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.