Designer Keith Preston – architect of Ypsilon, one of the Czech Republic’s top tracks – came up with another wonderful 18-hole layout when the Albatross course opened in the summer of 2009. Built at a reputed cost of around 30 million euros by entrepreneur Jiri Šimáně, the course occupies a moderately hilly 200-acre site close to the Cesky Kras Nature Reserve, on the outskirts of Prague.
The course – presenting a mighty challenge at 6,858 metres when played from the championship tees – is laid out in two returning nines, each of which conclude with water-laden holes close to the clubhouse.
In particular, the slightly doglegged par four 18th is a tough finishing hole. A creek runs down the right of the fairway and a lake stretches up to the green on the opposite flank. The putting surface may be generous in size but it’s still a daunting prospect to hit and hold the green in two shots, especially if the pin is positioned on the left hand side.
Such is the quality of the Albatross layout, it held the inaugural Raiffeisenbank Prague Golf Masters on the Ladies European Tour in 2011 when France’s Jade Schaeffer won the event. The event returned to the Albatross Resort in 2012 when England’s Melissa Reid (playing in her first tournament since the tragic death of her mother) recorded an emotional victory.Owner Jiri Šimáně hopes the Masters is the first of many similar competitions to be held in the Czech Republic as, in his own words, “it is essential to host professional tournaments to prove that the country is serious about building its image as a golf destination”.
The European Tour visited the Czech Republic in 2011 when the short-lived Czech Open was hosted at the Prosper Golf Resort in the east of the country. In 2014, the Albatross Golf Resort hosted a new €1m tournament, the D+D REAL Czech Masters, which Welshman Jamie Donaldson won by two shots from fellow countryman Bradley Dredge.
In the same event since then, Thomas Pieters from Belgium won by three strokes from Swede Pelle Edberg in 2015, Paul Peterson from the United States had a narrow 1-shot winning margin over Thomas Pieters in 2016 and Haydn Porteous from South African beat Englishman Lee Slattery by two strokes in 2017.
The following year, Italian Andrea Pavan claimed his first European Tour title by a 2-shot margin from Padraig Harrington then Thomas Pieters returned to what's obviously a happy hunting ground for him in 2019, holding off Adri Arnaus by a single stroke to win his second Czech Masters in five years.
I played the Albatross course six days after Thomas Pieters won the latest edition of the Czech Masters on this layout. The club is a member of the European Tour Properties collection so I was perhaps expecting to find a quality venue that’s a little bit “corporate” – and the distance you have to park your car from the clubhouse in favour of more adjacent “company reserved” spots confirms that right away on arrival at the club.
Before teeing up on the 1st, my playing partner and I had a good natter over lunch with Course Manager Ben Lovett, who was still recovering from a really hectic period preparing the course for the European Tour event, and he gave us a real insight into what goes on behind the scenes to ensure an 18-hole layout is in tiptop condition for a major professional tournament.
The course has actually changed quite a bit from the one originally designed a decade ago by Keith Preston. Several new water features now come into play, and two of these aquatic hazards loom large at the very first hole, where ponds protect both the right and left sides of the opening green. If, like me, you don’t think there’s ever a place for water fountains on a golf course then you’ll just have to grin and bear the sight of several others over the next four hours.
I liked the shot par four 4th, with the fairway bounded on the left by trees along the northern perimeter of the property, and the slightly right doglegged par four 8th, which starts off with a blind tee shot. The outward half then ends with the 9th green sitting behind another small lake – all very solid stuff but I can imagine a few might find this concluding hole a bit predictable and not very imaginative.
The back nine steps up several gears, starting at the par four 12th. It’s more than a bit contrived, with a rock-strewn stream slashing diagonally across the fairway into another fountain-adorned pond in front of an elevated green but this hole actually works well, despite the fact it’s located many thousands of miles from where you might expect to see a similar hole in say, Arizona or Nevada.
Water forms a substantial part of the playing strategy on the final three holes. I saw a photo of the old par three 16th on the wall in the members’ lounge in the clubhouse and there’s no doubt this former bland short hole has been vastly improved by constructing a small hill with a waterfall at the back of the green to add greater definition to the target area (and the large multi-tiered green is also a big improvement).
A creek crosses both the 17th and 18th fairways and lush vegetation growing in this water course serves to obscure and confuse while standing on the tee, especially at the penultimate hole, which also kinks slightly to the right and narrows towards the green.
The temporary grandstand for the recent tournament behind the home green was only partially dismantled and I could only imagine what it must have been like sitting in there days earlier as the leading contenders played their nerve-jangling approach shots over water as they chased the first prize in the Czech Masters.
Albatross is a championship standard parkland course about 40mins outside Prague and current home course to the European Tour's Czech Masters. As I was holidaying in central Prague, I actually took public transport out to the course: first a metro train and then a bus to the local town outside Prague called Vysoký Újezd. A little bit of planning required, but easy enough.
There are all the things you'd expect from a championship design; penal rough, plenty of bunkers and water hazards in play. The conditioning was excellent, but at the end of the round my feeling is that it was a good, satisfying golf course and club, but it just wasn't great. Maybe it's still too immature a course, but too many holes felt sameish and aside from the 4th and 16th-18th, the holes aren't really memorable. Not boring, just mediocre. Green fee was 1750CZK, which seemed fair for this standard of course.
One interesting thing when I played, is that the front office where I checked in and paid green fees were inflexible about whether I could tee off a little earlier and the starter pretty much wouldn't make a decision when I requested to try and tee off. I was keen, as there was a social group of about 20 milling near the first tee and I was a single scheduled to play behind them. As it was, I just asked the first group of four golfers whilst they were getting themselves sorted out, if they'd mind my hitting off before them and of course they had no issue!
Played the Albatross on the weekend and for a course thats only been open for one week it was in good shape. The greens still need some work, but the rest of the course was great and the beautiful weather was also a huge plus. The staff were fantastic from the restaurant staff, to the girl in the pro shop and the reception/reservation staff (Sona, Petra & Ponahla) were excellent.