Playing the Extreme 19th hole at the Legend Golf & Safari Resort in South Africa is one of golf's most thrilling experiences.  (Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor ) The 10-hole Tribute Course at Legend Golf & Safari Resort has a nice collection of par-3 replica holes. (Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor ) Hanglip mountain looms in the background of the eighth green on the Signature Course at Legend Golf & Safari Resort in Limpopo, South Africa. (Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor )

Adventure Golf: Playing the "Extreme 19th" hole at the Legend Golf & Safari Resort in South Africa



LIMPOPO, South Africa -- I got a 15.

There, I admitted it for all to see. No million-dollar hole in one. No par to remember for a lifetime.

I laid a big, fat dud playing the Extreme 19th hole at the Legend Golf & Safari Resort. I've got lots of excuses why I failed, but that hardly matters. I could've scored a 76 -- like some poor golfer supposedly did -- and still had a blast.

Who wouldn't have a blast playing the world's longest and most terrifying par 3? The 400-yard hole drops roughly 400 yards off a cliff-top tee box on Hanglip mountain to a massive green shaped like the continent of Africa.

Never -- ever -- have I felt such a rush of adrenaline playing golf. Not after a hole-in-one at Turnberry's Ailsa Course in Scotland. Not during a pro-am in front of thousands of avid fans at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. Not during rounds at Pebble Beach and Old Head and Kauri Cliffs and all those other fancy bucket-list courses every golfer dreams of seeing.

The 45-minute adventure to hit six shots off a mountain is simply too cool for words. I came to South Africa thinking it would be a gimmick. I left believing that every golfer should be fortunate enough to give it a go.

Reliving my "Extreme Golf" adventure

The journey up the mountain starts with a safari. A helicopter launching pad is located inside the resort's "Big 5 Game Reserve." Our jeep could have crossed paths with lions, hippos, rhinos and leopards. We ran into a giraffe.

The helicopter ride each way is pretty short, yet still spectacular. The views of the African outback and grasslands that surround the resort extend for miles. Our pilot seemed to be an adrenaline junky. On the way down, he nose-dived off the cliff. My stomach dropped.

Pete Richardson, the resort's head of public relations, sales and marketing, accompanied our threesome of golf writers up top, serving as the spotter and official scorekeeper. Taking the elevation change into account, Richardson believes a 230-yard carry will clear the dense jungle and a poke of 270 yards will hit the green on the fly. Even if you have the capability, your depth perception will feel considerably off kilter.

Every player got six swings to hit one ball in play. Richardson carefully marked each ball and kept in contact with a spotter on the ground by walkie-talkie.

I volunteered to hit first, even though I felt entirely spooked about standing so close to a precipitous drop. On my first swing, I recoiled after contact, dramatically shortening my follow through. My fear of heights just wouldn't allow me to transfer my weight from back to front.

The ball stayed in the air almost 30 seconds before the spotter reported back that he heard it crash into the jungle. As hard as I tried, I couldn't put a solid enough swing on the ball to get one in play. The fact that I was using a rented, old driver with virtually no grip didn't help. [EDITOR'S NOTE: No one wants to hear your excuses, Deegan!] I thought I was going to fling it off the ledge.

Nobody fared much better. The savannah swallowed every shot we hit. After the flight down, I flubbed a chip from the drop zone near the green. I eventually got up and down for a 15.

There are worse scores on the online leaderboard at the resort's Web site. Amazingly, out of thousands of attempts, 14 golfers can claim a birdie. Another 143 have made par. More than 250 others shot the same sad number I did. The highest recorded score is 76, although hundreds of participants did not finish. Nobody has made a hole-in-one. The resort claims it will award the first ace $1 million.

Me, I went home with the consolation prize, a souvenir black hat everybody gets for playing.

The price tag is pretty reasonable for a foursome. It's 4,950 Rand for a single golfer, which equals roughly $310 with the current exchange rate (roughly 16-1 in January 2016). It costs only 1,950 Rand (or $123) per person in a foursome.

A unique golf destination

The resort, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg, is more than a one-hole wonder.

The theme of the Signature Course is a round of golf through the bush, although it wasn't in the greatest condition during my visit in December 2015.

Its routing was pieced together by 18 different famous professional golfers. Each designed a single hole. Ireland's Padraig Harrington (hole 10) and Spain's Sergio Garcia (hole 16) have visited to see the final product. Harrington's video playing the Extreme 19th hole was a YouTube sensation.

You might discover zebras grazing in bunkers and a sable antelope sitting in the middle of the fairway like we did. At dusk, we played an emergency nine on the 10-hole par-3 Tribute Course. By then, dozens of antelope were grazing on the driving range and a hippo had wandered to the fence line of the game park.

Every par 3 represented a famous hole from around the world. We finished the 10th, a copy of the island green from the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, in utter darkness. Richardson one-upped my par with birdie to steal the money and the match.

After 29 holes of golf, my dinner and drinks that night in the brand new clubhouse couldn't have tasted better. I slept well that night in my lodge, one of 220 suites spread throughout the property.

Richardson likes to call his property the "best" golf resort in the world. Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but with all the wild animals and a hole only reachable by helicopter, it certainly is the most unique. Golfers from North America can't come all the way to South Africa and not stop by to see why.

Feb 01, 2016



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Jason Scott Deegan

Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.