Travel insider from our Golf Post Team Jürgen Linnenbürger visits the Greek golf destination Navarino Hills. This course in Greece was the World’s Best New Golf Development in 2020. The World Golf Awards recognized it as so as part of a press trip.
Here in Messinia on the Peloponnese, he meets the two-time Masters winner, multiple Ryder Cup participant and captain José María Olazábal, who is responsible for the design of the two new Greek courses of the Navarino Hills.
The early bird catches the worm
Azalea, the English sports marketing agency organising the trip, gave me a slot of about 20 minutes to conduct an exclusive interview with Spanish golf legend José María Olazábal. Ollie, as his friends call him, will be exclusively available at 8.15 a.m. sharp for my questions about the design of his two new signature golf courses.
The Spaniard was awarded the Golf World Award Golf Course Designer of the Year in 2020. He had already designed more than 20 courses with his team. These include the Olazábal Course in Mission Hills/China, as well as the Education City Golf Club in Doha/Qatar, which opened in 2020. This last one, by the way, immediately became the venue for a PGA European Tour event.
An unusual place for an interview
We did not conduct the interview in the hotel, but on the back seat of a spacious hotel limousine: corona-compliant with a mask, of course. The car takes us from the 5-star The Westin Resort Costa Navarino to the brand new Navarino Hills complex.
Their two golf courses are The Hills Course and the International Olympic Academy Golf Course, which our group is already allowed to play exclusively in November, before its official opening in February 2022.
The Hills Course will also be completed by that time. Then the golf cloverleaf will be perfect with four signature courses located a maximum of 13 km apart.
Kalimera and Buenos dias
The welcome is warm and relaxed. The likeable Spaniard explains that one of the main challenges for him and his team was to integrate two different courses into the terrain, which is up to 250 metres high, hilly and extremely rocky.
But not only the two new courses should be different from each other. Their design should also stand out from that of the existing, approximately ten-year-old courses, The Dunes and The Bay.
An exceptional property in impressive nature
José has been enthusiastic about the magnificent site from the very beginning. He is very proud that he and his team have been awarded the contract to design the two courses by the owner of the Greek company Temes, which is responsible for the development of the Costa Navarino destination.
The 150-hectare site is one of the most spectacular and beautiful he has had the privilege of redesigning. The breathtaking views of the bay, the Ionian Sea and the impressive mountain backdrop shape its character just as much as the vegetation typical of the Mediterranean area with its shrubs up to two metres high.
José has paid special attention to integrating the pitches harmoniously into the existing environment, so that they have become a natural part of it.
Sustainability is a priority
Another challenge for Olazabal Design was to take the various aspects of sustainability into account as much as possible. Costa Navarino has set itself the goal of being a leader in this field and ensuring ecological, social and economic sustainability on a permanent basis.
In this way, both campsites can benefit sufficiently from the water that the surrounding mountains release. This water is stored in two large basins and is sufficient for year-round irrigation of the pitches. The irrigation systems are state of the art. An own photovoltaic system supplies the huge area with all its facilities with the necessary electricity.
Suitable for all HCP classes
Both courses show as resort courses. They are fair and are intended to convey enjoyment of the game without their guests having to forego the sporting excitement. Golfers should enjoy their game on the courses and finish their rounds with a satisfactory score.
Six different tees contribute to the fact that players of all handicap classes will feel comfortable.
José designed the Hills Course to be shorter and less demanding than the International Olympic Academy Course. With its narrower fairways, this is the more compact and difficult course of the two. The wind, which often comes from the coast and can blow from different directions, also contributes to this.
The designer has responded to this situation by making the greens larger than usual in order to offer more opportunities to play.
The Navarino Hills will have wider fairways and more bunkers, but they are deliberately designed not to be very deep.
It is more spacious and yet intimate. On the holes, you get the impression that you are alone on the course. You cannot see other holes.
At the highest point of the course is the clubhouse, which is currently under construction, as well as the spacious practice facilities of the International Olympic Academy.
The International Olympic Academy
Costa Navarino, in partnership with the International Olympic Academy and the Hellenic Olympic Committee, has opened the first golf course of the International Olympic Academy.
The partnership is guided by principles and values of the Olympic Idea and aims to promote Olympic education through a variety of activities at Costa Navarino. It plays a key role in the development of golf worldwide.
The Olympic Academy Course calls
After the interview, José and I head out for a round. Two of the most remarkable holes for him are two par-3s. The tees of the 12th and the 16th are almost adjacent, but run in opposite directions. While the twelve is heading for the mountains, the tee shot of the sixteen is to be played along the sea.
For José, it is 166 metres on the 16 from the whites. Playing together with a two-time Masters winner in one flight is and will probably remain a unique experience for me. Of course, he is on the green, not like me.
The par-72 course has a length of 6,351 metres from the championship tees. The fairways are lush green and pleasantly soft at this time of year. On the other hand, the greens are all the harder and arrow-fast. Although they are not overly ondulated, 3-putts are not uncommon for me. The maintenance is excellent.
Spectacular new hotels
Since my last visit in 2018, not only have the Navarino Hills courses developed, but construction has also begun to grow around. The boutique hotel The Navarino Bay Resort is located on The Bay Course, right on the seafront.
A particularly good view of the new high-end gem with its 99 suites and villas show from the high greens of its third course. The spectacular design captivates by the fact that the buildings are set directly into the curved slope and their roofs are completely greened.
An exclusive beach club, a spa and wellness area with a large indoor and outdoor pool, as well as bars, lounges and restaurants complete the offer.
Not far away, a little world of its own is developing. The vibrant lifestyle resort The Waterfront will have 246 rooms, suites and bungalows right on the beach. This one also impresses with its modern design with lagoon pools, numerous shops and restaurants laid out around an agora (marketplace).
The Waterfront will open in summer 2022 and The Bay a year later.
A clubhouse in a class of its own
Opening in 2019, The Bay Course’s stylish clubhouse is also new to me. It is built according to principles of bioclimatic architecture in earth house style and surrounded by thousands of plants and trees. It is not only an architectural masterpiece from the outside.
Inside, it also impresses with its modern interior and views of the sea.
On its terrace we enjoy the fantastic sunset and conclude the great golf day with an excellent menu.
The goal formulated by the founder to develop Costa Navarino into a world-leading golf and sports destination, as well as a family destination, seems to be paying off. Tennis courts have already been built. Football pitches are to be added in the future.
Arrival via Kalamata or Athens
If you decide to stay in the low season, the route leads via Athens. The hotel shuttle takes a good three hours from the airport to The Westin Resort Costa Navarino and the Romanos a Luxury Collection Resort, Costa Navarino in Navarino Dunes. These were awarded European Golf Resort of the Year by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators in 2017.
Further awards are only a matter of time for me. I am convinced that after the opening of the new golf courses and hotels, numerous stars and awards will follow.