In the morning, the hyenas wake up Jean Rossouw and his family and the only traffic on the way to work is the goats or giraffes that walk in the road.
Rossouw grew up in the Kruger National Park and the forest is part of his being. His parents have been working for the wildlife park for more than 30 years and this young man decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps.
Although his original plan was to play cricket professionally, his life path led him back to the bush in 2015.
In 2015, Rossouw got the opportunity to become the caretaker of the Skukuza golf course after he suffered a cricket injury. He does not regret this decision for a day.
“This is the only golf course in the world where golfers can enjoy their favorite game and admire the Big Five at the same time. It is anyone who loves the forest’s dream,” says Rossouw.
However, keeping an eye on this unique golf course is very different from the work that a golf course superintendent will do in the city.
“The track is not fenced, so any animal can enter the track at any time. You share the track with the animals.
“The wild dogs spend a lot of time on the course and usually play with the golf carts. Sometimes the course becomes a hunting ground, as during the Covid-19-pandemie, when a lion nibbled on a dead giraffe at the third hole. In such cases, golfers’ play is called to a halt for the time being until the hunting field is cleared.”
Sometimes a hippopotamus or a crocodile will peek at players from the ponds or old grandpa will come to say hello when he comes to pick a marula from the tree.
“Sometimes you just find a whole herd of buffalo or lions on the course, which is quite special to see. Days in the woods are never the same.”
According to Rossouw, no players have yet been attacked or injured by animals.
“People are under the impression that the course is unsafe because the wild animals will attack you, but this is not the case at all. The animals will try to stay out of your way at first, because they are afraid of people.
“At least the players are also responsible and know they shouldn’t go too deep into the woods or into the water to get their balls.”
A day in the life of a golf course superintendent in the woods
Rossouw gets up at 06:00 in the morning and then drives the golf cart around the golf course to make sure it is safe for staff and players. “Then I look at what the hyenas ate during the night and what the elephants broke.”
He also has to replant the flags on the tracks – which were saved the night before because the hyenas can eat them during the night.
“Hyenas eat anything that is not steel or concrete.”
He then gives the staff their daily tasks.
“It is hard work to maintain a golf course. The grass is cut on a daily basis and kept tidy.”
As a hobby, Rossouw helped his father look after the cricket field and learned from him the skills as a groundskeeper. He was then able to implement this when he started as a janitor at the golf course.
‘Forest is where I belong’
Rossouw was born in 1990 in Musina and grew up in Pafuri in the Kruger National Park. His parents both worked for the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Pafuri, after which his father joined SANParks in 1996, where he is to this day.
Rossouw was in Primary School in Skukuza and matriculated at Nelspruit High School.
He studied BSc Sports Science at the University of Pretoria (Tuks) and it was Rossouw’s first time away from the bush.
Rossouw has a great passion for cricket and played for Tuks and then four years professionally in England and played for clubs in Australia for a month.
However, it did not come close to the bush for this young man.
“The forest is where I need to be and I went back with the first opportunity I could get.”
And this is where Rossouw lives to this day. He currently lives in Skukuza with his wife and their five-month-old daughter. Rossouw’s wife teaches at the primary school in Skukuza.
“Growing up and living in the woods is something completely different. It is quieter and safer. You don’t have anti-theft devices in front of your windows and leave your keys in the car. In the afternoons we do our own game drives or have a drink sundowner with friends in the riverbed.”
Sometimes the Rossouws get strange visitors to their home.
“We often have to chase hyenas out of our yard. We all know we can’t leave anything outside that the hyenas can eat. At my parents’ house, a leopard already caught a warthog on their porch and a manatee swam in their pool. The elephants trample our fences (not that the fences really keep the animals out).”
Next to the forest, Rossouw’s passion lies with cricket. “Initially I thought I would play cricket after school and tour the world.”
Doctors said he would not be able to play any contact sports after losing 80% of the sight in his left eye at the age of eight.
“However, I proved the doctors wrong and continued to play cricket with one eye.”
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