If a well-travelled golfer was blindfolded and dropped onto this course, the player would probably swear they are somewhere in England and wonder whether guests would be allowed inside the impressive 18th century manor. In reality our protagonist would be less than half a mile as the crow flies (about a mile by car) from the Baltic Sea and is certainly welcome to frequent the 19th hole or even rent a stately room for the night.
Altenhof is a grand parkland estate and houses one of Germany's finest, and indeed one of its few genuinely quirky layouts. It started in 1969 when a huge autumn storm ploughed through the park and downed the weaker parts of the tree population. Thus the decision to build a golf course (and where to build it) was helped along considerably, since much of the clearing was already done.
Harald Gratenau, a local farmer-turned-golf-architect, designed the first nine holes, which opened in 1974; Gratenau previously assisted Bernhard von Limburger at Hamburg Walddörfer and Hamburg Ahrensburg. A decade later the club decided to move towards 18 holes and commissioned Donald Harradine, who completed the task by 1986 (although three of his holes had to be replaced due to later flooding).
Today’s course starts at the manor and presents the golfer with a fairway that seems to be entirely blocked by majestic specimen trees, some of them almost 500 years old and, being survivors of 1969, strong enough to withstand any frontal assault. The third hole is another head-scratcher, all of 120 yards and yet a veritable "hit and hope" affair. Then a quarry appears and features prominently for the next stretch of holes, before the course winds its way back to the manor, alternating between the park and more open terrain including an island fairway.
There is something to discover on almost every hole at Altenhof Golf Club and the player is sure to experience a number of bizarre moments due to unusual angles and shot values. Surprising undulations and some blindness are also part of the equation. What holds Altenhof back from the very upper tier of parkland masterpieces is the loamy soil and tree encroachment, both elements conspire to prevent firm and fast playing conditions.Nevertheless, this is a rare gem in a country that generally suffers from a shortage of eccentric courses that also provide some meaty yardages for better players.
I played here a couple of times, it is the best golf in the area, although history (and hickory) buffs will not want to miss charming Kitzeberg near Kiel (parts from 1902 - very ancient for Germany). But despite also sporting a mix of older and newer holes, Altenhof is the all-around better course. It has a more seamless routing, is stylistically quite homogeneous and always in good nick.
The picture I include is of the sixth hole, a medium length par 4 in the quarry, where you have to drive between the bunkers on the left and a water hazard on the right, which you can hardly see. In fact, the layout features a lot of water hazards, but they are mostly small and grown-over, so you don't really notice them much. However, when you add everything up, there are only seven "dry" holes altogether. While vegetation in and around ponds makes for nice visuals and little additional impact on playability, general tree growth is a bigger issue. The island fairway on the 11th has become hard to make out as such and there have even been some tree plantings to further obscure the views. All the quarry holes and much of the back nine have the potential for considerably wider playing angles and many of the greens throughout the course are too shady.
At the end of the day it remains an excellent old-style parkland track with just the right amount of quirky undulations and a large degree of memorability. (UM)