"Yeah, yeah," the American replied. "They're all plastic."
No, they are not plastic, they are the real live brothers of the ones at the Kwena Gardens Crocodile Sanctuary, which invites you to "Come see the jumping crocodiles" and, afterward, dine on "crocodile delicacies." Hey, Sol, the crocodiles would like to speak to you about the word sanctuary.
The Challenge tends to be just as wild. This is the tournament at which John Daly reportedly lost more money in the casino than he won on the golf course (his eighth place was worth $120,000) and then won by TKO over his hotel room. This is the place where Trevino once bogeyed a crucial hole after a baboon screamed on his backswing. And this is where Nick Faldo won his million last year and a couple of weeks later issued the single greatest golf quote of the '90s: "After I won, I asked my wife what she wanted. She said a divorce. I said I wasn't thinking of anything that expensive." A year later, she almost has it.
There were the days when this tournament didn't quite know what it was. For a while it was five players, then 10, then eight. For a while it was pros with celebrities, but that ended not long after officials had to tell Hulk Hogan he was out of the tournament after he whiffed his first five tries. For a while it was winner take all. And in 1986, it was almost nothing at all.
That was the year Lanny Wadkins saved it. It was the height of the antiapartheid movement, and most Americans had been scared off by a State Department letter telling them that their safety in South Africa could not be ensured. As it was, the tournament director in those days, Sam Feldman, would not announce which players were coming until the wheels were up on their jets, thus sparing them the scorn of antiapartheid groups. But in '86 the supply of decent players was dwindling to zilch. Kerzner decided he would cancel the whole thing if no Americans came. Wadkins was the only one who came. "I never felt afraid there," he says today. "I thought Bophuthatswana ran a nice government." And his conscience never bothered him? "I don't think an athlete is going to make a difference whether a government holds up or not. All I've got is one vote just like everybody else." Well, everybody but black South Africans at the time.
But the bad old days are gone now, and no inconvenient political issues get in the way of a golf superstar's need to think about swing planes. "It's nice not to have all that pressure," says two-time Sun City winner Bernhard Langer, who finished third this time around. "I still say that it wouldn't have helped the blacks if I'd stayed away. I wouldn't have won the one million, and the tournament wouldn't have been able to give $500,000 of it [in taxes] to the blacks." Of course, if $500,000 is going to the Bophuthatswana blacks every year, they are hiding it very well. Ten minutes outside the bronze gates of Sun City, tin shanties and blunt poverty are everywhere. Change will take time. But for now the fans, the VIPs and the management are mostly still as white as the golf balls themselves. "They tell us they are helping us," said David, one black Lost City caddie. "But each time we come to ask, they say, 'No, the jobs are all full.' "
During this week, however, David had a job as one of golf's first-ever caddie caddies. This is true. The week at Sun City is so decadent that the 12 regular caddies get free luxury lodging, free food and their own caddies to do everything but carry the bag: clean clubs, fetch drinks and shag practice balls, among other things. They are believed to be history's first sublet caddies. "I think we just found the caddie major," said Phil Mickelson's regular man, Jim Mackay.
Eventually the players had to leave the Royal Baths and the $300-per-night suites and play the golf course, where, according to Player, the greens were "better than Augusta National's"—has Player been wearing his hat enough?—and the jungle rough was scary. You didn't want to hit it out there. "There's black mambas waiting for you," said Tom Lehman.
Pavin and Price hit it there the least and found themselves tied for the lead after three rounds at six under. Faldo hit a lot of balls where the elephants go to die and threw up a little 45 on the front nine Friday, his worst nine holes as a pro.
Sunday, though, was all Pavin's. He went out in a wicked 31. Price had made the turn two under, at 34, and suddenly trailed by three. "Every time I made the smallest mistake," he grumbled, "I was screwed." It has been that kind of year for Price, who until last month hadn't won anything anywhere. But he had a little Safari Slam going in Africa, coming off back-to-back wins at the King Hassan Golf Trophy II in Morocco and the Zimbabwe Open, where he beat Mark McNulty and three kudu.