When Leopard Creek founder and developer Johann Rupert said he was going to enhance the highly-rated course he was implying that he was going to make it more of a challenge for the professionals who annually visit for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, but in a marvellous by-product of counter-intuitive design brilliance, the changes have at the same time made the lowveld course a more comfortable layout for the average club golfer.
The changes were met with acclaim by the golfers after Thursday’s first round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship, with the best score being the 66 shot by South African Oliver Bekker.
Only 31 of the 156-man field were able to finish under par.
Some holes have been redesigned, while all the fairways and the rough have been returfed with Bermuda Grass, while the greens have been planted with Champion Bent Grass. Fairway bunkers have been repositioned, generally taking them out of the reach of the club golfer but putting them directly in the line of fire from the pros.
Greens have been reshaped and tee-boxes improved.
“I loved this course before but the changes have made it even better and now I love Leopard Creek even more, it is the Holy Grail of golf. It’s fantastic and I am a massive fan of the new grass because it makes it easier for the average guy because he’ll get a lot more run. The bunkers have also been pushed much further back.
“They’ve also taken bush out of the sides of the fairway and every hole seems to get narrower as you approach the greens, which are superb. So it’s more fun to play and the average golfer is not going to be out of breath and have sunstroke when he gets back to the clubhouse, which is important because we are trying to grow our game,” defending champion Brandon Stone said after he began the tournament with an excellent 69.
Ironically, it was one of the par-threes though that was causing major problems for the professionals, with the 195-yard seventh playing well above par on the first day.
Stone joked that he was not really disappointed with his four there, “because that’s par”, while fellow South African Erik van Rooyen was bemoaning a double-bogey five there, a blemish on his very solid round of two-under 70.
“You’ve got the water on the right and the green slopes from the left. If you hit it left, then you don’t have an easy chip towards the water. So you really have to step up and hit a good one off the tee there, you can’t just hit it any place on the green. Plus the wind was off the left today,” Van Rooyen said.