Nature and the environment matter passionately to most golfers around the world, nowhere more so than Leopard Creek, home of the Alfred Dunhill Championship, where the determination to maintain the ecological balance has been a priority for many years.
As Zane Van Rhyn, the Health, Safety and Environmental Officer of Leopard Creek, stands on the banks of the Crocodile River where Leopard Creek and the untamed wilderness of the Kruger National Park meet, he sums up exactly what makes this place so unique in world golf.
“This is where everything happens. This behind me, with the Crocodile River and the animals, is why we say Leopard Creek is the wildlife and a golf course all in one,” says Van Rhyn.
Van Rhyn views Leopard Creek as the perfect expression of his own passion for conservation, and he is well aware of the privilege he enjoys working in an environment where maintaining the balance between golf and nature is taken very seriously.
“Having animals on a golf estate with championship grass is a challenge, but it’s a passion of mine. Before the start of last year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship we had a hippo that broke through the fence and for three weeks every day I watched it just to keep it off the course. To spend so much time with one animal – I think that’s been my favourite experience with the animals here.”
The estate enjoys a strong relationship with the neighbouring Kruger National Park, as Van Rhyn and his team also play a key role in assisting with the conservation efforts of the Park.
“We are in regular communication with the head ranger of the Kruger National Park. We work particularly closely with their team on the removal of alien plant species on our estate. We bring in their specialists to remove these alien species and rehabilitate the soil.”
Alien plant species are those, not endemic to the area, that find their way into the ecosystem, either by human introduction, or by birds that carry seeds. Some species can be harmful to animals because they do not form part of their natural diet. After the plant has been removed, the soil is properly treated so the plant does not grow there again.
There are moments when Van Rhyn will take a drive in his golf cart to what he calls his secret spot, and sit and watch a herd of elephants graze only a few metres away from him or just stare out over the majestic Crocodile River.
“Leopard Creek is the most peaceful place on earth for me. Just being here takes away any stress you think you have,” he says.
Continuing the work of many years to maintain the environmental balance which creates that peace is an absolute priority for Van Rhyn and his team.
“That is central to everything that we are constantly trying to keep doing here, namely keeping the wildlife and the fauna and flora living together in balance with this amazing golf course.”