Eat out with white lions after extreme golf

Sunday, 6 May 2012 - 9:00am IST | Agency: dna

By creating a seamless bridge between a world-class golfing experience and the preservation of wildlife, the Legend Golf & Safari Resort in South Africa definitely has more than meets the eye.

Arriving at the Legend Golf & Safari Resort, a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, it’s only a matter of minutes before mention of the ‘Extreme 19th’ — the highest and longest Par 3 in the world — fills the air with anticipation.

The 19th hole of the resort’s championship golf course designed by eighteen of the world’s top golfers is situated on top of a mountain and accessible only by helicopter. As the alpha-males in my travelling group salivate at the thought of stepping onto this course the next morning, I resign myself to spending the next few days in the company of bored housewives  whiling away the hours at the spa and sneaking in long afternoon naps.

The 5am game drive the next morning nudges me out of my sleep and my cynicism pretty quick. Legend is located within the Entabeni Safari Conservancy — a spectacular expanse of 22,000-hectares of bushveld, ravines, savanna, sandy wetlands and wooded hills. In a span of two hours, we manage to spot four out of the Big 5 game, missing the leopard by a matter of seconds. And even though we’re perched safely atop an open-roof safari jeep, the feeling is exhilarating.

The resort has had a similar effect on its management as well. Lisa Taggart from the corporate communications department drives us around the resort for a cursory glance at the resort’s standard attractions — the conference halls, a wellness centre and a sports ground. But as she drives us into the conservancy area and talk turns to the resort’s activities related to animal conservation, her pace slows down and her eyes light up.

A former troubleshooter for companies in the United Kingdom, the slight-framed Lisa seems completely at home in her rugged surroundings and on very friendly terms with the resort’s most prized inhabitants — the white lions. Having attained a mythical status for their unique white fur, this endangered species does not figure in the safari tours that are conducted for visitors. Instead they are being privately bred and raised on ‘islands’ — deep dry moats dug around an expansive piece of land which allows the lions to roam free of human and animal threat. As they emerge from the bushes, Lisa points out her favourites, calling them out by their names. “Whenever I’ve had a s*** week, I just come here and feel my problems melt away looking at these magnificent creatures,” she says.

 Lisa also mentions the efforts of animal experts employed by the resort in setting up a first-of-its-kind rhino orphanage in the country. Rhino poaching is rampant in South Africa and the newly opened orphanage will provide shelter to rhinos rescued by individuals and organisations who cannot afford to house them.

As we drive further away from the resort centre and its lavish settings, more people with concerns not really aligned with those of a commercial enterprise emerge out of the woodworks. Among them are Mirietjie and Riaan Van der Merwe, who manage the Legend Wildlife and Cultural Centre and emphasise the need for rehabilitation, of both the wildlife and the local community.

“We’ve recently set up a school of music where local youth are being trained in dancing and playing instruments,” says Mirietjie, adding that the youth are employed to perform at events at the resort to help them earn a living. Some of the locals are also trained as rangers and golf caddies.

To raise funds required to maintain these activities, the hotel management offers exclusive ‘packaged experiences’ to its guests. These include a White Lion Boma where one can enjoy a fine dining experience outdoors and just a few metres away from the lions whose roars echo into the dark night. Corporate clients can choose to immerse their employees in a recreated village setting where the local Pedi villagers will take them through daily activities, for which they are paid an allowance. For those who can’t afford to stay overnight at this high-priced resort, one can make a day trip to the Entabeni reserve for a game drive for 250 Rand (Rs1,722), all of which is directed to conservation efforts by the resort.

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