Animals and golf. Friend or foe?

To follow on from my most recent blog post on snakes I thought it appropriate to write a short piece on what animals I have seen on site through construction and also when playing golf.

Maybe an appropriate start would be to begin with the so called pets – you know dogs and cats. Every site I visit, destined to be a golf course, there seems to be a stray dog or two. In many cases these dog (s) become pets and loyal companions during construction but in some cases the first encounter can be somewhat scary. I remember walking the site, before construction, at Cornelia, Turkey only to be confronted by a pack of dogs. I tried not to show I was nervous (albeit I was really nipping myself). I stood my ground initially and then rather briskly headed for the closest tree I could climb. Fortunately the dogs were not much interested in pursuing me and after some snarling, barking etc they headed on their way.

I lived in the U.K for many years and there its not uncommon to see deer, foxes, rabbits etc on the golf course. This is the same for some golf courses in continental Europe, Canada etc where deer are often spotted.

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Spot the deer – Golf at Kennemer outside Amsterdam, Holland

Here is a story related to deer / bucks etc:

I have a good Australian friend who lives in the U.K. A couple of years ago we were holidaying back in South Africa and insisted he come along . Anyways we spent a couple of days at the Kruger National Park (a game park about the size of England). My wife and I have visited the parks many times whilst growing up and whilst the novelty never wears off there are certain animals I don’t really take much notice just because I know I will be seeing a lot of them. Anyways we had only driven about 5 minutes into the game park having already seen about 100 deer / buck…….my ‘mate’ turned to us with a smile on his face and said that this place was like ‘Jurassic Park’ and just awesome. We chuckled – that was funny – but even he would admit at the end that he had seen enough buck to feed an army x 2.

Talking Australia I have visited a few times – most of my family now reside there. I love the sport they play – I am a cricket and rugby fan anyway – and the people are really good fun. Lest not forget the fantastic array of golf courses and the number of really talented Australian Architects and construction personal….I have been lucky to work with a few of them and would recommend. Now Australia is great for reptiles and certainly the most amazing array of colorful birds I have seen but when it comes to animals they are relatively thin in that department . If you have been to Australia you will relate to the Spanish Inquisition or grilling you get on arrival from the customs people….best you declare you Cadbury Nut and Raisin bar or else you could be in for some fine. I always joke with my Aussie mates why this is the case given that the flora is well mainly Eucalyptus (Gum) trees and there are few animals to speak of! Anyway, in Australia it is quite common to see Kangaroo’s bouncing about on many golf courses there not to mention some of the reptiles you find including the aggressive brown snake and dangerous red back spider.

In parts of Asia that I have travelled, you don’t tend to see much by way of animal and bird life even if the site or golf course is bounded by jungle. There is good reason for this of which I wont indulge rather leave to your imagination. In India you see a lot of cows given they are sacred but these are hardly impressive and in many cases they are undernourished. In Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia you see a lot of Water Buffalo but that’s about it. I was shocked the first time I visited the Laguna site in Vietnam. It was bounded by jungle so expected anything and everything to pop out at me but the only animals I did see were a few groups of water buffalo. I was very weary to start because in Africa Buffalo can be very dangerous as ambush predators ( I once had a standoff in a car – on one of the sites I visited near Port Elizabeth – with an African buffalo and he was not going to retreat any time quickly) but the client representative Blair Pratt soon quelled any of my fears. We now have water buffalo on the golf course in Vietnam tending to the rice paddy fields bounding some of the holes

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Where the animals?…walking through the bush and in swamp land with colleague in Asia

I lived in Switzerland for 3 years and cant remember seeing much else but cows and bells and that goes for the sites I visited (for work). Places like Madeira, Italy, Croatia etc were great for the people and food but not the wildlife you likely to see.

The best place to see wildlife on a golf course is South Africa and I am not saying that with any bias. I have played just about every good / interesting golf course in South Africa –  at least until about 15 years ago  – and I have had a number of run ins with interesting animals. South Africa is not necessarily a place to go to study great golf architecture albiet there are a few courses worth visting and the country does have a history of really good golf architects = Hotchkin, Allison, Fred Hawtree and local boy Bob Grimsdell. What makes many of the best golf courses in South Africa a real treat is how well the architect has blended the course into the surrounds (or how much the surrounds have grown up over the years).

You see every good golf course, no matter where in the world, has a real sense of place and definite character. In South Africa many of the best golf courses are bound by African bush and this is what gives it it’s identity and makes them a must play.

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Anyone up for the Superintendants Job? – Hans Merensky (Photo courtesy of www.hansmerensky.co.za)

Some courses in South Africa are a must see simply because of the experience….how about having to wait for a pack of zebra or wild boar to cross the fairway or Giraffe framing or providing backdrop to a green. What about being warned to watch out for the monkeys and baboons on the next tee. I can think of a few courses like that in South Africa…how about Hans Marensky, Skukuzu, Sabi Sabi, Sun City and even Leopard Creek. Interesting the view from the clubhouse at Leopard Creek (away from the golf) onto the crocodile river is one of the most unforgettable experiences in golf….if you lucky you may just get to see a lion kill or elephant stampede. It is a unique experience you can only experience in Africa.

Some may regard all this as Mickey Mouse and I agree there is line in the sand but it is not like I am advocating building a crocodile pit (this has been done) or going out and buying some lions for your golf course. No what I am saying is the best golf experiences are those where the course is identifiable with it surrounds and in an African context if the surround happens to be the bush then it would be crazy not to infuse this into the golf….and you may be lucky to see some animals come out every so often.

I know all of my friends in the business of maintaining golf courses would strongly disagree with the notion of having animals wondering around their golf course. I can hear them now. As for the clients they would want to know what animals we talking about. Yes certainly there are many things to consider ….jeepers I recall the number of conversations we had in Vietnam regards having water buffalo on the golf course. At the end of the day you gotta be practical and pragmatic about things but remember that so much of golf is about the experience and memories. Who could easily forget playing golf in an environment where Giraffes are grazing beside the fairways or Impala and zebra are drinking at a water hazard?

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