Leopard Creek Country Club is an exclusive facility, which opened in 1996. Businessman Johan Rupert owns it and his company sponsors the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews in Scotland.
The front gate to the club is at the bridge leading over the Crocodile River into the Malelane Gate of the Kruger National Park. The entrance is as strictly secured as that at Augusta National, Leopard Creek being reserved for members and their guests. However, visitors can access the property, use the clubhouse, and play the course, by staying at various game lodges in the area, and paying a high-end green fee. The closest one to the course is Buhala Lodge, which is located a few kilometres away on the banks of the same Crocodile River which borders the golf course.
Course architect, Gary Player, commented as follows: “Leopard Creek is surrounded by bushveld. The fact that your could be playing while hearing a hippopotamus snort or seeing a lion near the fence is unique, as is the pitch shot you might hit over a lake full of crocodiles and hippos. The clubhouse, an extraordinary piece of architecture with a thatch roof, is filled with golfing memorabilia. Just three years after its completion in 1996, Leopard Creek hosted a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match between Ernie Els and Nick Price.”
Leopard Creek has hosted the Alfred Dunhill Challenge on the European Tour since 2005 and a South African has claimed the title no fewer than nine times since then.
An addition to the golfing experience at Leopard Creek in 2016 was the construction of a par three course which replicates famous short holes around the world, plus a state-of-the art practice facility adjoining the par three course.
Leopard Creek closed for play at the end of 2017 to undergo eight months of major construction – including a total redesign of the par three 12th hole with its Redan green – and re-turfing, which resulted in the cancellation of the annual end of year Alfred Dunhill tournament.
Many of the fairway bunkers have been re-positioned and landing areas for handicap golfers widened. Kikuyu grass fairways were replaced with warm season Bermuda, a grass that requires 30% less water and fewer chemicals to maintain, and this move should help improve year-round playability and allow the golf ball to run further.
Greens have also been planted with the latest strain of Champion bent grass from Houston, Texas, with Leopard Creek now having the South African rights to this particular grass.
What a brilliant way to finish our golfing safari through Sth Africa! We were staying at Kirkmans Kamp, abutting Kruger National Park, and enjoying the most thrilling safaris both early morning and late afternoon each day.
Already we had not only sighted the big five and much more, we had got up closer than we had ever thought possible.It was an adventure we were never likely to forget...
But being so close to perhaps the top rated course in Sth Africa was too big an opportunity to overlook.
After morning safari the chopper picked four of us up for a glorious 75 km ride over Kruger to Leopard Creek. We spotted elephants and rhino all over...
Leopard Creek was designed by Gary Player, and opened for play in 1997 The course abuts Kruger, with only the river separating the course from the park.
The course was named after the leopards in the area, but sightings are fewer these days. And the giraffes have been relocated as they were damaging greens.
Nevertheless the course has a real connection with the animal kingdom with leopard statues at every turn, monkeys, and impala abundant.
And then there is the 13th hole!
The course starts slowly on the front nine with a number of pleasant parkland holes on relatively flat terrain.
The first few holes are redeemed somewhat by clever use of water hazards/ burns, and lovely shaping of the greens.
The introduction of a pretty water carry par 3, and an interesting short par 4 with fairway cross bunkering at holes 5 & 6, added character to the front nine which finishes with a flourish on the ninth hole. With water down the left and around the green, and clubhouse behind, the ninth is a striking hole.
The opening nine reminded me a little of Valderrama with the general feel of the layout- not such a bad comparison I would argue...
The back nine is set on hillier terrain, and is much more engaging golf.
Ten is more in keeping with the front nine, but then hole 11 rings a change. The hole goes through a gap in trees, over a gully, and then up. It's a good hole.
Twelve is a pretty downhill par 3 from a very high tee. I thought the front of the green a bit severe, but I will know next time!
Thirteen is a special hole, not unlike Augusta. It's a swinging right to left par 5 with creek and jungle all the way down the left. The fairway has a right to left slope, and a rocky creek angling across at the landing area- forcing a decision on the lay up.
The green is a bit reminiscent of the 11th at Augusta in shape, with pond on the front. It is a skyline green, and when you walk on to putt be prepared to spend 10 minutes transfixed with the view to Kruger and the river below. It was noisy too!
The river below was full of hippos having a great old time. This is one of the great holes anywhere!
Further on we faced an elevated tee, and long carry to the fairway on the par 5, 15th hole. It was another strong hole. The tricky second shot across cross bunkering with the fairway curving left and lake on the right defined the hole. You need to pick the right line and length. If successful you are then faced with a short iron to a green projecting into the lake.
Sixteen continues with the water theme- it's a par 3 with a longish carry over the lake. It is a challenging hole.
Finally the picturesque 18th is a par 5, with an island green set in front of the unique clubhouse. It's a nice finish to a very good course.
I am very pleased we took our opportunity to play Leopard Creek, and very much enjoyed the experience.
It may not be the best in Sth Africa- I would rate The Links at Fancourt higher- but it is an exciting golfing venue, and something not to be missed.
The helicopter ride over Kruger comes as an optional extra!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Nowhere in the world do you find this setting for a golf course. In the middle of the Kruger National Safari Park. The 13th green is 40meters in the air overlooking the Crocodile River. You can see Hippo, Crocs, and other wild life while putting.
If golf had perfection then it would be Leopard Creek. The course itself is not the most challenging the whole experience is one of the best in South Africa.
This is a very tight golf club and it is very tough to get a tee time. We booked through Buhala Lodge who arranged everything.
From the moment that you arrive you are treated like royalty. They have excellent carts, an impeccable driving range and chipping green to get your warmed up.
The first nine are quite easy but the back nine, especially holes 13, 16 and 18 are truly amazing. We saw Hippos, Crocs and monkeys on and around the course.
The clubhouse is great too, will an excellent half way house spread and a very relaxing lawn overlooking the 18th.
Yes this is expensive but this is an experience that you will not forget.
I was't sure if I'd like Leopard Creek, being more of a traditionalist. Nothing could have prepared me for what a treat I was in for.
First off, the course is good. Its immaculate, and has lots of good holes. My criticism would be it is more of an american style course which isn't really my thing. The greens are really sloppy and grainy which is fun. The best holes are 2 5 6 7 9 12 13 15 18. Holes 5 6 and 7 is a great loop of par 3 - driveable par 4 - par 3. 9 and 18 run parallel down hill towards the clubhouse, to a lake (18 is an island green). 12 and 13 offer amazing views over the Kruger National Park. However, for me the gold course isn't what makes it so great.
The hospitality is second to none. You're treated like royalty in a clubhouse fit for a king. The clubhouse might be my favourite in the world, very open but old, with a big thatched roof. The driving range is the best driving range I've ever visited, made even better with baskets full of brand new proVs.
The best part about Leopard Creek however is the location. The weather is amazing, but what's better is the wildlife and the views. The views of the Kruger Park are breathtaking, and you can get up close and personal with the wildlife. Make sure you go on a safari during your visit!
There is no doubt that Leopard Creek is a great course, with many memorable holes. However having paid full price (R4200 (£230), including having to stay at an expensive upmarket lodge for the chance to play the course) I was left VERY disappointed.
Despite booking months in advance, there was no forewarning that the greens would be going through its aeration and sanding stage. This left the greens slow and bumpy - and not up to scratch for a full price round. There were also a lot of repairs being made to the course with GUR signs sprinkled all over the place. The worst of which was the 16th hole which was going through a complete makeover and as a result, the tees and green were out of use. The solution was to cut a hole in the fairway, leading to a makeshift 80 yard hole that even the worst of public courses would dwarf. I was laughed at when asking for a discount after the round for having paid full price....
The front 9 is much less memorable than the back 9. The course only really starts getting great when you reach the 9th, looking downhill at the clubhouse and the Kruger National Park in the distance. 11,12 and 13 is my favourite stretch of holes I have played. The par 4 11th is a wonderful hole, playing your tee shot into a fairway in a valley and back uphill to the green with your approach. The par 3 12th is a fantastic short hole tumbling downhill with the Kruger Park in the background. I took 2 clubs less and still over-clubbed - leaving for a very tough uphill chip with the green sloping to the front edge. Then comes one of the best holes in world golf. The par 5 13th will forever be etched in my mind. Bordering the majestic Crocodile River and overlooking the fantastic Kruger Park, while waiting for my birdie putt, I spotted Crocs and Hippos in the River with Elephants, Zebra and Impala strolling in the distance. Needless to say, I missed my birdie putt - its tough to regain concentration standing in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. I could have stayed on the 13th green all day, but needed to refocus and head to the next tee box. The view from the 15th tee is equally as breathtaking, with the champs tee being the highest point on the course. Assuming you play the course in proper conditions, every shot you play from the 9th tee to the 18th green will blow your mind. The par 5 18th is a truly fantastic risk-reward finishing hole - the long hitters will be tempted to go for glory with their 2nd shot to the island green.
Welcoming you at the clubhouse will be an indulgent platter of biltong, droewors, ribs which wash down fantastically with a pint of cold beer.
At its best, this course deserves an albatross rating. However, I am afraid that it was very frustrating, having gone out my way to play the course and being treated the way I was after having the cheek to request a discount given the condition of the course. Lets hope that this was a once off and the course doesn't rest on its laurels as it truly is one of the most memorable experiences of my life, despite having been left with a bad taste.
Tagged as the number 1 course in the country, my expectations were very high. I had the benefit of playing the course twice at different times of the day so I got to experience varying playing conditions.
The 9th and 18th green share a pond, giving the ‘island green’ affect which certainly grabs your attention and demands a perfectly struck (and judged) approach shop to avoid the need for swimming trunks. The back nine at Leopard Creek offers fabulous variety, challenge, risk, reward and even a downhill Redan par 3 with Kruger National Park as the jaw-dropping back drop. The 11th is a par 4 playing straight uphill with a tight tee-shot, the 12th is the Redan – however, the best hole on the property is the par 5 13th hole. I was massively impressed with every shot on this hole. The drive plays out to a diagonal plateau with water the whole way down the left-hand side until the green. The fairway narrows on the second shot leaving a daunting 80-100 yard pitch for the third shot on the green which is perched menacingly above the Crocodile River. The magnificence of Kruger National Park marries beautifully with the iconic 13th hole. I also appreciated the “all or none” feeling you have standing the par 3 16th hole which asks for a 190 yard shot over water. Most photographs at Leopard Creek are of the glorious downhill par 5 18th which brings you back to that treacherous island green.
Just amazing even if the first 9 holes can be a little bit better
Leopard Creek Golf Club is a high light of any South Africa golfing holiday. It can be hard to get a tee time at this exclusive course but it is well worth the effort, it really does feel like 'millionaires golf'. Located in Malelane at the southern end of the Kruger it is ideal to combine with a few nights safari in the area.The course is in immaculate condition with every hole presenting a new challenge and amazing scenery. You will stop for a delicate array of sandwiches and scones at the halfway house which is included in your green fees.The signature hole which is the 9th onto an island green in front of the club house is a true risk-reward hole, lay up and play safe or go for the green and try to land your ball dead.