Maureen Chang was the brainchild behind Casa Serena, which was named after Serena Lin, former wife of Terry Gou, a charismatic Taiwanese industrialist who purchased Chateau Roztez – a faded 17th century Hunting Lodge of Count Francis Sporck (known as the Father of Czech Freemasonry) – for a reputed $30 million in 2002. Maureen, a close friend of Serena, seized the opportunity to transform the historic property and adjacent grounds into a private and exclusive retreat to support Mr Gou’s business initiatives.
European Golf Design were called in to construct a top quality course, capable of hosting professional tournaments, and with a very generous budget, that’s just what they did. Unfortunately, the course at Casa Serena was completed in 2008, three years after Serena Lin died.
The course at Casa Serena is routed with returning loops of nine holes over ground that was previously used as farmland, secluded from the modern world by dense forest. The fairways wind their way through three separate plots, each of which are significantly undulating. Designed to be both strategic and beautiful, these immaculate emerald green fairways are sharply contrasted by vast areas of fescue.
Plenty of earth was moved to create the desired contours on the course and although the shaping isn't natural, it doesn't look or feel out of place at all. Many regard the par four 12th hole as the best on the scorecard. It features a long, sweeping fairway that falls gradually to an offset putting surface with deep bunkers protecting the front of the raised green.
One of the few private golf courses in all of the Czech Republic, Casa Serena does not accept regular pay and play customers. But the club signed a three-year agreement with the European PGA in 2008 to host the Casa Serena Open on the European Senior Tour and this certain raised its profile.
In the inaugural competition, Bernhard Langer became the first person in eleven years to claim an important professional golf title in the Czech Republic – and, strangely enough, it was he who had last won at Karlštejn in 1997. The German finished in fifth place, five strokes behind Peter Mitchell, in 2009 and the following year, Gary Wolstenholme won his first senior title in only his second start on the Tour. In 2011, Barry Lane won the fourth and final edition of the Casa Serena Open.
Casa Serena was one of the first of a dozen courses that I visited on a trip to the Czech Republic last month and it set the bar of expectation at a very high mark for all the others. Indeed, looking back now, there wasn’t a single 18-hole layout to surpass it during the week I was there so the theory of leaving the best until last went completely out the window the way I’d arranged my itinerary on this occasion.
When I played at JCB in Staffordshire last year it was evident architect Robin Hiseman had worked wonders when presented with that recent big budget project but Casa Serena proves he was just as capable of delivering an equally impressive a layout back in his early days with European Golf Design – and, of course, its construction wasn’t exactly short of funding from a wealthy Taiwanese owner!
The nines are laid out in two distinct parcels, neither of which could be considered flat and boring. Far from it, as holes are routed across some seriously contoured ground, with the land constantly rising and falling. If you look at the map on the scorecard, you’ll see there are several instances of holes running in parallel but, in reality, they’re well separated and never interfere with one another.
The thing that struck me most about playing at Casa Serena was the width off the tee. Granted, long wispy fescue lurks to the side of the fairways and there are a few intimidating forced carries off the tee (starting at the 1st hole) but – bearing in mind some of the penal course setups I experienced later in my trip – there was more than enough room to manoeuvre your ball from tee to green with a little care.
My favourite holes on the front nine included par fours at the 5th and 7th, sharing the same large green, and the downhill 8th, doglegging left and narrowing towards the green as trees now offer some protection in front of the putting surface. On the back nine, the run from 11 to 14 is fabulous, starting with a pond-protected green at the par four 11th and finishing with a mighty shelved fairway running along the hillside on the par five 14th.
Overall, there wasn’t even the hint of a weak hole and the presentation was as good as you’ll find anywhere, with greens putting beautifully. I find it hard to believe that somebody could have posted an earlier comment about the course being “in bad condition… scruffy and untidy” and if that really was the case a few years ago (surely it wasn’t?) then I can assure you it’s not now.
If you play here and are given even the sniff of a chance to have a look around the Roztez Chateau then take it. My playing partner and I broke off from our round on the 3rd hole to follow our host down a discreet grass path and into the grounds of the castle for a quick look around the owner’s residence (where he stays for one week in the year).
The building is magnificent but the current satellite version of google maps doesn’t show the enormous swimming pool annex that’s been built at the back of the property – this place is just off the charts in terms of its size and splendour. I know reviews should stick to on course matters but in relation to the overall Casa Serena experience the castle just has to be mentioned.
I know privacy can add a certain mystique to any golf venue but I’m certain if the golf course was a little more open with a limited number of tee times for golfers who were prepared to pay top dollar then Casa Serena would be better known and more highly appreciated – after all, how can the existing “members and their guests” visitor policy possibly attract a sufficient number of discerning players when there are only three members?
Played the golf course last month. The greens were extremely slow and soft and the other areas of the course werent much better. Not worth the money in my view, luckily i didnt have to pay. Very dissapointed, only played 9 holes.