Extending to almost two thousand square miles, Lake Balaton is Central Europe’s largest lake. Laid out close to its northern shores, adjacent to the Balaton Uplands National Park, the course at Balaton Golf was constructed by Garry Ashfield of Golf East to a Hans-Georg Erhardt design, opening for play in 2008.
Six of the holes on the front nine are routed around nine acres of man-made water hazards, with the par three 9th surprisingly rated the most difficult hole on the outward half. The short par four 2nd is another terrific hole, doglegging downhill past a large bunker complex on the left and a couple of ponds on the right of the fairway.
There’s a change of mood at the start of the back nine, where both the opening par four holes are carved through dense woodland. The routing then shifts out into the open, where holes 13 to 15 are played out around an old stone quarry before the final two holes return to the forest at the par three 17th.
There’s a certain rustic charm attached to the course at Balaton Golf which really endeared it to me. The fairways are set out on the slopes of Lake Balaton’s northern shore, overlooking the little peninsula at Tihany, where the shuttle ferries connect cars and passengers with Szantod on the other side of the lake.
It’s a lovely spot to play golf and the course is a decent test, especially on the back nine, which occupies the better terrain and contains the more memorable holes. That’s not to say the front nine isn’t good, far from it; it’s just that the old quarry and woodland area on holes 10 to 18 are used to such good effect, they put the water-laden holes on the front nine comparatively in the shade.
The downhill short par four 2nd was an early favourite, veering left to the green across an enormous bunker on the inside of the dogleg. The 6th was another top hole, with a ditch cutting across the fairway and a huge big tree obscuring approach shots played from the left side of the hole.
The bar gets raised several notches at the start of the back nine on hole 10 as the course routing unexpectedly heads north and uphill into the forest, only for it to return back at the next hole, where the fairway narrows considerably as it heads downhill to the 11th green.
The boomerang-shaped 13th was then the most sensational hole that I came across during my recent visit to five 18-hole courses around the country. A semi-blind tee shot is aimed across the thick swathe of vegetation growing out of an old stone quarry to a fairway that’s wider than it appears. It’s then followed by an approach shot (see photo) played at right angles sharply downhill towards the lake and a tiny two-tiered green that somehow clings onto the edge of the quarry – what a hole!
And just when you think the quirkiness is over, the last two holes dip in and out of the forest again, with the par three 17th playing uphill to a beautifully sculpted green that sits behind a low stone wall frontage then the par four 18th doglegs right and down past a lone tree in the middle of the fairway to the home green.
Balaton is a modern course that’s less than a decade old but it looks and feels a lot older, which is testament to its construction by Garry Ashfield of Golf East and the subsequent maintenance of the layout by the greenkeeping staff. It’s a track that’s well worth looking out for if you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Lake Balaton with your clubs in tow, especially if the sun’s out on a nice summer afternoon…