24 May 2005
Golf Digest USA recently ranked the top 100 golf courses outside the United States. South Africa achieved five listings, with Leopard Creek Golf Estate and Country Club coming in at number 25.
The survey, published in the magazine’s May edition, covered 1 005 courses around the planet, and was overseen by a panel of over 800 course rating specialists, 22 editors of Golf Digest and its affiliates, and an undisclosed number of other expert panelists.
The magazine ranked the Old Course at St Andrews first among courses outside the US, followed by Australia’s Royal Melbourne Golf Club and Ireland’s Royal Portrush.
Five South African courses, all regular stops on the Sunshine Tour annual calendar, ranked in Golf Digest’s top 100.
Leopard Creek, venue for The Tour Championship from 2001 to 2004 and new home of the Dunhill Championship in 2005, ranked 25th, followed by the Gary Player Country Club, home to the multimillion-dollar Nedbank Golf Challenge and the Dimension Data Pro-Am, at 29th.
The Links at Fancourt, venue of the 2003 Presidents Cup and home to the Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour Championship, joined the list at number 59, followed at number 62 by the Durban Country Club, host of 16 South African Open Championships, including the recent 2005 SAA Open.
Arabella Estate and Country Club, which plays host to the annual Nelson Mandela Invitational, completed the list at number 100.
Leopard Creek was the brainchild of international business entrepreneur and Southern Africa PGA Tour chairman Johann Rupert.
Set on the borders of the Kruger National Park near Malelane in Mpumalanga, the course was designed to blend in with the surroundings while providing a golfing challenge of championship standard.
In conjunction with the Kruger National Park and local nature conservation authorities, Rupert and nine-time major winner Gary Player got together to create a course that provides sophisticated leisure in an undisturbed natural environment.
Leopard Creek’s par-72 layout snakes through unspoilt bushveld, home to an abundance of wildlife, including the “big five” – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – which can be viewed from open Land Rovers or on guided walking trails.
It’s also a bird-watcher’s paradise, with over 200 bird species making their home in the shade of the indigenous trees, some of which are hundreds of years old.
Using innovative architectural and landscaping techniques, the course and surrounding living areas are naturally protected from animals, while the lakes and small streams have been diverted through the development to create scenic vistas and interesting golf strategies.
In an unusual move, the golfing hazards have been designed to include much of the water that is home to families of hippos and the magnificent creatures for which the river, on which much of the course borders, is named – crocodiles.
The 18-hole championship course provides a gruelling challenge for professionals and amateurs alike.
Past champions at the course include Darren Fichardt, Hennie Otto, Andrew McLardy and Charl Schwartzel, all of whom have gone on to make their mark in the international arena.
Source: Southern Africa PGA Tour