Andermatt village is located in a valley in the Uri canton, one of the four original cantons of Switzerland. This valley is accessible via four different roads. Three of them require the climbing of passes over 2,000 meters above sea level the Furka Pass (2,429 meters, west), the Oberalp Pass (2,046 meters, east) and the Gotthard Pass (2,091 meters, south). The fourth access, the northern road from Lucerne, is the gorge allowing the Reuss River, born in two of the mountains towering above the valley, to tumble down from Andermatt to Lake Lucerne, 800 meters lower and only 35 kilometers away.
Andermatt ski resort is well known locally, and historically it’s the headquarters and training grounds for the alpine regiments of the Swiss army. Where is golf in all this? Until a few years ago, one could only play on two nine-hole courses set at the edges of the valley, the Realp golf course west toward the Furka Pass, and the Sedrun course east of the Oberalp pass.
An investment group recently decided to take advantage of the fact that the Swiss army was no longer blocking any construction in the valley, so the group planned major developments around Andermatt, including the modernisation of the ski resort and the creation of an 18-hole championship golf course in order to attract year-round visitors to new planned hotels and resorts.
Golf architect Kurt Rossknecht from Germany, well known in the region as he has designed many golf courses around Germany, Austria and Switzerland, created a unique golf course on a 130-hectare piece of land just outside the village of Andermatt and it opened for play in 2016. Only a couple of months after opening, the layout hosted the Swiss PGA Championship 2016, and proved to be a tough nut to crack as the winner (Corsin Caviezel) only achieved a score of +3 after three rounds and was the only player to score under par for the final round.
Andermatt Swiss Alps is not really a mountain course, despite the fact that it is located at circa 1,400 meters above sea level, because it is mostly flat (although anyone playing the third and fourth holes would feel very differently about that). It is certainly not a parkland course, because there are almost no trees on this layout. It rather gives an impression of a links-type course, at least for the 13 or so flat holes, because the fairways are lined with long, thick rough, which it is best to avoid, and because you can see most of the course from wherever you are.
But in the end, what the visiting golfer will remember is not only the course, but also the surroundings. The valley setting is serene yet dramatic. Every shot provides magnificent vistas of the valley and mountain ranges encircling the course. André Bossert, one of Switzerland’s top pros, perfectly sums up Andermatt Swiss Alps:
“What I love about the course is its unique setting in a valley surrounded by majestic mountains. The rocky terrain is integrated perfectly into the course keeping it authentic. I love the noise of the little rivers flowing down the mountain and the sound of the bells from the local cows grazing on the mountainside. I like the variation of the holes, both the flattish ground part with lots of water and the part that goes up and down at the end of the valley.”
tough few holes on the mountain side then a real beast of a back nine
The golf course at Andermatt opened in 2016, and we went to play it in August 2017. We were expecting a course “in training” with its major features still in the future. Life in this high valley (1,400 meters above sea level) is far different however, and things have been going very fast and very well on this property.
A visit to Andermatt is a unique experience, in good part due to the golf course itself, but the game and design can hardly be separated from the overall impression of the valley and surrounding mountain ranges which dominate the course. Playing Andermatt left us with a rejuvenated feeling. What is overwhelming there is the feeling of being placed in the midst of extraordinary, peaceful nature: the mountains are beautiful to look at any time of the day; the river Reuss runs along the eastern border of the course, but receives several small brooks along the way which gurgle along some fairways, cross others and feed several lakes; the cows graze on the mountain side along the first four holes, and there are several farmhouses and barns in the middle of the golf course. If this does not take your mind far away from the more artificial demands and constraints of the human world, what will?
Golf-wise, Andermatt Swiss Alps is already a very respectable golf course, with plenty of defenses and challenges, and the general impression is that it will not take long at all to become a fully acceptable championship venue of international class. It is definitely not short at 6,334 meters from the tips, although the altitude is an advantage as it reduces air resistance to the ball. It is designed a little bit like a Scottish links, with fairways lined with lush, long, punishing rough (and a good chance of losing a stray ball). On the holes nearest the mountain to the west, obstacles may take the shape of granite rocks defending the green instead of bunkers, and you will soon learn that a ball landing on such a rock bounces far and wide. Most of the holes on the flat part of the course (some two-thirds of it) include water hazards of some kind, either streams or lakes. And last, but not least, between 11 am and noon, the game which until then was pleasant, technical but did not feel really difficult changes progressively and sometimes dramatically, as the wind rises and shrinks the width of the fairways and the surfaces of the greens, some of which are already narrow. The greens themselves were quite good, with slopes sometimes hard to read, and surprisingly fast and even-surfaced.
We did not ask which hole is considered by management as the signature hole of this course. Despite the fact that they are really quite diverse, we thought some of the holes were more memorable than others: the 1st is a totally flat but long par-four which will immediately require you to mind your business because of the mountain side OB with cows on the right, the stream on the left, and the immediate pleasure of an impeccable fairway and largish, fast green; the 4th, a par-four up-hill all the way with a very narrow green guarded by a large, round rock shooting out of the fairway, and probably the only greenside tree on the course… and the view from there! Then the 7th, a long par-four with a stream crossing the fairway after running along its right side, thus offering a challenge suited to both short and long drivers. The par-three 9th over the main lake to the double green (with the 18th) just below the beautiful and well-appointed clubhouse (recommend the breakfast tray, delights galore!). On the back nine, the 11th is a serious challenge to par from all tees because the fairway goes slightly towards the right of the tee box and is closely lined by a stream on that same right side, so the player has to know their driving distance and deliver in full to have a chance to reach the green protected by two lakes besides the stream running around its back; the par-three 13th is the easiest hole on the course, but it is a gem of a short, downhill hole where the alternatives to pitching the green are bunkers, a small lake or very awkward and steep hillsides. And then the 18th, a dogleg left par-five where distance and direction management can be tough due to the usual headwind, and with an approach shot either very close to, or over the final lake to the double but narrow green.
Some people have decried the 3rd hole, a short par-four (only 275 meters from the back tees) which starts with a steep uphill “wall”, making the use of a driver or even 3-wood quite risky. A real mountain course hole though, and a reminder that Andermatt is no mere walk in the park! No, the real weakness of this venue is the very short golf season it offers, only four very good months (June to September) and another, iffy 4 to 6 weeks split between May and October. So plan ahead, it is worth the trip!
Given the very young age of this course, we give it only five stars this time, but if the quality holds up and the course matures just a bit...