The Frisian Islands that lie off the west coast of Jutland between Denmark and Germany are very popular with the type of tourist who wants to “get back to nature”, but Sylt, one of the main islands in this archipelago, has always attracted the rich and famous as well. Westerland and Kampen are the principal resort towns, perhaps because they're located centrally on the island, where everyone steps (or drives) off the trains from the mainland, which is connected via the Hindenburgdamm causeway.
However, an influx of golfers arriving to sample some serious links action at the new Budersand course has started to turn the previously sleepy village of Hörnum on the southern tip of the island into a small destination of its own. Local architect Rolf-Stephan Hansen has transformed a former military base – Sylt was the first part of Germany to have bombs dropped on it during World War II – into a stunning new 18-holer that effortlessly joined the ranks of the top links courses that run down the west coast of Europe between Denmark and France.
On a site surrounded by natural dunes, the eighteen holes here have been so well laid out to blend in with their surroundings that it is difficult not to think they were fashioned at the hands of an experienced master designer, never mind a German rookie on his first project! Surprisingly, there is not an ounce of modernism to it (save a few EcoBunkers) and no "trademark" features that shout "look at me". This is all the more impressive when considering that every internal feature of the course was purpose-built.
The scale of the challenge is set out at the very first hole on the fringe of the property, played downhill to a fairway that then veers left and up to a green with a sand hill to the right for protection – as tough an opening hole as you could care to imagine. Since the property is surrounded by the ocean on three sides, there can be many types of wind. For instance, when the notorious North-Westerly is up, the opening hole plays straight into the teeth of it and just barely reaching the fairway becomes an achievement. On other days there might be a mellow, warm breeze from the continent of hardly any consequence.
The back nine holes are, if anything, a cut above the very good front nine, with two brilliant par threes carved into the dunes at holes 13 and 15 and a stream that veers across the closing three holes, creating a Carnoustie-like final flourish to the round.
It’s easy to see why Budersand Sylt was voted the best new German course in 2009 and has since entertained a substantial presence in the German and Continental European rankings.
I experienced this course in several wind conditions and like any self-respecting links it always remained playable, but certainly not the same way. The firm and fast conditions are second to none, so even shorter hitters can shine (if they are also straighter hitters). There are no weak holes at Budersand, it is a very balanced course with an especially memorable set of par 3s. Depending on the wind anything from half a wedge to driver can be hit, but even without wind the lengths are very cleverly spaced and the iconic blind shot over a dune is included as well.
Variety does not only apply to the one-shotters, the entire layout is designed thoughtfully and with very little repetion. While two or three of the longer holes could be a bit more quirky and have a few more fairway undulations, the truth is that occasionally it is nice to get a break from worrying how to keep the ball in play.
The burn on the last three holes needs a bit more work, though, as it is often dry and does not have a continuous bed. Other than that Budersand ticks all the links boxes with its marram grass, gorse, fescue greens, fairway undulations, lack of trees and, at any rate, one seaside hole (although on the elevated second tee the ocean on both sides of the course can be seen). Considering the five star hotel on site and Sylt's high roller reputation the greenfee is actually pretty reasonable. In fact, given the quality of the course, I call it a steal.
The "gentleman starter" (quoting the manager here) adds a very nice touch, as he knows everything about the course and provides sensible advice to the many groups, who come here never having played a links before: "You do not need your pitchfork here, but keep your ball low to the ground." (UM)
The course was in good condition when I played it in 2012 for the last time, so the fairways and greens where hard and fast. But to be honest: Only in comparison to the other courses on Sylt Budersand is exceptional. It is a nice try of building a links course on German soil, and there are a few holes you will remember after your round. The short Par 3 15th is really beautiful with the view over the Wattenmeer and I liked the tricky opening hole, which looks quite narrow from the tee box. The course is definitely worth playing when you are on Sylt and worth the journey.
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