Golf course architect Ron Kirby in an interview about his jobs on the golf course, his style as a designer, the influence of well-known architects, sustainability and the redesign of Apes Hill in Barbados.
Ron Kirby: “Get any job you can on a golf course”
What made you decide to get into golf design?
Ron Kirby: My career began with a talent I had for sketching when I was a teenager, just north of Boston. If you had the means, you could get to the Museum of Fine Arts for free art lessons on Saturday mornings. My brother and I would ride the subway to get my art lesson, so I knew how to sketch and handle a brush. Later I won a caddie scholarship, and I went to greenkeeper school.
When it snowed in the winters, I went to Florida – where my dad had a club pro job – and I realised that the movie stars in golf were the course designers. There was a centrefold in Sports Illustrated with two architects who were the flavour of the month: Robert Trent Jones and Dick Wilson. They were superstars.
Define Ron Kirby’s style…
Ron Kirby: I’m just looking for fun, different holes to build. I look for a chance to make the short holes more exciting and I always want to make something that’s fair for the player. Because I was a greenkeeper, I want to build things that can be maintained, kept neat and manicured.
Tell us about the people you’ve worked with over the years. Who were the most influential and why?
Ron Kirby: Trent Jones was a visionary. He could take any piece of ground and he would get the best layout – he knew how to put the holes in the right position for the wind, the sun direction, and his routings were very good. Another thing I learned from working with Trent Jones is that he didn’t do it all. He did the layouts, but he had a team of people working for him. You need good staff. And I had a lot of good staff.
I’ve also worked with Jack Nicklaus, who would always get the best sites and the best budgets. Nicklaus was a finishing school in golf design because of his strategy. He knew what a golf ball could and couldn’t do.
What advice would you give other designers from what you’ve learned?
Ron Kirby: Respect the ground. Try and make your golf course fit. It’s a lot of fun being a golf course designer, but you’ve got to be patient to get the right assignments. I’m proud that I got a chance to put my two cents in. The best thing to do is get any job you can on a golf course – even pulling the carts out. I grew up on a golf course, and I’ve never worked anywhere else.
Apes Hill Barbados: Stunning views and fun holes
You have just completed work at Apes Hill in Barbados – what hole there most reflects your style?
Ron Kirby: The second, for sure. It was a par three; now we’ve got a two-way hole. We extended the green and moved the tees back. It was almost an unplayable par three: into the wind, uphill… nobody would love this hole, so you’d play two holes and already you didn’t like the course. We turned it into a really fun, friendly par four. You have a chance to get out of there smiling. I didn’t have to go too far to find a hole I would love.
How did you bring to Apes Hill what you learnt from designing Old Head?
Ron Kirby: Old Head is basically an island connected with a little isthmus at the gate. But you have almost 360° of cliffs, so you try to get as close to the cliffs as you could to use those features. When I saw Apes Hill, you’ve got some super vistas. You can look at two oceans in some places! So, I said, “all we’ve got to do here is make sure that players can take in the vistas”.
What is your message to everyone who is about to experience Apes Hill?
Ron Kirby: Well, if I could meet every one of them, I hope they would buy me a beer and say I did a good job. I want people to enjoy their game and want to come back again.
Over the years, what’s changed with sustainability and what have we done here at Apes Hill?
Ron Kirby: Sustainability means don’t build anything that you can’t maintain. Number one was the bunkers – we couldn’t maintain those, so we’ve eliminated two thirds of the bunkers. That’s cut back on the maintenance of the bunkers, the sand and erosion, and of course the irrigation. Zoysia grass is tolerant to drought, so we don’t have to keep pumping water on to keep it green and alive, it will maintain itself. We’ve taken away around 1,000 sprinklers, reducing irrigation by a third. Supply here is from a huge lake, which collects the mountain rainfall instead of letting it run off into the sea, millions of gallons. There will also be a par 3 for kids and families.
Tell us a bit about that…
Ron Kirby: We’ve taken inspiration from some of the world’s most famous par-three holes. It’s great for the kids and the families to go out and have fun, but a lot of golfers will say, ‘I’ve never played the Postage Stamp, I’ve never been to Royal Troon”, so they can come here and try it. We also built a 19th hole similar to the famous 17 th hole at TPC Sawgrass, where it’s so dynamic because it’s an island green. You’re either on the green or in the water.
Was it a priority to make the holes diverse enough that people of different skill levels could play?
Ron Kirby: Yes. We only needed four tees per hole, but we put them in spaces where they could cover all types, of players, from guys who can hit it pure to the average guys and then the poor players like me. We have friendly tees for the ladies, challenge tees for the better ladies’ players. It’s fun for everyone. Pick your poison and see where you want to tee it up from.
How do you feel about the finished product?
Ron Kirby: What we’ve done here is the result of a lot of hard work and it wasn’t an easy job. The weather was hitting us hard with storms, Covid delayed us… but I’m proud to be part of it. I can sit back and say this is one of mine. I can say that about maybe 150 golf courses, but this is a special one.
With 36 golf courses, the Algarve is one of the destinations with the highest golf course density in Europe. Three of them are located in the Quinta do Lago Resort, which beginnings date back to the early seventies. In five decades, a multitude of luxurious villas and flats, hotels, restaurants, an internationally recognised golf academy and a campus with a multi-sport facility have been built at this exclusive resort. Combining luxury with sustainability is not a contradiction here, but lived practice.
The resort extends over an area of 465 hectares, with a large lake, the Lago, in its middle. To the south, the resort borders on a nature reserve, the Ria Formosa Natural Park, from which you can reach the Atlantic Ocean with its golden-yellow, kilometre-long sandy beach via a wooden walkway.
Palm Springs sends its regards
It takes just twenty minutes by car from Faro airport to the Magnolia Boutique Hotel located at the the northern edge of the holiday oasis. The architecture and design of the main building, surrounded by palm trees, is reminiscent of Palm Springs in California. The pink lettering and the huge figure at the entrance already catch the eye during the day. They look even more striking when their neon lighting is visible from afar in the dark.
The other areas of the four-star hotel are also dominated by pastel colours and shapes of the well-known Mid-Century Modern Style.
Similar to a motel, you can park your car on one side of the buildings directly in front of the room’s entrances. A small terrace leads to the functional, modernly furnished rooms, which have the usual amenities. They are clean, the beds just as great as the extremely fluffy towels.The complex includes a couple of cottages, in matching colours, in complete tranquillity at the back of the premises. These are also very popular, as we can see during our visit. The U-17 team of the Portuguese national football team is staying here during the qualifying tournament for the European Championship 2023 and finds optimal training conditions in the resort’s sports campus.
The hotel’s heated outdoor pool, its spa & wellness centre and its tennis court provide plenty of variety.
We are also pleased by the hotel’s gastronomic offer. The breakfast buffet, the freshly squeezed orange juice and different á la carte options are the perfect start to our golf rounds. The quality of the evening menus follows on seamlessly from this. The Chicken Piri-Piri, famous for the region, is of course not to be missed.
There are a total of 12 restaurants in the resort. We especially like the Bovino, which is not only known for its great steaks, but also for its creative cocktails. The Asian-style OMAMI, which is our favourite both culinary and visually, presents itself in an unique way.
The Magnolia Hotel is within walking distance of the ‘Q’ roundabout and of two shopping centres. What takes some getting used to is the Christmas decorations at 24 degrees and bright sunshine.
All good things come in threes
The South, North and Naranjal golf courses belonging to the resort are among the best the Algarve has to offer. They occupy top positions in the relevant rankings.
They date back to the initiative of entrepreneur André Jordan, who founded QDL with the aim of developing a resort in the American country style. Just three years later, in 1974, the 18 holes of the South Course and 9 holes of the neighbouring North Course were opened. Their original designs are credited to the American William Mitchel, who designed more than 150 golf courses and brought tees, bunkers and greens to the Algarve according to American standards. The Naranjal Course was opened in 2009, designed by Portuguese architect Jorge Santana da Silva.
The courses have four and five different tees respectively, all with the same elegant obelisks with information about the holes.
The South Course quickly rose to fame, as the Portuguese Open was held on it for the first time in 1976. Seven more tournaments were held on it as part of the European PGA Tour until 2001, when it continued as the Algarve Open.
In 2020, the course was closed for more than a year and underwent an extensive redesign. With an investment of more than seven million euros, it was brought up to the latest standards, including a new irrigation and drainage system. Sustainability is the focus of all innovations. The fairways were sown with Bermuda hybrid grass, the bunkers were renovated and several holes were redesigned.
After the renovation, the 18-hole par 72 course with a length of 6,416 m from the black tees is now also suitable for long hitters. It is undoubtedly the gem of the golf triumphant and not only a feast for the eyes with its partly huge pine trees.
The fairways are mostly surrounded by tall trees, which are repeatedly interrupted by imposing villas. These, however, sit discreetly in the background. Level holes are a rarity. Most tee shots are either downhill or uphill.
Its state of maintenance is exceptional. The feel-good factor begins on the perfectly mown tee boxes and continues on the immaculate fairways, which run over sandy soil. The transitions to the asphalted paths are just as uncritical as the partly huge areas covered with wood chips between the courses or under the trees. The high quality of the bunkers and of the fast greens fits seamlessly into this assessment.
The course requires precise tee shots, because the less accurately hit ones quickly disappear in the not very high, but extremely dense rough. Or the balls come to rest on the well-kept areas with wood chips, from which further play is not easy. The highlights of the course are its last holes, when water comes into play. On the 15th, the tee shot from the elevated yellow tee is 166 m carry over the lake into an immaculate green. A large wooden bridge leads to it.
The green of the 16th ends in front of the lake with views to the Ria Formosa Natural Park and the tee shot of the 17th is also to be played over the lake.
Currently named Europe’s number one
In November 2022, the course was named not only the best Portuguese course, but also the best course in Europe at the World Golf Awards.
One clubhouse for both courses
The modern, spacious clubhouse is located in the middle of the resort. We can reach it from the hotel in a good five minutes. From its large terrace we have a great view over the entire first fairway of the South Course.
The well-equipped pro shop is where we register and get our score cards for the North and South Course. The new metallic painted and leatherette equipped buggies are of course equipped with GPS. We meet friendly and helpful staff in all areas.
Close to each other
The North Course, whose former name was Ria Formosa, has also been extensively rebuilt and redesigned. This was last done in 2014 by golf course architect Beau Welling in collaboration with former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who also founded the resident Golf Academy. The investment volume was approximately nine million euros.
All tees, bunkers, greens and cart paths were renovated. In addition, the course received a new irrigation and drainage system that allows the water to be reused.
Its first tee is located just a stone’s throw from the clubhouse, opposite the 10th of the South course. The slightly hilly course runs through different areas of the resort. At 6,140 m from the back tees, it is the shortest of the three resort courses. Due to the sometimes quite long distances between the holes, a buggy is recommended. One leaves the course several times when crossing the streets of the resort. However, this does not dampen the enjoyment of playing it.The fairways offer ample approach opportunities and are often lined by umbrella pines whose crowns resemble broccoli heads. The greens are ondulated but play well.
Water only comes into play on two holes. Particularly memorable is the 12th, a 372 m long par 4, which winds as a dogleg to the green around a lake into a strongly ondulated green.
A special experience
Finally, we play the Naranjal Course, which is located two km east of the resort in a former orange grove in the Ludo Valley. In 2011, it won the ‘Best Course’ award at the Portuguese Travel Awards.As soon as we enter the tee box of the first hole, we understand why. We start shortly after sunrise, when the course, still virgin with dew, spreads out before us through the open, spacious grounds. The atmosphere is unique.
Unlike the other two courses, its fairways are not surrounded by buildings, but are harmoniously placed next to each other in the slightly hilly terrain. Only the outer boundaries have partly dense tree cover.
Its spectacular fairways are just as impressive as the five lakes, the harmoniously placed umbrella pines, cork oaks and orange trees. The greens are also impeccable.
Among its special features are the huge bunker landscapes that already come into play on the second hole, a par 3. Its tee shot is to be played deep into the green, which is protected on one side by abundant sand that leads directly into the lake.
With a length of 6,480 metres, the demanding course with its five par 5s, eight par 4s and five par 3s demands the utmost concentration and accuracy. Its layout inspires us just as much as its state of maintenance.
Offers that are hard to beat
The short drive from Faro to the hotel, the quick accessibility of all golf courses, their designs and well-kept conditions convinced us as well as the excellent hotel and gastronomic offers and the exceptionally high standard of care throughout the resort.
The Magnolia Hotel offers various extremely attractive packages. Or you can opt for the golf offer valid until the end of January 2023 to play the North or Naranjal Course for € 114,- including half a buggy.Golfer’s heart, what more could you want.
The former British crown colony is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and has been a member of the European Union since 2004. With up to 340 days of sunshine, Cyprus is a year-round holiday destination. We are heading to the south of the island, where Greek and English are spoken. There we would like to get to know four golf courses. Pleasant temperatures around twenty degrees in December increase our anticipation.
Oasis of well-being directly on the beach
As a starting point, we decide on the five-star Columbia Beach Resort, which is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It is located in complete tranquillity in the dreamy village of Pissouri with direct access to the two-kilometre-long pebble beach. The water is glassy and invites you to swim even in December. It takes us just under three quarters of an hour to reach it by car from the airport in Larnaka via the not very busy, well-developed motorway. We quickly get used to the left-hand traffic.
The main building and the 169 suites are terraced in the shape of a Cypriot village around the pool area with two pools and a large garden. Everything is very well maintained.
The round arches of the high ceilings, the high-quality and tasteful interior made of local materials, and the natural stone floors of our Executive See View Suite create an extremely authentic and pleasant atmosphere.
The warm rays of the sun and the sound of the gentle waves already gave us the first feeling of well-being on our balcony in the early morning. This continues seamlessly at breakfast on the terrace of the Bacchus restaurant, where we can almost dangle our feet in the pool. The buffet and á la carte offerings are varied and of high quality.
After our daily rounds of golf, we return at dusk, as the sun sets at 4.45pm at this time of year. On our return trips, we look forward to the extensive leisure facilities, which include floodlit tennis and squash courts, a gym and an indoor pool. The huge Hebe Spa offers a variety of treatments and has won several awards.
We take our dinners from the resort’s talented chefs on the terrace of the Apollo Tavern restaurant. These impress us, as do the tasty Cypriot wines and the creative cocktails in the stylish Ouzeri Bar.
Particularly noteworthy is the great friendliness and constant attentiveness of all the service staff, with whom we have excellent conversations in English.
Minthis Golf with wow factor on the back nine
The first course we play is Minthis Golf. It is located about 40 minutes from our hotel and a good ten minutes from the Town of Paphos in the luxurious new resort. At an altitude of just under 600 metres above sea level, it is the highest course with impressive views of the Troodos Mountains towering in the background. Temperatures here are usually a few degrees lower than on the other courses that are close to the sea. The altitude has the advantage that pleasant play is possible here even in the warm summer months.
The par 72 course runs past walnut, almond, olive and carob trees through the hilly terrain of the resort. Excellent wine is also grown here, the quality of which we can convince ourselves of in the modern clubhouse after the round, as well as the delicious dishes.
Opened as the first course in Cyprus under the name Tsada Golf in 1994, it was originally designed by architect Donald Steel. Between 2017 and 2020, it underwent a major overhaul by the firm Mackenzie & Ebert and reopened in 2021. It received a new layout, harmoniously integrated into the landscape, and new greens according to USGA standards. Sustainability is a top priority throughout the resort. It owes its current name to the historic 12th-century monastery, which is located behind the green of the fourth hole. A short detour into its inner courtyard is worthwhile.
The view at the start over the wide, open course has an extremely calming effect on us and contributes to a pleasant start to the soft front nine. But from the ten, the course really turns on. Here we encounter some unusual holes with tee-offs from elevated tee boxes that are sporty and visually impressive.
The wow factor on entering the tenth hole can’t be topped. With its spectacular tee shot over the ravine (see photo above left), it alone is worth the round. The service behind its green also makes an impression, as a buggy takes golfers who don’t use one of their own back to the other side of the course with their trolleys to the next tee.
From here, it’s a steep downhill slope to the green on the left, with another great view over the course.
We also like the 14, a risk and reward par 4 designed as a dogleg, where our successful drives roll from the terraced tees far into the vicinity of the beautifully laid out green. The following par 3 with the great island green follows seamlessly.
We enjoy the round in absolute tranquillity in the midst of the natural surroundings and the course, which is sporty to play. The fair rough and the fast but true greens also contribute to this.
Service is written in capital letters throughout the club. We are greeted in a particularly friendly and humorous manner by the caddy master and the starter. We can literally tell that they enjoy their job.
In November 2022, Minthis Golf Club was voted the best golf course in Cyprus at the World Golf Awards. It is the first GEO-certified club on the island and the only one to have received this award twice.
The goddess of love and beauty
The name Island of the Gods comes from the legend that Aphrodite is said to have risen from the foam of the sea at her birth in Petra tou Romiou. The rock named after her is one of the most visited tourist spots on the island. We visit it early in the morning and have it to ourselves. We do not swim around it three times and hope that eternal love is assured even without this sporting feat.
Less than five minutes away is the Aphrodite Hills Resort, named after the goddess. Its par 71 course is part of Cyprus’ first leisure and golf resort. It has 290 hotel rooms as well as an extensive real estate area with villas and flats.
The resort offers not only golf but a range of other sports. It wants to contribute to making Cyprus an attractive destination for these as well. These include tennis, basketball and football as well as horse riding and cycling. In November 2022, for example, the amateur road cycling race L’Etape Cyprus by Tour de France was held here for the first time with participants from 22 countries.
Part of the DP World Tour
Its championship course, the PGA National Cyprus, gained international attention in October 2020 when it became part of the European Tour (now DP World Tour) and hosted the Cyprus Open and Cyprus Showdown on two consecutive weekends.
Its layout is credited to Cabell B. Robinson, who developed it over five years. It was opened in 2002. The course stretches over two plateaus separated by a huge canyon. The sign behind the second hole makes it clear why buggies are compulsory on the course: 950 m to Tee 3.
We almost missed the small tee box of the professionals on the way there, because they play their drive 200 m carry over the huge, deep canyon. We drive around it with our buggy and look back from the third tee with admiration at the performance of the professionals.
It also gets exciting after the sixth hole, because two holes follow that will remain in your memory. First, the path runs steeply downhill in serpentines to the tees of the seventh (see photo above right). Afterwards, on the way to the eight, the view back to the seventh green and the winding path to it is impressive.
The eight is the signature hole of the course. Originally, you could look out over the entire fairway across the full width of the green to the sea. In the meantime, however, the development has advanced to the green on one side.
The back nine gives the opportunity to make the score friendly. It leads uphill and downhill through the hilly, well-maintained terrain with beautiful views all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The state of maintenance is without any criticism on the whole course.
Arizona sends its regards
On the same road, only a few kilometres further in the direction of Paphos, lies the entrance to the Secret Valley Golf Course. The par 71 course is located in a long valley surrounded on both sides by high mountains. The setting and scenery are magnificent.
The origin of the course dates back to 1996. It was redesigned in 2013 by Hans-Georg Erhardt and Snorri Vilhjalmsson of Golf and Land Design, together with four-time Ryder Cup Captain Tony Jacklin.
With its approximately 350 members, the Members Club has more than half of all club members of the four clubs played. The partly small landing zones, tee shots that have to be played blind, the dense stand of olive trees and bushes as well as the doglegs require great precision. Added to this are the fast greens.
Many holes are also visually very attractive. These undoubtedly include the eleven with the greenside bunker leading directly into the lake and the fairway of the twelve along the lake with the shot over the water into the green.
Not to forget the 18th, where the red colouring of the mountain massif by the setting sun reminds one of Arizona’s courses. The good state of maintenance also makes the course an experience.
Sir Nick Faldo’s preference for sand
The Eléa Golf Course is located in the middle of the Eléa Real Estate complex very close to Paphos. The clubhouse, impressive both from the outside and the inside, is enthroned at the highest point of the course. From its observation tower, we have fantastic views over the spacious, open course, the Mediterranean Sea and the nearby Town of Paphos.
It was opened in 2010, designed by Sir Nick Faldo, the six-time Major winner. The result is an 18-hole par 71 course with wide fairways, tricky greens and countless, huge bunker landscapes surrounded by carob and olive trees. If you love bunkers, this is the place for you.
We start the round with a tee shot deep into the valley. The two also continues downhill. After that, it becomes more level. The course spreads out in full size below the clubhouse and leads back uphill to it on the last holes. The fairways are often intersected by stony and rocky waste areas, which have to be played over.
Fairways, bunkers and greens are well maintained. Every hole, including the four short par 3s, has its charm and should not be underestimated. Strategy and precision are required throughout the course.
The last three holes are as impressive as they are challenging. The blind shot into the elevated green of the 16th, the tee shot of the 17th past a huge bunker landscape as well as the shot over a canyon into its green require full concentration once again. The same applies to the shot into the green of the 18th, which is protected by a huge bunker.
We look back very satisfied on wonderful days, spectacular, extremely varied golf courses and excellent hotel and gastronomy. Our visits to the archaeological park with its impressive mosaics and the tombs of the kings in Paphos contribute to this just as much as the excursion to the original mountain villages of the Troodos Mountains.
The US Millenium Hospitality Group has big goals. With La Hacienda Alcaidesa Links Golf Resort, it wants to become one of the leading and most luxurious golf resorts in Spain. It has entrusted this task to the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Group, which is one of the most renowned luxury hotel brands worldwide.
The first steps have already been taken. The golf course, previously known as ‘Alcaidesa’, was rebuilt at a multi-million dollar cost and shines in a complete new splendour. The new, stylish clubhouse with its cool restaurant and the extraordinary beach club are already in place. The same goes for the huge driving range with new grass tees and the large putting, pitching and chipping area. Added to this is the already existing 18-hole Heathland Golf Course, so that the resort has two completely different golf courses.
By Easter 2024, a five-star hotel complex comprising 153 exclusive rooms and 51 villas is to be built on an area of 400 hectares. Several more villas, all with private pools, will be available for purchase. Various restaurants and bars will be part of the complex as well as swimming pools, a spa and fitness centre and event facilities. A halfway house is under construction on the newly designed links course.
Millenium’s plan to become the flagship in Southern Europe with the resort seems to be working, because they have already been accepted as a member of the European Tour Destinations and are happy about this seal of quality.
All in white
As soon as you enter the white clubhouse of La Hacienda Alcaidesa Links Golf Resort, shining in the sun, you sense something special. The arc of tension is slowly built up, starting on the steps to the entrance. It continues as you cross the huge entrance hall and ends in front of an infinity pool with a view of the Mediterranean.
The modern pro shop offers everything you need on a round. The rental clubs are of the best quality. The first tees of the two courses are in opposite directions. We first play the Heathland Course, which leads into the hinterland.
The Heathland Course
The 18-hole Heathland Course was designed by former Ryder Cup player Dave Thomas. The par-72 layout has a length of 6,373 m from the back tees and features different landscapes. While holes 1 to 5 and 17 and 18 are located on a plateau and resemble a heath landscape, the other courses wind their way down into the valley with magnificent views of the Mediterranean Sea, where several water hazards await.
This is also the case at the 13th, a par-5, where the tee shot has to be hit well in order not to land in the water hazard crossing the course head-on.
Due to the sometimes considerable distances between the individual holes and the considerable differences in altitude, a buggy is highly recommended. Some of these are brand new and of course equipped with GPS.
Unique Links Golf Course
The next day we played the only links course in southern Spain. The origin of the course dates back to 1992 and was designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark. Its current redesign is due to the US-American Kurtis Bowman, who redesigned all greens and added several bunkers. The course was only opened this summer but is already in great condition.
The par-72 course has a sensational layout and is suitable for all handicappers. The course is teed off from four tees. Players with a handicap of less than nine are recommended to use the white tees. The course then has a length of 5,841 m. At the moment, there is no table of playing conditions. I play off the yellows and am looking forward to the 5.5 km journey ahead of me. I know of no other course in Spain that offers such sensational views. The Rock of Gibraltar, which is clearly visible on a clear day, keeps attracting attention on various courses and distracts from the game. We are lucky with the weather and after a short initial rainfall, we enjoy the sunshine on the rest of the round.
The varied courses, the constant ups and downs and the great views over the course make the round of golf an unforgettable experience. Everything is extremely well-maintained and also perfectly matched visually.
The water hazards are impressively designed and interrupt the different shades of green of tees, fairways and greens with their brilliant blue. The course is not only great to play, but also meets the highest aesthetic standards. Some holes run directly along the sea.
Development is already encroaching on some of the holes. This will increase further with the Fairmont Hotel La Hacienda, which is being built in terraces level with the back end of the beach with the best views across the course to the sea.
The palate will also be pampered
What could be better than finishing off a successful round of golf with a great meal and special drinks? The fact that this is possible at the resort is thanks to the Azotea Group. Behind it are the journalist Cristina Lasvignes and her husband José Manuel García. Among other things, they have founded various restaurants and bars in Spain under the Sal Verde brand that meet the highest standards.
These include the Clubhouse Restaurant as well as the Arena Bar in the Beach Club, which is located directly below the golf course. Both combine a great ambience, the highest quality and outstanding creativity.
Exceptional dishes and creative cocktails are created by the Michelin-starred Executive Chef Manuel Berganza and the renowned mixologist Luca Anastasio. The latter plays a special role in Sal Verde’s concept, because high-quality cocktails play an essential role in Sal Verde’s gastronomy concept.
Those who have a choice are spoilt for choice. Either you choose the Spicy Moscow Mule, the Senorita Margarita, the Amalfi Ten Tonic, the Galan or Paloma, or you try them all. With one exception, they were all new to me and impressed me as much as the menus of the latest Spanish star chef. The tuna tartare, popular in Andalusia, served here with truffles and spring onion dressing, melted in my mouth just as much as the mussels au gratin with spicy tomato sauce, to name just two of the various delicacies tasted.
As the Fairmont accommodation is still under construction, we are staying at the Aldiana Club near the golf courses while we get to know the new resort.
Adiós Aldiana Andalusia
The sun still rises every morning over the Aldiana Club Costa del Sol in Alcaidesa. But this will come to an end on 21 November 2022, because the resort will soon change hands. After the planned renovation, it will be called Sun Club Costa del Sol from next year and will continue as a four-star hotel under a new flag.
The current all-inclusive concept will then be replaced by an offer that includes a choice of breakfast, half board or full board. It remains to be seen whether the great barbecue in the beach restaurant, which is still part of the club, will be offered.
I enjoyed the freshly prepared Andalusian specialities and especially the extremely spicy chorizo sausages. These remain in my positive memory as well as the varied and high-quality offer in the entire club. The well-maintained facilities and the friendliness and attentiveness of all the staff contributed in equal measure to my feeling of well-being during my stay. Not to forget the bright and clean room with the extremely comfortable bed.
I am convinced that the Millenium/Fairmont concept will work out and that their guests will be delighted with the high-quality offer. I already am and look forward to another round on one of the most impressive golf courses in southern Europe. Hasta luego.
The beginnings of today’s Royal Zoute Golf Club date back to 1899, when golf was first played in Knocke-sur-Mer (French name). The Flemish name of the place is Knokke-Heist. At first, it was part of the golf and sports club in nearby Bruges but then in 1909, the clubs parted ways and the Knocke Golf Club was founded. From the beginning, the club was strongly influenced by the English. Both its first captains and its course architect came from the British Isles whilst in 1907, it was redesigned by the famous Brit Harry Colt, who at the beginning of the 20th century designed not only some world-famous golf courses in England, but also in continental Europe. In Germany, too, he has left his mark on several clubs: the Hamburger Golf Club Falkenstein is just as much a part of this as the Frankfurter Golf Club and the Golf- & Landclub Berlin-Wannsee. After the First World War, when the Germans used the course as a military site, it became necessary to build a new course which was given its present name Zoute Golf Club. Subsequently, in 1925, it was made a ‘Royal’ by the Belgian King. After the Second World War when the course was occupied by the Germans, the course had to be renovated. The English Lieutenant Colonel Allen designed the layout for two 18-hole links courses, which resulted in today’s par 64 Executive Course and the par 72 Championship Course. The club hosted a total of six Belgian Opens between 1912 and 2000 when winners included Miguel Angel Jimenez, Darren Clarke, Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood, who won twice (1998 and 2000).
It couldn’t be more central
The various imposing club buildings are placed around a circular courtyard which boasts a huge steel figure sculpture created by one of the most renowned sculptors and conceptual artists of our time, Frenchman Bernar Venet, who is highly acclaimed internationally.
The complex includes a hotel with ten modern, well-equipped rooms and certainly, the spacious junior suite where we are housed is extremely comfortable. From the balcony, we enjoy the wide view over the restaurant terrace, to the starter’s cottage behind it, the first tees of the two courses and the driving range in the background.
The hotel interior is extremely elegant with dark wood that harmoniously complements the modern tiles on the walls and floor that also feature at the reception. The electronic scoreboard provides information on tee times and players on both courses whilst the bar is reminiscent of a traditional English club.
Before we turn our attention to the golf courses, we would like to get to know the city. Of course, this includes a walk along the long sandy beach and a stop at one of the numerous beach clubs. In the shopping streets of Zoute, the northernmost district of the seaside resort, we come across numerous boutiques of the finest designer labels and art on virtually every corner. More than 60 galleries alone offer art lovers a rich selection. In addition, there are huge sculptures scattered all over the city.
In case the shopping bags get too heavy, a large electric golf cart is available to chauffeur shoppers through the city’s shopping streets silently and free of charge.
We round off the first day with a delicious dinner on the clubhouse terrace. The menu is varied and the dishes extremely tasty. The recommended prawn croquettes impress us just as much as the baked sole.
Links and parkland course elements combined
The club is embedded in an untouched, slightly overgrown landscape with pines, hawthorn hedges, birches and poplars. The two pure links courses have been turned into a combination of links and parkland courses due to plantings after the Second World War. Heathland course elements can also be found here, though the courses run largely through flat terrain and light dune landscape. We start with a round on the 18-hole par 64 ‘Intérieur’ – or Executive – Course. It is a perfect opportunity to practice one’s short game under real conditions.
With its eight par 3 and ten par 4 holes, it has a length of 3,564 meters from yellow tees and 3,261 meters from red tees. The longest hole is 286 meter long whilst the greens are well guarded and have it all. We particularly like hole four, where a group of trees has to be taken on in order to hit the green. Unlike its big brother, this course is also open to non-members at weekends.
The Championship Course
The next day, the par 72 “Extérieur” – or Championship – Course, awaits us. From the Championship tees, it has a length of 6,241m so we play from yellow and red tees that give us 5,880 metres and 4,795 metres respectively in front of us. With four exceptions, the holes run along the outer left edge of the terrain. They are lined by old trees, which are repeatedly interrupted by the neighbouring residential houses.
The first tee offers plenty of space on both sides whilst the next holes are also mentally moderate. The course becomes more attractive from the fifth hole onwards and from there, develops its charm and more and more its links elements come into play. You can see St. Margaret’s Church on several holes, such as the sixth, the most difficult hole. The par 4 with a length of 363 metres (yellow) is laid out as a dogleg and ends with an ondulated green that rises sharply towards the back.
From the ninth, the links character of the course comes into its own. It does not end at the clubhouse, but in the middle of the course.
Behind the green, the two courses intersect at the unique halfway station. The thatched cottage and its inviting decoration is just as extraordinary as the delicious, freshly prepared snacks. We liked the avocado mousse with shrimps and the pasta salad with cashews. Anyone who passes by here without stopping in is missing out.
Relaxed and refreshed, we set off from one of the various elevated tee boxes for the second nine holes. From the green of the tenth, you can see the typical adjacent development, with the tee box of the 11th, an attractive par 3, directly behind it. Its green is well guarded by no less than five bunkers.
The course also has pot bunkers, such as on 16, a slightly downhill par 3 with a length of 145 metres from the yellow tee. Two huge ones await on the left and on the opposite side, it is protected by an even steeper monster.
The 18th tee is then another challenge. It has to be played from an elevated tee through a narrow alley into the fairway. The course then opens up and ends with a large green in front of the starter’s cottage. The Championship Course does not have a dull hole and water hazards do not come into play. We like its varied layout and the absolute tranquillity.
We enjoyed the trip to the Belgian coast with golf, shopping and art. Two rounds in the best weather on the different courses of the Royal Zoute Golf Club were worth the trip alone. We will gladly repeat them when the course has recovered from the drought of the past months and presents itself in a greener state. Then its real character will certainly come to the fore even more; the quality of the greens and bunkers already convinced us during our first visit. We are already looking forward to this, as well as to the overnight stay in the beautiful clubhouse, to the great gastronomic offering and to the warm friendliness which we received in all areas in one of the leading Belgian golf clubs. Le Zoute – we will be happy to come back.
The sun shines on more than 300 days in the southern Spanish province of Andalucia. This makes it Spain’s leader among the regions with the most hours of sunshine, ahead of the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands. Because of its more than 70 golf courses, this stretch of coast is also known as the Costa del Golf.
Residence at the highest level
Sotogrande is the largest privately owned residential complex in Andalusia. It is located in the municipality of San Roque in Cadiz and covers an area of 20 square kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea 25 km east of Gibraltar.
This year it celebrates its 60th anniversary. As one of the most prestigious residential destinations in Europe, it offers a unique lifestyle as well as a luxurious living experience. Over time, Sotogrande has retained its rich Andalusian culture, creating a charm and understated elegance that contrasts with the fast pace of modern life. At the heart is La Reserva Club, who’s gated residential communities offer large green spaces, contemporary design and living, privacy and access to the club’s and Sotogrande’s wide variety of amenities which include a private beach club, world class golf, a fabulous array of culinary options and a world-class international school.
Trendy lifestyle oasis
Among the region’s newest top hotels is the SO/ Sotogrande Resort which opened in 2021. Sotogrande’s latest five-star hotel is located at the westernmost point of the Costa del Sol. It is owned by a joint venture of Accor SO/Hotels & Resorts Group and Ennismore Fund Management Limited.
Luxury in a refreshing design
Natural colours and extravagant, bold shapes characterise the style of Spanish designer Dolores Cortes. It runs through the entire hotel, whose lightness and playfulness catch the eye as soon as you enter the lobby. These continue throughout the hotel complex and apply to every area of the former Cortijo, a Spanish farmhouse. The official name ‚The Revolutionised Cortijo‘ could not describe the hotel more accurately.
Conviviality, joie de vivre, wellness and enjoyment are written in capital letters and are met with a high-quality offer.
The management attaches particular importance to a sustainable and contemporary Andalusian lifestyle. While the exterior is kept plain white, the shady arcades, well-tended gardens and the harmoniously coordinated colour palette in the interior areas and rooms contribute to a good mood from the very first moment. Everything is spacious and generously laid out.
The hotel is nestled on a slope in the southern Spanish landscape of cork oak forests and pine groves and is hidden from view in complete tranquillity. It offers views of the sea in the distance, the gardens and the adjacent golf course.152 cosy rooms and stylish studios as well as 36 spacious suites are terraced around the pool and restaurant areas. Like my 33-square-metre, modernly furnished SO Comfy King double room, all rooms have their own balcony or terrace. The bed is a dream.
The 2,800 sqm SO/SPA & FITNESS consists of the SO/SPA and the SO/FIT. Here guests can relax in the sauna, exercise on state-of-the-art equipment and be pampered in the health and wellness centre. Two outdoor pools invite you to cool off.
Families with children are also very welcome at the resort. In the SO/KIDS CLUB, which is open daily, the youngest children feel just as much at home as they do in their own pool.
Pop-up dining concept
The palate is pampered in four bars and restaurants. I was particularly impressed by the SO-HI Lounge and the Cortijo with its tapas bar and restaurant. They serve tasty snacks, light lunch menus and traditional, typical Andalusian dishes.
The service throughout the hotel is extremely professional, attentive and friendly.
An evening at the nearby restaurant of the Trocadero Sotogrande, a beach club located directly on the beach with a fantastic view of the Rock of Gibraltar, is a must. Alternatively, you can spend the end of the day in the Cancha II restaurant of the nearby Ayala Polo Club, which is one of the world’s leading polo clubs.
From the hotel directly to the golf course
Directly on the hotel grounds is the Almenara Golf Course with 3x 9 holes. The course was designed by British golf course architect Dave Thomas and recently redesigned by legendary Spanish player Manuel Piñero. It is one of the most extensive on the Costa del Sol and borders Los Alcornocales Natural Park.
I play the Lagos loop, whose ponds dominate the course playfully and visually. Two 9-hole loops are always open. A driving range would be nice, but it is not available yet – though I’m told there are plans. In addition to the water hazards, the course is characterised by its beautifully laid out fairways and the extremely hilly and completely quiet terrain, surrounded by old trees. It is fair, a pleasure to play and allows for a good score.Despite the dryness, the course is in good shape. It is a great introduction and an affordable alternative to the more expensive championship courses in the area. The green fee for hotel guests for nine holes is € 85,- incl. buggy.
Elite courses in the immediate vicinity
The resort offers attractive stay-and-play packages that include playing Spain’s top golf courses nearby.
La Reserva Club is one of them. It is the youngest but longest of the championship courses in Sotogrande. We play from yellow and have 6,048 metres to cover. It is currently number six in the Spanish ranking.
The very hilly course was established in 2003. It leads uphill and downhill through two idyllic valleys surrounded by old, dense trees. Since 2014, it has hosted tournaments of the European Tour and more recently the ladies’ ARAMCO Team series.
The layout is imposing. The fairways are wide, the greens are large, extremely fast and well protected by large bunkers. Their white sand shines in the sun. Water comes into play on a total of six holes.
The course is an experience, its elevated tees and views are magnificent, its condition without any criticism. It is sportingly demanding, but fair. Good shots are rewarded, bad ones punished.
The imposing clubhouse in the style of a hacienda is enthroned at the highest point of the course behind the 18th green. The single green fee incl. buggy costs from € 180,- depending on the season and course utilisation.
After the round, we relax at the avant-garde La Reserva Club with its adjoining The Beach, located directly below the clubhouse. An man-made lagoon with a sandy beach for families, a separate garden with a pool for adults only and a lake where only water sports are practised are part of the exceptional offer.
The golfing highlight in Sotogrande is the 18 holes of the Real Club Valderrama, founded in 1974. It is the undisputed number one in Spain. The club was awarded the designation ‘Real’ by the Spanish King Juan Carlos in 2014. It has become known through numerous international tournaments, such as the Ryder Cup in 1997, which was held on continental European soil for the first time.
Characteristic of the extremely challenging, hilly course are the fairways, which are lined with centuries-old, gnarled cork oaks. If you don’t hit them or don’t hit them in the right place, the crowns of the trees often get in the way on the next shot and require a recovery shot.
The greens are mostly small, furiously fast and often slope up towards the back. The thick rough reaches right up to them. This is already a huge challenge for professionals, but almost impossible to master for amateurs. The blades of grass wrap around the balls, which would disappear never to be seen without the trained eyes of the forecaddy.
Precision is required on the course before length. On the par 71 course, I have to cover a length of 5,520 m from the yellow executive tees.Each hole is different and remains in the memory. The highlight for me is the fourth, a par 5 with a steeply rising green that is protected on the side by a water hazard. Many dreams of a good score have been dashed here. The layout is exceptional and the maintenance of the course is impeccable.
The impressive Members Club and the great impressions of the championship course are hard to beat. Non-members can also enjoy the opportunity to play. The green fee for the once in a lifetime experience is € 450,- in high season. In addition, there is the fee for the caddy plus tip.
Old and New Course
The noble San Roque Club is the finale of our golf trip. It is one of the most exclusive clubs in Europe and is located a good quarter of an hour from the hotel. Of its two 18-hole championship courses, the Old Course is the better known. It was designed by Dave Thomas in 1991.
It hosted 15 European Tour Qualifying School Finals from 1993-2007 and the Spanish Open in 2005. In recent years, it has been extensively renovated and equipped with a new irrigation system, new grass and bunkers. New practice facilities have been added as a new driving range as well.We play the redesigned Old Course, which is slightly hilly and partly surrounded by imposing villas. The conditions are excellent. Strategic play is required here. It is better to leave the driver in the bag, especially on the various doglegs. A three wood is usually sufficient. The greens are a dream, easy to read and not too fast.
Customer orientation is written in capital letters throughout the club. The friendliness of the staff is striking. The green fee starts at € 180,- in the high season.
If you want to enjoy and golf at the highest level, the region of Sotogrande and SO/ Sotogrande are the place to be. It comes as no surprise that the resort has been nominated for the World Luxury Hotel Awards in 2022 in the categories Luxury Lifestyle Hotel & Luxury New Resort. I am already curious about the result of the vote.With the hotel shuttle, the drive back to the airport in Malaga via the motorway takes less than an hour and Gibraltar airport is just 20 minutes away. Enough time to review the wonderful impressions.
Of the more than 1,900 English golf courses, around one hundred are located in Kent, England’s oldest county. On our eight-day round trip by car, we get to know some of its exceptional courses, which completely captivate us.
Sandwich to start
From the harbour in Dunkerque in France, the quiet ferry ride across the English Channel takes two hours to reach Dover, whose white chalk cliffs shine in the sun.
From here it is only 20 minutes to the dreamy village of Sandwich, which is the best-preserved medieval town with the most half-timbered houses in England.
Sandwich is still one of the original famous ‘Five Harbours’, although unlike the other four towns of Dover, Hastings, Hythe and Romney, it no longer has direct access to the sea.
The popular snack of the same name is said to owe its name to an ‘Earl of Sandwich’ who, due to time constraints, often refrained from taking a full lunch. Instead, he opted for a slice of beef between two slices of bread. Those who observed this then wanted the same as Sandwich.
It is only a stone’s throw to the coast. Here, the three-star Lodge at Prince’s Golf Club awaits us, where we are greeted with a very warm welcome and spend the next four days. Situated at the entrance to the golf course, it has 34 double rooms and two suites. Our spacious, bright Bay Suite offers plenty of room and a great view through the floor-to-ceiling window of Sandwich Bay, which is within in easy reach.
We enjoy breakfast in the Lodge’s Brasserie Restaurant as well as delicious fish and meat dishes for dinner and a nightcap in the cosy bar.
Himalayas, Dunes and Shore
The tradition-steeped club was officially opened in 1907 as an 18-hole course. After World War II, it was expanded to 27 holes in 1950. From The Lodge it is a short drive to the clubhouse wherethe three loops start and end.
We encounter true links golf at its finest; a layout of impeccable quality with rolling fairways, deep rough, elevated tees, huge greens with incredible roll-out zones, large waste areas and a whopping 97 bunkers.
Its most famous is named after the legendary American Gene Sarazen, who in 1932, won the only Open Championship ever held here and was the first player to win all four majors. In that tournament, he used the sand wedge, which he invented, for the first time.
The bunker protects the green of the final hole of the Himalayas loop, which was redesigned into a modern links by the golf architectural firm Mackenzie & Ebert in 2018.
The spectacular Dunes and Shore loops have also undergone redesigns in recent years. They form the Championship Course, which is one of the top one hundred 18-hole courses in Great Britain and Ireland.
In addition to numerous high-ranking amateur and professional tournaments, the Final Qualifying was played on this course for the fourth time in a row. This is where the last few places were awarded for The Open Championship, which just celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2022 at St Andrews in Scotland.
We encounter a friendly, relaxed sporting atmosphere and warm hospitality throughout the club.
Attractive stay, play and dine packages perfectly round off this great offering.
We play our next round at the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club in the coastal town of Deal. It is located only six kilometres from Prince’s on a narrow piece of former farmland. Deal, as it is also called, is one of the most recognised courses in the country. The Private Members Club, founded in 1892, also boasts a rich tradition. Here, too, we receive an extremely friendly welcome.
The Open was held here twice, in 1909 and 1920. More were planned, but due to the World Wars and flooding of the course several scheduled were cancelled.
Running directly alongside the sea, the front nine leads away from the clubhouse one after the other, the back nine just as straight and parallel back to it.
The fairways are short mown, hard as a board and not very wide. They roll through the open terrain with sandy waste areas making the round a breathtaking rollercoaster ride; constantly uphill and downhill. Sloping terrain is the rule whilst the rough is just as merciless as the countless deep pot bunkers.
The greens are extremely undulating, surrounded by huge run-off areas, furiously fast and almost impossible to read.
In addition, there are numerous blind tee shots. All this makes the round a real test of golf, especially when the wind blows from the sea. Then the last seven holes are supposed to be brutally difficult but we are spared this experience because we catch a sunny and almost windless day, which is extremely rare here.
Gary Player describes the last four holes with: “I consider the last four holes at Deal to be without doubt, the finest four consecutive holes on any course in the world.” No wonder, then, that the course is currently ranked 12th in England and among the best 100 in the world.
We enjoy the authentic links golf and are thrilled with the course all around; its layout and maintenance are world class.
The winners of professional and amateur tournaments held here adorn the numerous Honours Boards in the clubhouse dating back to the founding year. These include the annual The Halford Hewitt Cup, in which 10 players from each of 64 English public schools compete against each other.
On the clubhouse terrace we enjoy a pint and the great view over the course.
The official club video whets further appetite: https://www.royalcinqueports.com/club/film/
In my recently released article “The cream of the crop” I report on the third coastal course we played, the Royal St. George’s Golf Club, which is considered the number one course in England. In it I describe, among other things, what its unique ‘Coffin’ bunker means.
Back to the Middle Ages
The venerable Canterbury is a university city and an episcopal see. The beginning of its imposing cathedral with its 75 m high tower dates back to 597, when Pope Gregory I sent a monk to Canterbury to build a ‘cathedra’ (seat) here. Today it is the headquarters of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England. The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 made it one of Europe’s most famous pilgrimage sites. A lit candle in the cathedral commemorates the site of this assassination.
We also like the pretty medieval streets with their small shops, restaurants and pubs, as well as the raft trip across the Stour, supposedly the cleanest river in England.
Also worthwhile from here is the short drive to the coastal towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Whitstable, the oyster centre on Kent’s north coast. Very delicious, what the sea brings to the plate here and a portion of the best fish ’n’ chips is a must, of course.
We continue west to Royal Tunbridge Wells. This picturesque spa town was already held in high esteem by Queen Victoria. The Pantiles, the oldest pedestrianised street in England, has its origins in the early 17th century and some houses dating from 1606 are still standing today. It captivates us with its white colonnades and transports us to another time.
Romantic gardens full of flowers
The most famous gardens in Kent are those of Sissinghurst Castle with its ten garden rooms. Not as crowded, but just as impressive, we find the Riverside Himalayas Garden and the Emmets Garden in Sevenoaks. Their variety and colourfulness are simply amazing.
Oh my deer
Right next door is Kent’s most beautiful inland course, which is one of the top 100 golf courses in England. Knole Park Golf Club is located in the 1,000 hectare public deer park of the same name. The club was founded in 1924 and designed by the architect J.F. Abercromby.
There are considerable differences in altitude to overcome on the hilly championship course, which is open to the public so pedestrians and joggers often cross the path.
The spacious, open layout delights us as much as its state of maintenance. Each hole has its own identity and remains in the memory and the course is sportingly demanding, yet fair.
The 17th century Knole House towers in the background.
We receive a friendly welcome in the pro shop and the traditional clubhouse and are amazed by the Honours Boards with winners from about hundred years.
A castle like in a picture book
We spend the last two days of our round trip in the ‘most beautiful castle in the world’. At least, that’s how the moated Leeds Castle with its magnificent gardens advertises itself. It is located near the small town of Lenham near Maidstone in the middle of Kent. We are also captivated by it.
Built more than 900 years ago, it first became a royal residence in 1278, and several English queens lived here, including Catherine of Aragon, the first of the six wives of Henry VIII, which is why it is also called the castle of women. Since 1976, it has been owned by a private foundation and is open to the public.
The round on the 9-hole course of the Leeds Castle Golf Club with great views of the castle grounds forms the sporting conclusion of our golf trip.
The crowning finale is dinner in the Castle Restaurant with a view of the castle opposite. The end of our Kent trip to this beautiful part of England could not be more stylish.
We will definitely be back to see the other great golf courses, dormy villages, castles and fruit, hop and wine growing that also characterise the county. Then we hope the weather will be as fantastic as it has been all the time during our visit. See you soon Kent.
In many rankings it is considered England’s number one. It is currently ranked 22nd in the world, making it one of the most recognised on the golfing globe. Tradition and style meet the highest quality and class. Everything here is special.
Its beginning dates back to 1887, when it was founded by Dr William Laidlaw Purves as England’s equivalent of St Andrew’s in Scotland. It is beautifully situated, right on Sandwich Bay on the shores of the English Channel. In 1894, the first Open Championship outside Scotland took place here. In the meantime, this event, which is regarded as one of the world’s most important tournaments, has taken place 15 times at this location. Nowhere has it been held more often outside Scotland. The club last hosted the tournament in 2021, the 149th time it has been held. The list of notable professional and amateur competitions held here is endless.
The board hanging in the clubhouse lists winners from three centuries now. Darren Clarke in 2011 and Collin Morikawa in 2021 were the last two winners to take possession of the coveted Claret Jug trophy in Kent. The sensational layout of the course owes much to several notable architects. In addition to the founder mentioned above, they include Allister McKenzie and Frank Penning.
Style and Etiquette
The club is a Private Members Club, but opens its doors to non-members on certain days at certain times. Guests are welcome and will receive a warm welcome. However, some rules apply to them, as published on the club’s website. They may sound antiquated, but from my point of view they fit perfectly with the tradition, to which a lot of importance is still attached. Nothing is modern here, but everything is dignified and noble. Old school golf at its best. This includes, among other things, that golf clothing may only be worn in the clubhouse until 11.00 am. After that, gentlemen wear a jacket and tie, ladies an appropriate outfit although on the terrace and in the snack bar, golfing outfits are accepted all day. If gentlemen opt for shorts, they are to be worn with knee-high socks with members often wearing red and green striped club socks. Golf shoes and caps, as well as wet weather golf clothing, are taboo in the clubhouse. Guests are requested not to change in the car park, but in the locker rooms, which are furnished with fine wood. Mobile phones are frowned upon on the course and in the clubhouse but fine to use whilst in the car park.
Originally, it was planned to have lunch before our round in the famous dining room of the venerable clubhouse. However, this reservation was cancelled at short notice, as on the day of our visit about 300 members had gathered there to commemorate the life of a recently-deceased former President. So the sacred halls remain inaccessible to us. Instead, we spend some time on the al fresco terrace overlooking beautiful gardens.
More tension is impossible
While changing, I clearly notice how my excitement slowly increases. Then it’s off to the course as my adrenaline level continues to rise and my heart races. I try to block out who has teed off at this spot since 1887 and concentrate on my first tee-shot. St George’s is a 2ball course except on Tuesdays which is when the majority of visitors usually play as 3balls or 4balls.
Unfortunately, the initial sunshine leaves us and the cloud cover increases considerably, but it stays dry and the usual strong wind stays within limits.
Then it starts. I take a deep breath and try to block out everything else. Richard, our caddie, recommends me to play an easy draw. Nothing easier than that.
‘Well done’ Richard comments on my tee shot. Then we race off as leisurely golfing is not the order of the day here. Anyone who needs more than 3 1/2 hours for the 18 holes as a 2ball is out of place.
Perfect conditions throughout the course
The par 70 course has a length of 7,204 yards from the championship tees. Unlike most classic links courses, the front nine does not run away from the clubhouse and the back nine back to it. Instead, the holes are laid out in more of a big loop, so you don’t play one hole into the same direction. This means having to readjust to the usual wind on each hole. On eight of them you play directly along the Channel.
Even the tee boxes stand out because of their perfect condition. Other clubs would be happy to have greens like this. This impression continues seamlessly on the course. The very undulating fairways are mown extremely short. I hardly dare to hit a divot. The balls roll without end. They don’t always go where they’re supposed to, but they make length. Even if I think I’ve hit the middle of the fairway, that doesn’t mean the ball will come to rest there, but Richard, who seems to have eagle eyes, helps.
The views of the Channel are magnificent. The naturalness of the course cannot be surpassed. Nothing here has been artificially created, but everything has been left in its original look and feel. The dunes are huge and sometimes severely restrict the view of the fairways. These blind tee shots require confidence and self-assurance. The dune grass sways in the not too strong wind. After last week’s rain and the subsequent sunshine, it has literally exploded. It looks more harmless than it is. Getting out of the dense rough is almost impossible.
The sportiest possible challenge
After only a short time, we realise that the HCP limit of 18.4 is completely justified. If we stay in the game, greens await us that we have not yet experienced in this form. Where and how should the ball come to rest on the partly huge, inverted saucers?
They are ondulated, furiously fast and surrounded by huge run-off areas. Two putts are a great result, but we only manage this if we hit the greens perfectly. And that doesn’t happen too often. The white flags bear the red cross of the patron Saint George. We need his help. And then there are the bunkers – the regular and the pot bunkers. They are as pristine as you would expect on a true links course. The highlight is the one at the four. Until recently, it was still supported by 93 railway sleepers on the sides though these were recently removed for safety reasons. This blind tee shot must be played uphill over a dune.
After about 150 metres, lies the deepest and steepest bunker in the entire United Kingdom. Richard tells us that it is also called ‘coffin’: once you are in it, you never get out again! I am the best example, as the photo proves. After three unsuccessful attempts, I buried the score on this hole.
It is the second most difficult hole of the 18 exciting holes, which are all different and have their own names. This one is unsurprisingly called The Himalayas whilst other well known ones are called The Maiden, Sahara and Suez Canal. Each hole has its own great charm and remains memorable for us. The front nine should allow for the better score, as the back nine is even more challenging. The lengths are brutal for average HCPers, especially when the wind comes into play. This kicks in on the back nine and makes the last holes a special test for us.
Drinking water is available at various points on the course, even for four-legged friends. Only toilets we look for in vain. Richard thinks we should use mother nature.
After 18 holes we are exhausted: mentally and physically. But richer by an experience that is one of the most extraordinary we have ever had on a golf course. Golf at its purest. This alone counts. The result is absolutely secondary.
We politely thank Richard for his great job, pay him the usual fee of GBP 50,- and give him the well-deserved tip. This was already because of the balls he found again in the deep rough. So our loss was absolutely manageable. We will keep every moment of this unforgettable day on one of the world’s most impressive golf courses in best memory. Cologne, June 2022 Juergen Linnenbuerger
Travel insider Jürgen Linnenbürger takes a day trip to Utrecht, the capital of the smallest province of the same name, and gets to know the Utrechtse Golf Club de Pan, one of the leading golf courses in continental Europe.
Part of the Oude Negen
Every time I get to know another top course of our western neighbours, I am thrilled all over again. The number of exceptional golf courses is simply impressive. Those that belong to the group of the Oude Negen (Old Nine) are particularly appealing to me. This includes the course I am presenting today, where I encounter traditional old school golf at its finest.
Leading in the Netherlands and Europe
We have been looking forward a long time to play the Utrechtse de Pan golf course, which currently ranked second in the Netherlands. The club is equally proud of the fact that it also enjoys the highest international recognition. Not only does it rank among the top 3 in continental Europe, but it is also represented in the top 100 of the world’s best courses. Three Dutch Opens have been held here. The last time, however, was in 1984.
It is the second oldest golf club in the Netherlands. The club’s origins date back to 1894, when it was founded as the Doornsche Golfclub with a nine-hole course. In 1927 the club moved to its present site, was renamed Utrechtse Golf Club de Pan and opened as an 18-hole course in 1932.
Its original design is due to the great Harry S. Colt, who also took on the design of several other top courses in the Netherlands in the early 20th century. The Englishman designed De Pan in 1929.
In the years that followed, some changes were made. In the last decade, however, these were gradually dismantled by the renowned golf course architect Frank Pont, so that the course is now almost back to its original state. Guests are welcome to join the private Family Members Club on certain days. To get to know and appreciate the traditional setting on the historic grounds, a minimum HCP of 24 is required. The club is not easy to find. You quickly drive past the small entrance sign. From the car park, a short path leads to the beautiful thatched clubhouse that crosses the 10th hole. Those standing at its elevated tee operate a switch that triggers a flashing light to warn people passing by.
In front of the clubhouse, we are greeted by the bronze statue of the Greek shepherd god Pan, gleaming in the sun, which was donated by members in 1994 on the occasion of the club’s 100th anniversary. He is said to haunt the Forest de Pan and trigger the famous pan-ic attacks in the players. Fortunately, he spared us on our round.
We are warmly welcomed by Siemon, a member of the Course Committee. In the traditional and cosy clubhouse, he gives us background information about the club and the course. We learn that great importance is attached to environmental protection and that the club has decided, among other things, to use a maximum of 30,000 cubic metres of water per year to irrigate the course. Usually, however, only 12,000 – 14,000 are used. Only in the extremely dry year of 2018 24,000 cubic metres were needed. We are greeted just as nicely by the friendly caddie master John, who kindly lets us onto the round.
Complete tranquility in unspoilt nature
The slightly hilly, classic heathland course is located in the middle of the majestic de Pan forest. It is considered one of the most beautiful in the Netherlands. Its 18 holes are perfectly integrated into the peaceful nature. The masterful routing through the not too large terrain is exceptional and among the best created by Harry Colt. It is very pleasant that they and the tees are extremely close to each other and are only separated by short distances. Some tees are played from elevated tee boxes.
Tee times are spaced at a comfortable distance, so you’re alone on most holes and can’t see the rest.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see deer or foxes on the fairways, which are often intersected by the overgrown sand hills of the dunes, constantly coming into play as natural obstacles.
The fairways, which are not too wide, are lined with tall, old trees and roll over the sandy ground with a short mow. There are no water hazards here as well as not too many fairway bunkers. Greens come in all sizes. The perfect condition and the speed distinguish them all.
Precision before distance
The par 72 course has a length of 6,097 metres from the championship tees. There are a total of four different tee boxes, so that every HCP class has its own comparable challenge. From yellow it plays 5,716 metres, from red 4,935 metres long with an SR of 135 and 136 respectively. Anyone who enjoys strategic play is in the right place here. It is not primarily distance that counts, but tactics and precision and the choice of the right club. Every single shot is a new challenge. The varied round begins with a relatively short par 5, followed by a challenging par 4, whose attractive positioning of the bunker is already the first spoiler for many.
After that, the first of four great par 3 awaits, to be played slightly downhill over the heath field through the aisle.
From the sixth, the course really turns on. From here to the end of the round, it becomes clear why it is one of the best in the world of the golden age of golf architecture.
Here, not only the tee shot is to be played blindly, but also the following approach into the green. The sign high in a tree is supposed to give orientation for the second shot. With luck, you will hit the green. ‚Belling‘ is highly encouraged. Already at the tee box of the sixth, you are kindly asked to inform the following group with three strokes on a bell when you have passed the knoll and that the fairway is clear.
The tenth tee shot is played from the elevated tee carry over the aforementioned path and the long heather field.
I manage a perfect drive to the point where the fairway narrows considerably on both sides due to the dune. From here it’s just a wedge into the green surrounded by imposing trees.
The last three holes are then a bit more relaxed to play, as the course opens up wide from the 16th and the wide fairways allow for a good score.
A few steps lead up to the tee box on the 17th, where you have a great view over the heather field.
The finish on this fantastic golf course is a par 5. If the long hitters stay in play after the tee shot, they have the chance to reach the green with the second shot.
I don’t succeed, but I am happy about my par, which concludes an unforgettable round on a fan- tastically designed and well-maintained golf course. The trip to our neighbours has been worth it once again. We start our journey home very satisfied and with a distinct feeling of happiness. Further impressions of this exceptional course can be found in the official club video at: https://ugc-depan.nl/en.
It takes us less than two hours by rental car from Rome-Fiumicino airport to reach the five-star Argentario Golf & Wellness Resort. It is situated on a peninsula in the heart of the Maremma. This is the name of the coastal strip and its hinterland in southern Tuscany. In the past, the Maremma was a swampy area where malaria was prevalent. But this has long been a thing of the past. Just like the Etruscans, who were once at home here. Most of the Maremma lies in Grosseto, the second largest of the ten Tuscan provinces with its capital of the same name. This typically Tuscan region is not densely populated. Around 220,000 inhabitants live on an area of 4,500 square kilometres.
Stylish design in a natural setting. The modern designed, luxurious resort was opened in 2008. It is situated above a green valley, in the midst of the Mediterranean Maccia in a beautiful area. It is surrounded by cork oak forests and centuries-old olive trees. The resort has a magnificent view of the golf course, the lagoon of Orbetello, the silver coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea beyond and the hills of Monte Argentario.
The 73 rooms, the seven suites and the seven luxurious villas have been furnished with great attention to detail, combining comfort with the latest technology. All accommodation units have balconies or terraces of different sizes with beautiful views. Construction has begun on a further 20 rooms. The furnishings vary depending on the room type. From the functionally furnished standard double room to the elegant suite, there is something for every taste and budget. White walls contrast with dark brown wooden floors and furniture.
Impressive design throughout the resort. Exceptional design runs throughout the resort. Its contemporary style features a combination of retro and extravagant elements. Materials from the region are skilfully combined with modern ones. The most impressive example of this is the majestic entrance hall, designed in the shape of a dragonfly, where the intense blue of the sky falls through the oversized glass windows.
The black frames of the lift cladding contrast with the white wooden ceiling, the floor of sand- coloured Tabarca stones and the curved light wooden counters of the reception and the boutique. The entrance to the restaurants also attracts the eye. The wild boars found in this region greet the guests.
Wellness and well-being are a priority. The 2,700-square-metre ESPACE Wellness Centre has, among other things, a fitness centre with state-of-the-art technogym equipment, two saunas and a heated indoor saltwater pool with an exit to the outside. A second pool in the outdoor area offers the desired cooling in summer. At the ESPACE Wellness Centre, guests can discover various wellbeing services aimed at achieving an overall balanced physical and mental state. Tennis and padel tennis courts are available, as well as a panoramic jogging course, a small football pitch and electric mountain bikes.
Argentario Golf Club opened in 2006. The club’s course was designed by golf architect David Mezzacane and golf pro Baldovino Dassu. Adjustments were later made by Brian Jorgensen. Due to the prevailing microclimate, the course is playable year-round. Testament to the quality of the course, Argentario’s golf course was awarded PGA National Italy status by The PGA in 2019.
Challenging golf in charming surroundings. Precision is just as important as distance on the technically challenging par-71, 6,218-metre championship course. From yellow it is 5,895 metres long, from red 5,003 metres. After a soft start with a short par-4, we cross the hilltop and play the next two holes deep down into the valley. The views down to the sea and lagoon in the background are fantastic. First, we are impressed by a par-3, whose green is well guarded by seven bunkers. From the yellow tee it is 177 m downhill.
This is followed by the longest hole on the course. From the elevated tee box, you can let the driver run free into the fairway far below. The par-5, 573 metres long from the yellow tee, plays like a par-6. The frontal wind coming from the sea also contributes to this.
The next holes then run level through the flat terrain. The fairways offer enough space to hit the ball, but the greens have their work cut out for them. They are not overly large, oftenundulated and well guarded by bunkers or water hazards.
From the elevated terrace of the clubhouse, you have a great view of the ninth and the tenth hole, where water comes into play.
The back nine is more open and wider than the front nine. It passes numerous olive trees and impressive, huge trees that attract our gaze on several holes.
As is the case throughout the resort, sustainability is also a top priority on the golf course. Only organic products are used to maintain the course. For this, the club received the BioAgri Cert award. The seal of quality, which only a few clubs in Italy bear, stands for excellent water management, among other things. The rainwater coming from the mountains is collected in two cisterns in winter and thus ensures irrigation in the summer months.
The Bermuda grass of the fairways is still dormant in April. That’s why they still have quite a few brown spots when we visit. The greens, on the other hand, are already in top condition. The covered driving range is a real eye-catcher. In the academy, which is equipped with the latest technology, group and individual lessons are offered, sometimes by well-known professionals such as Emanuele Canonica.
When booking through the hotel, resort guests receive attractive green fee discounts on other courses in the region. These include the Ryder Cup course Marco Simone in Rome.
The palate is also pampered. We dine superbly in the cosy Clubhouse restaurant and on its terrace. The menu features tasty dishes of Maremma, Tuscan and Italian cuisine, using mainly products from the region. We were particularly taken with the tortelli with wild boar ragout and the fish and seafood platter. The Vermentino is an excellent accompaniment. The gourmet restaurant Dama Dama was still closed during our visit.
There is much to discover. To explore the charming region, we recommend a rental car. We didn’t see any taxis in any of the small towns. The towns of Porto Ercole and Orbetello with their sandy beaches Feniglia and Giannella are only a few kilometres away. Porto Ercole with its historic Hercules harbour, its four fortresses and its pretty old town should be included here, as well as the larger town of Porto Santo Stefano, where we let ourselves be spoilt with fresh fish and enjoy the evening atmosphere in the Trattoria Il Moletto right by the sea.
We also recommend a visit to the municipality of Capalbio, whose fortified settlement towers high above the sea. The tour of the city walls offers magnificent views over the entire region. In its winding alleys, a new surprise awaits around every corner.
Art lovers will not miss out either. The artist Niki de Saint Phalle, known for her voluptuous figures, has created an art garden with 22 sculptures up to 15 metres high depicting the cards of the Tarot. It is also located in the municipality of Capalbio. Here we are immersed in a world of our own with imaginative figures made of mirror mosaics, colourful ceramics and glass and are completely enthralled.
Grazie mille to the entire team of the Argentario Golf & Wellness Resort and Golf Club for the friendly and perfect service at all times. We felt very much at home. Ciao et a presto!