Golf may not be the first thing you consider playing in Zimbabwe, but, as Iain Wallace explains, the country is home to a course like no other.
very golfer has his or her favourite course – it may be the windswept links of St Andrews or simply the local nine-hole pay-as-you-play municipal course. For me, and undoubtedly many others, the course of choice is found in the rolling landscape of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands.
The championship course at Leopard Rock is an absolute gem. Four hours’ drive from Harare it may be, but it’s so good that I would willingly walk the distance over broken glass. Just to catch sight of its spectacular fairways and greens, carved out of the ‘Mountains of the Mist’, is jaw-dropping.
Imagine for a moment a golf course that gently winds its way through undulating hills and lush sub-tropical foliage, past sparkling streams, dams and lakes, all the while proffering breathtaking views of the plains below and distant Mozambique. Playing a round here isn’t really golf – it’s a religious experience.
The man responsible for this visual treat is Zimbabwe-born Peter Matkovich. He has a host of golf course designs under his belt, including Pinnacle Point, Arabella, and De Zalze in South Africa, and Golf du Chateau in Mauritius. Matkovich designed Leopard Rock with the environment clearly in mind; the natural vegetation has not only been preserved but hundreds of trees have been planted, some would say too many! From the back tees it’s a respectable 6164m, which is not too long when compared to some recent golf course designs. But don’t be fooled, this is a thinking man’s course. The dips and rises on many of the fairways can fool you into wrong club selection, and most high handicappers will leave their ball well short of the green.
As with Matkovich’s Pinnacle Point course in the Western Cape, this is a risk-or-reward layout, and my advice is to play safe. If you’re off your game, be prepared to not only drop a few shots but also to lose a few balls.
It is undoubtedly a challenging course, but it’s impossible to have a bad round. Mark Twain once famously said, “golf was a good walk spoiled.” Obviously he had never been to Leopard Rock.
Leopard Rock factfile:
Length: 6164m (gold tees)
Green fees: 18 holes: US$40; 9 holes: US$25
Stay: the course is in the grounds of the Leopard Rock Hotel and Estate, 30km south-east of the city of Mutare.