A unique collaboration in Big Five country
Beginning with its location in the spectacular Waterberg, within the 22 000-hectare Entabeni Conservancy, it would be hard to find a better site to fashion a truly African bushveld golf course. The breathtaking Hanglip Mountain dominates the terrain, and the combination of the pure country air and the tranquillity of the place adds to the enjoyment of playing what is truly a superb course.
18 holes, 18 designers
When it was first mooted that 18 of the world’s top professionals would each design one of the holes on this course, there might have been those who had their doubts regarding how well this might work.
Some might have envisaged something of a mish-mash, each player incorporating features they might particularly like, and each trying to outdo each other in an effort for their hole to be the most memorable. It could easily have turned into a sort of ‘house-that-Jack-built’.
Fortunately this never happened, and what you have here is a well-routed, balanced layout with 18 very different holes that fit together beautifully.
As explained by Jeremy Slessor, a director of European Golf Design (a joint-venture company between IMG and the European Tour), the trick was to combine the various individuals’ design thoughts into one, cohesive vision. “It was a bit of a balancing act,” he admitted.
“It required standardising certain elements – like the bunkering, but within that, giving the pros freedom of positioning and strategy.” There are also recurring shaping themes that tie the holes together, and, quite honestly, the more one studies these holes, the better they become.
Most importantly, for the typical amateur who is here to have fun, playing from the appropriate tees will mean they can get around without being forced to carry distances that are beyond their capabilities, or be frustrated by narrow fairways flanked by penal rough.
But for the more accomplished golfer, or even the tour professional, tackling this course at full stretch will test every club in the bag.
This resort definitely does not lack the all-important ‘wow’ factor, and the entrance to the property sets the tone. Built in the style of the Zimbabwe Ruins, which harks back to the Monomotapa Empire, this is brilliantly fashioned using a complicated computer-aided system that manages to replicate stonework in concrete.
Describing it might conjure up visions of ‘Disney-meets-Africa’, but it works surprisingly well and it is just one of the many unique features of the place. One of the keys to the Limpopo government’s blessing of the project was the emphasis on accurate African pre-colonial architecture and historical experts were consulted before the grand vision was realised.
Another striking feature of this resort is the sheer size of the property, and the feeling of spaciousness further enhances the experience. This also applies to the golf course, and it is clear that a lot of thought went into the routing, which makes the most of changes in elevation and the dramatic backdrops.
Particularly pleasing is the fact that without there being great distances between greens and tees, each hole stands alone, and, unlike modern estate layouts, there is never a feeling of being cramped.
The positioning of the holes, as well as the order in which they are played, makes a lot of sense. Both nines start with good but playable opening holes, and both loops end with excellent finishing holes.
Despite the fact that 500 000 cubic metres of earth was moved during construction, the feel is that the course belongs – for some, the ultimate acid-test of great course architecture.
The director of golf at the resort, David Riddle, was intimately involved with the routing and the construction of the layout, overseeing the work done by Douw van der Merwe of DDV Design, the main contractor.
Although it has been reported that DDV actually designed the course, David tells us that this is incorrect. “The 18 players were very much the designers – they spent a lot of time and effort, and in some cases made changes where they saw fit,” he says. It is no secret that each player took pride in this unusual project, and one might imagine that they wouldn’t want to put their names to something that wasn’t quite as they wanted it.
Before this course was unveiled, owner and CEO of Legend Peet Celliers put it simply: “I wanted to team up with the world’s best golfers to build the world’s best golf course.”
While it will take some time for this layout to mature, it certainly must be considered to be among the premier modern courses in the country right now.
And then of course it has some things that you will not find anywhere – starting with the amazing Extreme 19th, the most talked-about hole anywhere.
A helicopter ferries players to a tee built on Hanglip Mountain, and words fail to adequately describe the sight of green (in the shape of the African continent) far below – a drop of some 430 metres. The actual distance measured in a straight line from tee to green is 587 metres, with the ball’s ‘hang time’ about 25 seconds.
Another interesting addition to the complex is the Tradition Course, made up of replicas of the world’s most famous par threes – the likes of Augusta National’s 12th, Troon’s Postage Stamp, the 17th at the TPC Sawgrass and North Berwick’s Redan.
This course, as well as the Extreme 19th, was designed by David Riddle, and he made an exceptional job of both. Add to this a truly excellent practice facility and state-of-the-art academy, where players can not only practise shots from various lies, but also different turf surfaces – and you have an undeniably world-class facility in a spellbinding location.
Accolades have been heaped on this resort, not least of all its most recent from the World Travel Awards as Africa’s leading sports resort, and the continent’s leading golf resort. High praise indeed and certainly well deserved.
Finally, visitors to Legend, from the first contact with the staff at the grand entrance through the whole experience, will find all the staff courteous, helpful and determined to make any stay a special one. The greenfee of R500 – which includes a golf cart (supplied with iced spring water) and a halfway-house meal – constitutes excellent value.
The Legend Golf and Safari has raised the bar to a level we have not seen before, nor are we likely to see a resort of this scale being built anytime soon.
The 8th hole is a short par four, the brainchild of Camilo Villegas. The aggressive line from the tee must carry a bunker 260 metres out; a safer play is to the fairway, away from the trouble.
The par-five 9th, designed by Justin Rose, tempts one to try to reach the green with the second shot. The drive must avoid water and bunkers, and the approach is to a water-guarded green.
The 11th is an excellent par five – the work of Raphael Jacquelin. The hole plays slightly uphill from a natural wetland area and is beautifully bunkered to form a double dogleg. Hanglip Mountain dominates the view.
The Extreme 19th hole is one of Legend’s unique features. Over 400 metres in length, the tee is accessible by helicopter only, and players hit their tee shots to an Africa-shaped green, some 430 metres below.
1 – par five – Trevor Immelman
2 – par four – Thomas Bjorn
3 – par four – Jim Furyk
4 – par three – Bernhard Langer
5 – par four – Michael Campbell
6 – par three – Mike Weir
7 – par four – Colin Montgomerie
8 – par four – Camilo Villegas
9 – par five – Justin Rose
10 – par four – Padraig Harrington
11 – par five – Raphael Jacquelin
12 – par three – Ian Woosnam
13 – par four – Luke Donald
14 – par four – Robert Allenby
15 – par four – Vijay Singh
16 – par four – Sergio Garcia
17 – par three – KJ Choi
18 – par five – Retief Goosen
- The pristine surrounding bushveld and the spectacular mountain backdrops
- The playability factor – the course offers generous ‘bail-out’ areas
… and Dislikes
- A long drive from the major centres – but well worth it
- A few construction hiccups, the odd irrigation leak, but these are being attended to
Getting there: Travel north on N1 to Polokwane. Take Mookgopong exit (R101A). At Mookgopong, take the second traffic light left (R520). Travel 11km to T-junction, turn left and right after 500m at Marken sign. After 24km, tar road becomes gravel, drive 21.5km and turn right at Entabeni sign. The main entrance is 3.3km from here.
Course Classic bushveld, kikuyu tees and fairways with bent greens
Owner/developer Peet Cilliers (Legend Group)
Director of Golf David Riddle
PGA Professional Wilhelm Groenewald
Superintendent Hein Koch
Contacts Reservations – 011 729 6700 www.legendgolfsafari.com