the 1999 list. Ranked No 2 in both 2014 and 2016, it is cur­rently closed for play as ma­jor con­struc­tion work and re-turf­ing takes place to rein­vig­o­rate this in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed lay­out ad­join­ing the south­ern bound­ary of the Kruger Na­tional Park. Leop­ard Creek will re­open in May, and with a new course to be un­veiled, rather than a ba­sic up­grade, there was no so­lu­tion other than to omit it from the 2018 Top 100. Golf Data’s re­vamp is much more ex­ten­sive than the one they did for the East Course at Royal Jo­han­nes­burg & Kens­ing­ton, as the par-3 12th hole has been re­designed, and the new fair­way turf will sub­stan­tially al­ter the play­ing con­di­tions of the golf course.

When Leop­ard Creek founder Jo­hann Ru­pert first an­nounced that Leop­ard Creek would be clos­ing for some eight months – his Al­fred Dun­hill tour­na­ment at the end of the year was can­celled as a re­sult – it was thought that the only change would be the turf re­place­ment.

How­ever, many of the fair­way bunkers have been repo­si­tioned so that they come into play for the tee shots of the mod­ern day pro­fes­sional. Leop­ard Creek was first opened for play in 1996, and the bunker­ing for some time has re­ally only been af­fect­ing the club mem­bers. Sev­eral greens have been re­shaped, and tee box com­plexes im­proved.

Land­ing ar­eas for hand­i­cap golfers have been widened, and the course made more chal­leng­ing for longer hit­ters.

The 12th hole, played from an el­e­vated tee to an un­usual Redan-shaped green which sloped steeply from front to back, was thought weak, as the only playable pin po­si­tions were in the back por­tion of the green. In the 2012 Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship, tour pro Keith Horne aced the hole in con­sec­u­tive rounds.

The re-turf­ing project has been un­der­taken to im­prove year-round playa­bil­ity, gen­eral course con­di­tion and re­source man­age­ment. There will be a sig­nif­i­cant cost sav­ing in re­plac­ing the kikuyu grass fair­ways with a warm-sea­son Ber­muda grass (cyn­odon va­ri­etal) that en­dem­i­cally oc­curs in the area. It will re­quire much less water (as much as 30 per­cent), fewer chem­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions and gen­er­ally need less main­te­nance in the long run.

The golf ball is ex­pected to run fur­ther on the new grass, which will present firm and fast con­di­tions, com­pared to the yield­ing kikuyu sur­faces. Ru­pert’s staff tested many va­ri­etals of cyn­odon at his Na­tional Ju­nior De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre, opened in 2016, and from those ex­per­i­ments it was de­cided to go with Ber­muda on the fair­ways, tees and rough.

It’s an adapt­able cyn­odon known as Bar­ba­dos, a fine tex­tured Ber­muda hy­brid, suit­able for close mow­ing heights and which re­tains its colour all year round, even in the dor­mant win­ter months. It also al­lows for beau­ti­ful fair­way strip­ing. The greens have been planted with the new­est strain of Cham­pion bent grass flown in di­rectly from Hous­ton in Texas. Leop­ard Creek have ob­tained the South African rights to this grass.

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