Call of the Wild

Personally, I’d rather play the same suburban golf course I’ve played for the last 20 years than go skeet shooting for the first time. I’d rather play a mundane nine-holer with uppity partners than play tennis anywhere, anytime and with anyone.

But while that is certainly true, it can’t hurt to change things up a little and play far from the well-beaten path once in a while. Non-golfers suppose our sport to be a little tame, grey even, but even the rad-est of surfing/skating/skiing/base-jumping dudes—guys whose adrenaline doesn’t start flowing until they exceed 250mph or run off the edge of a 14er—might feel an unexpected frisson of excitement when hitting a 7-iron with a curious bull elephant or frisky lion just a few feet away. He might exercise a little more caution than he’s accustomed to if putting on a green on which a 25ft-long crocodile is sunning itself.



Sightings such as these are commonplace at Elephant Hills Golf Club in Zimbabwe. A Gary Player design that opened in 1974, Elephant Hills lies just a couple of miles from the awesome Victoria Falls, and is frequented by wildlife you might not get at Green Valley Ranch or Riverdale Dunes.

While golfers certainly need have their wits about them, there is no express danger of being eaten or gored by the local fauna. The elephants, lions, and water buffalo are kept behind electric fences for the most part, and the ponds in which the crocs lurk are well-signposted. You will certainly encounter waterbucks, kudus, other antelopes, and a great many warthogs on your journey round this extraordinary course, but while you may get a cold stare from an unsuspecting buck or hostile grunt from a less-than-impressed warthog they are not to be feared.

If you can get yourself to the capital of Harare, let Golfing Zimbabwe take over from there. Owned by Brendan Smith, a local whose parents emigrated from England to what was then Rhodesia in 1956, Golfing Zimbabwe offers two adventure-packed 11-day tours taking in not only Elephant Hills but also the excellent Leopard Rock in Mutare and a couple of first-rate Harare courses, one designed by Zimbabwe’s own Nick Price. Smith can easily work fishing tours, safaris and numerous other activities into the itinerary.

While Zimbabwe is not currently on the U.S Department of State’s list of countries for which travel warnings have been issued, it has suffered from political instability and violence for much of the early part of this century. However, since February 2009 when a cross-party inclusive government was formed, with Robert Mugabe as President and Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister, the country’s political situation has become significantly more stable. Abandoning the Zimbabwe Dollar in favor of foreign currency also led to a less volatile economy, and put an end to years of hyperinflation during which 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars would buy you a dozen eggs.

Government elections will be held in June of this year, so it might be wise to keep any eye on the situation before making any travel plans.

Getting to, then playing, Elephant Hills, Leopard Rock could be a trip too far for some people, taking them way, way out of their comfort zones. For those whose comfort zone extends far beyond the standard dimensions, however, it might be just what the (witch) doctor ordered.