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Ken Borland


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Leopard Creek 0

Posted on July 05, 2017 by Ken

 

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

The elusive, mysterious and secretive African Finfoot

Leopard Creek has recently been rated amongst the top 100 golf courses in the world by the prestigious Golf Digest magazine and it is surely the wildest top-class golf course in the world, situated as it is alongside the Kruger National Park.

The Crocodile River forms the northern boundary between Leopard Creek and the Kruger National Park and the back nine runs along the river, offering tremendous sightings of all the animals and birds made famous by one of the largest game reserves in the world.

A channel runs off the Crocodile River and flows right in front of the clubhouse, making the verandah of this opulent building an ideal spot for bird and animal spotting. Unfortunately the clubhouse is also extremely hard to access for the rank and file visitor to Leopard Creek, but the good news is that there is a little service road that runs along this channel for a hundred metres or so, before turning up the hill to the 10th tee.

Shaded by luxuriant riverine trees, the road passes right by the water and I always make a point of taking a quiet stroll along this area. It has always seemed to me to be a perfect spot for African Finfoot – which Roberts describes as favouring “quiet, wooded streams and rivers flanked by thick riparian vegetation and overhanging trees” – the very description of my favourite part of Leopard Creek.

And so, on my eighth visit to this special place outside Malelane for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, I finally got my Finfoot.

There in this shady channel I saw the bright orange legs first as the bird stood on the bank and then went into the water, gliding stealthily to the other side of the river.

A hippopotamus was contentedly passing the day between this channel and the main Crocodile River, while a Brownhooded Kingfisher called from high up in the trees and a Malachite Kingfisher hunted from low down on fallen branches close to the water.

Heuglin’s Robin, one of my favourites, also hangs around this area.

Coming back up out on to the golf course, a series of dams is in front of you between the ninth, 18th and 10th holes, with Lesser Striped Swallow flying over and African Pied Wagtail patrolling the banks.

Heading backwards through the front nine, Blackbacked Puffback is calling away and Blue Waxbill are in a sapling on the side of the ninth fairway.

The seventh hole, a par-three, shares a dam with the fifth hole, fringed by Fever Trees, and Spottedbacked, Southern Masked and Thickbilled Weavers were all nesting in the same specimen of this archetypal tree of tropical wetlands, from which gin and tonics (no doubt consumed in large quantities on the verandah of the clubhouse) originated.

Along the stream feeding this dam, a Giant Kingfisher was eating a good-sized fish, while a Greenbacked Heron was flying upstream.

Anywhere on the course, you are likely to see Whitebacked Vultures soaring overhead and Purplecrested Louries flying between patches of thicker bush. Whitefaced Duck are also often flying over.

But the 13th is the signature hole of Leopard Creek, not just because of its great design but mostly because of the dazzling vista it provides over the Crocodile River just beneath the elevated green and Kruger Park just across the way.

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

Charl Schwartzel when the going was still good

While sitting there on the final day and watching Charl Schwartzel’s challenge implode in the face of young Brandon Stone’s brilliance, I was able to admire Great White Egret, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Black Crake, Egyptian Goose, Whitefronted Bee-Eater, African Elephant and Nile Crocodile along the river.

Away from the golf course, Leopard Creek is in an area of typical dense bushveld savanna with Forktailed Drongos, sometimes even perching on low aloes, ruling the day and Spotted Dikkops, marching around the parking lot, at night.

 

 

 

 

Where is Leopard Creek?

 

Sightings list

Forktailed Drongo

Spotted Dikkop

Impala

Bushbuck

Whitefaced Duck

Blackeyed Bulbul

Little Swift

Hippopotamus

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

African Finfoot

Heuglin’s Robin

Whitebacked Vulture

Lesser Striped Swallow

African Pied Wagtail

Blackbacked Puffback

Blue Waxbill

Spottedbacked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Thickbilled Weaver

Giant Kingfisher

Grey Lourie

Greenbacked Heron

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Nile Monitor

Purplecrested Lourie

Great White Egret

Purple Heron

Grey Heron

Black Crake

Egyptian Goose

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

African Elephant

Nile Crocodile

Sombre Bulbul

Pintailed Whydah

 

The delights of Rory killed all cynicism 0

Posted on January 25, 2017 by Ken

 

I am a bit too cynical about these things, so I did predict gloomily that Rory McIlroy would probably miss the cut in the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club last weekend, for which the world number two was the star attraction.

But I am delighted to report that the Northen Irishman lived up to his billing both on and off the course, behaving every bit the much-loved superstar with his tremendous performance and his dealings with the large galleries that followed him around, scores of autograph seekers and the media.

No, McIlroy did not win the second oldest national open title as expected, but that had more to do with the splendid performance of Graeme Storm, who just made no mistakes, than any failings on Rory’s part.

The crowds, the largest seen at the SA Open in a decade, certainly got their money’s worth though as the thrilling McIlroy v Storm contest went all the way to three playoff holes. There is also surely no better driver of the ball in world golf than McIlroy, and those booming hits down the middle of the fairway have huge spectator value.

And, to make McIlroy’s entire performance even more impressive, he was struggling with a bad back which was later diagnosed as a stress fracture of a rib. He must have played through considerable discomfort, so kudos to the man. The seriousness of the injury is shown by his withdrawal from this weekend’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he could have regained the number one world ranking.

The current speculation is that he will be out of action for a month but let’s hope McIlroy gets better soon.

Of course, having such a wonderful guest at the SA Open was largely due to the efforts of tournament ambassador Ernie Els. Is there a better South African sporting patriot?

The respect that Els, a member of the Hall of Fame since 2011, enjoys in international golf is clearly about far more than just his golf game and the four major titles he was won. McIlroy made it clear that his presence in South Africa was as a favour to Els.

And the Big Easy has not only been a tremendous supporter of South African golf: If the Springboks or Proteas play in London, more often than not, Els will be there and usually gives of his time to hand out the jerseys or give a motivational speech to the team.

And the good news is, it looks like you may get the chance to see McIlroy again in South Africa in the near future.

“I had a fantastic time in South Africa, it was an incredible 10 days, and my fiancée and I are already planning to return at the end of the year,” McIlroy said after the disappointment of his playoff defeat.

If McIlroy genuinely meant the end of 2017 then you would think his eye is on the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, which is the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai and part of the lucrative Finals Series, or else he may have meant returning to the SA Open in a year’s time.

Either way, it is wonderful news for South African golf.

 

Chilling with the golfers & the wildlife at Leopard Creek’s 13th 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

With the Crocodile River and the Kruger National Park forming its one boundary and its excellent design, the 13th hole at Leopard Creek, outside Malelane, is surely one of the best holes in world golf.

A 505-metre par-five, an elevated tee shot has to cross a stream that splits the fairway, while avoiding a well-placed bunker on the right of the landing zone. With the fairway sloping right-to-left, and with the stream curving around to run the rest of the length of the hole down the left, any drive that goes left will land up in the water hazard.

If the first shot is successful, a big choice then awaits as to whether to take on the green, which hangs 32 metres above the Crocodile River and is protected by three bunkers and a pond, as well as thick grass behind the green.

Once on the putting surface, there is a wonderful view over the Crocodile River and into Kruger National Park, with Hippopotamus, Elephant, various antelope, Warthog and numerous different bird species almost always spotted.

Brandon Stone, who won last weekend’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek with a superb 22-under-par total of 266, the second-best winning score at the event, certainly rates the 13th hole very highly.

“That’s my favourite hole in the world, without even exaggerating one little bit, it really is special. The fact is it’s not just a location; the actual hole’s design itself, I think it’s a really tricky tee-shot. You’ve got to really hit a good tee-shot to hit that fairway.

“And then if you hit the fairway it’s still not an easy par-five green to get into. I mean nine times out of 10, I’ll actually lay up; I’ve even written on my book, if it’s anything more than a six-iron, it’s not even worth going at because that green is just so tricky to hit; you just can’t even see the left side.

“So I think if I can play that hole under-par for the week, I’ll be happy, because I think a lot of other guys are going to get a little bit too greedy and it’s going to come and bite them a little bit. And then if they go over the back, something else could bite them,” Stone said before going eagle-bogey-birdie-birdie on the hole.

On the final day, I watched two three-balls play the hole and the scores amongst those six golfers ranged from Keith Horne’s eagle to a couple of sevens by Bryce Easton and Pablo Larrazabal.

It’s a classic risk-and-reward hole designed by Gary Player and although 13 golfers over the four days made double-bogey or worse, at least they didn’t fall foul of the two-metre long crocodile that was lurking inside the pool next to the green!

It was also the hole when Stone finally closed the door on Charl Schwartzel in the final round, making birdie while the defending champion wasted a superb drive by finding a greenside bunker, taking two shots to get out and finishing with a bogey that left him five behind.

As captivating as the golf is, the view from the green into Kruger National Park tears you away and even the competitors linger a bit, the joy of spotting something special undoubtedly lifting spirits in a place that is often brutally hot and was 40 degrees in the final round.

The next day, while driving through Kruger, exactly opposite the 13th, perhaps 200 metres from the river, I came across a family of Wild Dog, just showing what special potential sightings are there.

 

Stone displays top-class golf & temperament in big Leopard Creek win 0

Posted on December 09, 2016 by Ken

Brandon Stone produced a top-class display of golf and a wonderful temperament as he swept to a seven-stroke victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Sunday.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a three-stroke lead over a trio of golfers – including defending champion Charl Schwartzel, a four-time winner at Leopard Creek – and fired a brilliant five-under-par 67 on a sweltering day alongside the southern border of the Kruger National Park.

That left him on a magnificent 22-under-par for the tournament, a total bettered only once at Leopard Creek, by Schwartzel when he shot 24-under in 2013.

That Stone has a rare talent when it comes to golf was already clear, the SA Open champion showing that in his first three rounds of 67, 66 and 66, but it was his superb temperament that shone through on Sunday, as he absorbed an early charge by Schwartzel and then obliterated South Africa’s number two ranked golfer and the rest of the field.

Schwartzel started the final round with a pair of birdies and then when he birdied the par-four sixth hole, he had drawn level with Stone.

The Rustenburg-born golfer immediately birdied the sixth himself though, and added another birdie on the seventh.

Trying to keep a low ball-flight on the long par-four eighth, the second toughest hole on Sunday, Stone took a Driver off the deck, but put his ball in the rough, leading to a bogey.

“It’s my most fun shot, but I just hit it a bit heavy,” Stone explained afterwards.

So he went to the turn one-under-par and just one ahead of Schwartzel, but Stone produced a phenomenal change of gear on the back nine, rattling off pairs of birdies on 10 and 11 and 13 and 14. It was all part of the plan he said, showing his maturity.

“On the front nine I was tied for the lead at one stage and it was reminiscent of the SA Open. But I knew my game-plan was to be one or two under for the front nine and then try and score on the back nine, and I was able to get some momentum going,” Stone said.

By the time Stone bogeyed the par-four 17th, there was nobody anywhere near him.

There had been signs of fight from Schwartzel as he sank a 20-foot putt for birdie from the fringe on the par-four 11thhole, but there were inconsistencies in his game.

The rot began on the par-five 13th when, after a superb drive down the middle of the fairway, he put his approach shot into the greenside bunker.

He took two shots to get out of the sand, and another two putts to finish the hole, the bogey he made meaning he was five behind Stone when the youngster birdied the same hole a few minutes later.

There was no coming back for Schwartzel, in fact there was even more pain.

On the par-five 15th he twice hit into thick rough before finding the water, eventually signing for an eight, and then his tee-shot on the par-three 16th also went into the drink, leading to a double-bogey.

Even though Schwartzel birdied the last, he was left in a tie for fourth on 12-under-par with compatriot Thomas Aiken (69), Frenchman Benjamin Hebert (72), Scotland’s Scott Jamieson (69), Spaniard Carlos Pigem (69) and England’s Graeme Storm (68), after a 74.

It was not a good day either for the other two golfers who were tied for second overnight with Schwartzel.

South African Keith Horne was off to a terrible start with two bogeys and a double in his first four holes, and was left in a tie for 11th on 10-under-par after a 76, while Hanson was also blown off course early on with a seven on the par-five second hole, finishing with the same score as Horne.

Richard Sterne was the big beneficiary of all that carnage, shooting an impressive 67 to climb from seventh to second on 15-under-par overall.

Young Belgian Thomas Detry was also impressive in shooting a 68 that left him in third place on 13-under.

Although it seemed an almost effortless victory for Stone, he said he had to sweat both literally and figuratively in the 40 degree heat.

“It certainly wasn’t stress free and I was absolutely cooked at the end, I was the first guy into the shade whenever there was a break in play. But it’s probably the best I’ve played, my ball-striking was superb from the first hole to the last and there wasn’t a hole that I was really in trouble on all week. To shoot 22-under around here is not a simple task, it’s quite something,” an ecstatic Stone said.

It was an amazing display of golf and deserving of the cool R2.8 million winning cheque Stone received.

http://citizen.co.za/uncategorized/1365143/stone-displays-top-class-golf-in-big-leopard-creek-win/



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