ABSENT LEOPARD CREEK
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.