Helicopter, high winds in extreme golf adventure

WHEN the London Games finished last summer my wife (the British Olympic team doctor) and I felt we needed a break – but where to go? In the end, we chose South Africa. It’s a place I’ve got to know pretty well over the years.

The British were the first national team to go there after apartheid ended in the early 1990s and about five years ago I took the family to spot whales along the Garden Route, see leopard at Sabi Sand and stay in a treehouse at Rocktail Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

Our main aim this time was to find somewhere that suited the whole family and where we could all wind down but still have plenty to do – not so easy when your daughters are 21 and 18 and your son is 14. We settled on the Legend Golf & Safari Resort in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy, a private game reserve in the Waterberg mountains, not just because it offered the chance to view all of the Big Five, but because it had two golf courses.

Perhaps I should rephrase that: not just because it would give my son and I the chance to play on two of the world’s most spectacular golf courses, but because while we were doing so, my wife and daughters would be able to go on game drives.

We spent the first half of our stay at Kingfisher Camp, which has six rooms right by the water. At night we could hear hippos bellowing. Then there’s Hangklip Mountain Lodge, which is a bit more luxurious; Wildside, which has tented chalets; and Ravineside up on the escarpment.

For the second part of the holiday, we moved out of the 22000 hectare conservancy to a private lodge right by the golf course.

There we made the most of the huge bedrooms, with their own bathrooms and private sitting areas, and equally big living spaces, as well as a barbecue and plunge pool. Did I mention it was right by the golf course?

So let me tell you a little bit more about the courses. One is a Pinholders Par 3, in which they have replicated iconic par-threes from all over the world – the 11th at St Andrews, for example, and a couple from Augusta. The other is the Signature Course, par 72, designed by 18 of the world’s greatest male players, from Padraid Harrington and Justin Rose to Sergio García. Not only is it one of the longest courses in the world, at 7.75 km, but it also has the most incredible 19th hole – the world’s longest and highest Par 3.

It gets better: the tee-off for this 19th hole is on top of a mountain and you can only get there by helicopter. When they heard this, my daughters decided golf wasn’t quite so boring after all.

Not surprisingly, it turned out to be incredibly difficult to play. The green, which is in the shape of the African continent, is not just 361m from the edge of the mountain, but 400m down. It isn’t helped by the fact that the wind blows pretty hard up there, the fairway’s pretty narrow, there are bunkers all around – and I don’t like heights. You get six balls and I got four fairly close.

But this wasn’t our only airborne excursion. One day we took a balloon ride at sunset – it was one of those blood-red African skies, and from above we saw all sorts of animals. What really blew us away, though, was the silence. When the burners are off, you just drift quietly and can hear every little sound from below.

The girls, meanwhile, were obsessed in equal measure with going on safari and sunning themselves: they did 18 safaris in 10 days and came back brown as berries. The only things they didn’t see were a lion kill and a leopard.

Much as I loved the golf, it was a safari that turned out to be the highlight of the trip. On our last day a man called Lee Gutteridge, who trains the game rangers, took us on a walk through the conservancy.

He’d seen a big male rhino with a mother and her baby earlier on, and so wanted to show them to us. When you see rhinos from a vehicle they are pretty big; on the ground they are even bigger.

It was slightly nerve- wracking because something had disturbed the male and he was running around in circles, kicking up dust. We kept our distance. But we saw all sorts of other things: antelope and a beautiful giraffe from just about 10 metres.

We came home with more than 2000 photos – but they’ll have to wait: we haven’t sorted our Olympic photos yet. © The Telegraph

Leave a Reply