A Ryder Cup legend and captain of the victorious European team that won in such memorable fashion at Medinah in 2012, José María Olazábal has written his name into Ryder Cup folklore with his achievements over the last four decades.
Now a successful golf-course designer, the two-time Masters champion will unveil the first of two new 18-hole courses that he has created at Navarino Hills in Costa Navarino, Greece, this November with the launch of the world’s first International Olympic Academy Course.
Here we have an exclusive interview with Olazábal discussing the Navarino Hills project and where his inspiration came from.
Q: When and how did your involvement in the Navarino Hills project come about?
José: I first came to Costa Navarino around six years ago when they were looking for a designer for the two new courses planned at Navarino Hills. My team and I all absolutely love the region here and we put in our very best effort to win the design job. Obviously, we were very happy when Achilles Constantakopoulos (chairman of Temes, the developers of Costa Navarino) chose us and we are working hard to repay his trust.
Q: What were your impressions when you first saw the site?
José: Simply WOW. The property is spectacular, the views are breathtaking and the characteristics of the site are wonderful for golf. It surely ranks among the most beautiful properties we ever got the chance to work on.
Q: What makes the landscape at Navarino Hills and Costa Navarino’s approach to developing golf courses so special?
José: The views are absolutely stunning, not just across the historic Bay of Navarino but also towards the mountains in the background. This sets the tone for the whole site and gives it a very strong character amidst the garrigue vegetation which is typical for the Mediterranean. Costa Navarino has found an absolute jewel with this property and they are trying to develop it sensibly with great focus on protecting the environment. I am delighted with their approach and we are trying to use all the latest modern techniques to contribute our share to the sustainability goals.
Q: Where did your inspiration for each course come from and have you tried to include any elements of your favourite courses in the world?
José: Well, I am privileged and have got to play many of the great golf courses around the world. Courses like Augusta, the Old Course, Valderrama, Loch Lomond and many others certainly leave an impression on you and influence you. I am a fan of the classics and am probably more of a traditionalist but, for the new designs we have undertaken, it is the land itself that gives you the inspiration. What is important is how the property sits in its surroundings, what features stands out and how we can model the golf course harmoniously into the terrain so that it feels like a natural fit.
Q: What are the key characteristics of each course and what are the different challenges that golfers will face?
José: The International Olympic Academy Course has stunning views over Navarino Bay and is the longer and tougher of the two courses. It’s more compact and, in style, a bit posher than the Navarino Hills course. Navarino Hills has a more rural feel and takes you into the outback where you can enjoy a stroll in beautiful nature.
Q: Can you pick out a couple of holes on each course that you especially like and tell us a bit about them?
José: I think they all have their own little personality but, of course, a few will be talked about more than others. On the International Olympic Academy Course, the 12 th and 16 th holes are two beautiful but challenging par threes with great views over the bay where I am sure most golfers will stop to take a photo. Holes 10 and 15 will also get some attention. On the Navarino Hills course, I would say the sixth hole, a downhill par-five, stands out as well as the stretch from the 14th to the 17th.
Q: When the Navarino Hills project is completed, what will it do to elevate Costa Navarino’s status on the world stage as a golf destination?
José: Costa Navarino is already well known around the world but what the two new courses will do is to lift Costa Navarino from the status of a golf resort to being a full golf destination. With four golf courses, Costa Navarino will appeal to the global golf-travel market and I’m
sure will be successful in attracting many new guests.
Q: Why do you think Costa Navarino stands out as a golf destination?
José: We are spoiled as golfers because there are so many great places to go, but I have said it before and will be happy to repeat it: Costa Navarino is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. It is more than just the golf offering there, it is the whole experience that is exceptional – from the nature, the culture and the people with their amazing hospitality to the food, the beach and so many activities to choose from. Don’t be surprised if you see me at Costa Navarino from time to time in the future.
Q: How important is the issue of sustainability to you when building a golf course?
José: It is a must. There is no alternative and, luckily, the topic has arrived in society as one of the most pressing issues of our time and for generations to come. Golf is only a small piece of this, but we must contribute our share and do everything to be as conscious about
environmental, social and economic sustainability as we can. Costa Navarino is certainly a leader in this and I am proud to be a part of it.
Q: In your opinion, what are the qualities of a good golf course and the characteristics that make you want to play it again and again?
José: It does not matter whether the course is extra tough or easy or long or short, what is important is that golfers have a great time. For that to happen, I think the course has to be fair and also has to fit seamlessly into the surroundings so that it creates this special
Interview transcript provided by The Azalea Group