In 2010, the Dunes course was the inaugural signature 18-hole layout to open in Greece, the first of several intended courses to be constructed at the spectacular new Costa Navarino resort. Designed by Bernhard Langer in association with European Golf Design, the course debuted one year ahead of “The Bay,” a Robert Trent Jones II layout.
Costa Navarino is the upmarket creation of former shipping magnate, Vassilis Constantakopoulos, who formed the TEMES development company to transform his plan for the area into reality just before he died in 2011. Achilles, the son of Captain Vassilis, is the man now entrusted with further expansion of his father’s vision.
Much of the course has been shaped to create the ambience of a links course with tall 'dunes' shaped to separate the holes closest to the sea. Undulating greens and steep faced pot bunkers emphasize the links feel, but as the routing moves inland, the character softens to fit in with a typical Greek landscape of olive trees and citrus groves.
EGD Lead Designer Ross McMurray commented as follows:
“The inspiration for The Dunes was its spectacular location. It is one of the most beautiful places you could be asked to design a golf course and frankly the waterfront views are just breathtaking. Our ambition was to create a resort golf course which would be fun for average players but provide enough of a challenge so that better golfers would feel that they had been properly tested. Despite the generous playing areas the design of the greens and the positioning of the bunkers still reward accurate shot-making, which is made trickier by the windy conditions you often get being so close to the sea.
Navarino Dunes is characterised by generously wide fairways and large greens. However, the bunkering is very strategic and there is a lot of movement on the putting surfaces, so there’s plenty of interest and excitement. Many of the greens are divided into plateaus with some quite steep slopes between the different levels, so, although their size makes the greens relatively easy to hit, if your approach shots don’t find the right part of the green then you are going to be looking at a few three putts.
There are a great variety of holes and each has its own particular character which makes them easy to remember. We’ve included three or four short par fours, at least one of which (the 6th) is drivable, so there are lots of birdie opportunities, but we have balanced that with some longer, testing par fours, like the 4th and 11th holes. The par threes are pretty strong as well, but I think the par fives, as a group of holes, are my favourite. None are too long, so you always think you have a chance, but they test you in different ways, really making you think about each shot.”
The Dunes golf course at Navarino, located in a beautiful unspoilt part of the Greek mainland, is seriously good and has set it’s sights high. The aim is to create a golf course that is fun and challenging to the average holidaying golfer, whilst also a real test for the better player. Bernard Langer was engaged to design such a course, and given his thoroughness and attention to detail as a player, who is surprised that he has succeeded? The only surprise to me is that The Dunes only just makes the Top 100 Golf Courses in the Continental Europe listing. Perhaps not enough golfers have visited this part of Greece to discover it for themselves!
I played The Dunes three times in my stay at the Resort, and found that I got to like it more after each round. In my view, the front nine holes are sensational and holes 10 to 15 give the golfer some respite before an exciting yet daunting challenge over the last three.
Langer has created three magnificent, downhill and shortish par4s at 2 (is there a more inviting golf hole anywhere, framed as it is by the Ionian Sea?), 6 and 13, as well as an easy-looking one at 15 which is all about landing the approach shot in the right part of a wickedly-sloping green.
I found the par5s difficult, there are no easy approaches for the 3rd shot onto the green for this mid-handicap golfer. The selection of longer holes includes to my mind the best hole on the course at 16. After landing one’s drive on a plateau fairway, the hole descends into a valley and then a beautiful green, fronted by a large bunker. The par3s are all a good test and importantly very different, and when you add some long, tough but fair par4s, you have a potent mixture.
The greens are large and undulating, the fairways wide and most of the bunkers very much in play and very strategic, on a golf course where the standard of maintenance is exemplary.
Greece is seen as many things but no one would regard it as a ‘Mecca’ for golfers. The Greeks themselves prefer more athletic sports and struggle to see golf as more than a strange pastime enjoyed by others, but when it comes to boosting tourism through golf, the founder of Costa Navarino had no doubts. He has now passed away, but his vision is still very much alive. There are two new Olazabal-designed courses opening in 2022, and one more course in the planning stage, to complement existing courses at The Dunes and The Bay.
In my view, golfers are going to hear a lot more about this inspiring and unheralded area of Messinia in Western Greece.
Costa Navarino as a destination gives a fantastic experience on and off the courses with the Dunes course the standout right now. Who knows if this will change when the two new Olazabal courses at Navarino Hills open in 2021 – I have seen the designs and walked some of the holes already and cannot wait to see these when open for play as the excitement of taking Navarino to the next level is obvious.
The Dunes course is located conveniently right by the resort accommodation at the Westin or the Romanos and definitely combines fun with plenty of quality on the course and it is a course that I believe really improves as the round develops. I do think that the existing player reviews here (4 x 6-ball opinions) need a little reality check though – this is a very good golf course but giving it the maximum perfection treatment is a bit mis-leading and whilst I agree with a Continental European Top 100 position, I cannot see the Dunes being world ranked.
The opening hole is strong, a decent par-4 with six bunkers protecting, three in the fairway on the right and three just short of the green. The water that is to the left of the teeing grounds is unlikely to be in play but is the only time you see any inside of the course boundary. The 2nd hole is a short par-4 with a gorgeous backdrop of the Ionian Sea – but with the wind likely to be against, will still need a decent approach with more club than it looks. I think the first big talking point comes at another short par-4 at the 6th; here we stand at the highest point on the course and look down a beautiful hole that is there for the taking but and a big but is the green is everything. The most undulating on the course, so whilst length of the 6th is not the issue, putting most certainly is and birdies and pars have to be worked for. I enjoyed the par-3 8th too, another with an interesting green where you can run up a score if in the wrong place, which is very possible as the green is around 50 metres in length. The front nine ends with a par-4, a hole that is very straight and maybe a little straight forward – decent undulations at the green but no bunkering, I believe that at least one, maybe just a small pot bunker would enhance the hole.
A downhill par-3 starts the back nine, club selection very important here as three deep bunkers protect the green very well. Super fairway bunkering on the 12th hole with seven to contend with, a very strong par-4. In a similar way to Costa Navarino’s Bay course, the second half of the Dunes back nine is the best part of the course. The 15th is a short par-4 with a very clever false front at the green – meaning here an elevated approach is a must. The 16th is my current favourite hole across both of the courses – we have a par-5 that dog-legs to the left and has a big downhill elevation change to the green, add in bunkers at driveable distance and then again at the lay-up position and then the green is another of Navarino’s undulating beauties too. A double tiered green is the standout feature on the par-3 17th and then the final hole is another strong dog-legging par-5 slightly uphill this time, with the second shot the most important – a good position avoiding sand can setup a chance of a big finish in front of the clubhouse to the right of the green.
As a destination, Costa Navarino is first class and a joy to stay and play at and with two new courses due in 2021 can only get better.
I played the Dunes course at Costa Navarino last week, immediately after the conclusion of the International Team Championships that were taking place during the 2017 PGAs of Europe annual congress, so you can imagine the course was in absolutely immaculate condition for that event.
A buggy is absolutely essential (but not mandatory, as at the nearby Bay course) as it’s rather an expansive layout to get around on foot. I don’t know what sort of budget Ross McMurray had when designing the course, but it certainly wasn’t miserly because everything seems to have been done on a grand scale.
The outward half is laid out on higher ground to the north of the resort, with great use made of the rolling topography. Characterized by wide, links-like rolling fairways, large bunkers set within skilfully sculpted mounding and imaginatively contoured greens, these holes are easily the better of the two nines.
The 2nd, playing down to the beach, is a terrific par four, as is the short 6th, which plunges sharply downhill to a brilliantly sand-protected green, where the wavy putting surface made this my favourite hole on the card – only until after I played the uphill par five at the next hole and finally reached the fabulous three-tiered green benched into the hillside!
The back nine holes on the lower ground are not as open, offering a different feel to what’s gone before with lush vegetation flanking many of the fairways. I liked the downhill short par four 13th, played from an elevated tee position, but the very best is kept until last at the uphill par five 18th, which is intimidating to play but you can plot your way up to the green by studying the yardage book carefully.
I gave top marks to ten holes (1 to 4, 6, 7, 13 and 16 to 18) on the Dunes course and all four of the par fives were included in this list – now that’s really saying something, actually, as three of these longer holes play uphill and what could be more difficult for an architect than making a long, uphill hole both interesting and engaging?
Even though I haven’t played the other three courses that are currently ranked in the Top 5 for Greece, I can understand why the Dunes and Bay courses at Costa Navarino are nationally ranked number 1 and 2. Indeed, the Dunes course must surely be a contender for a Top 100 spot in the Continental Europe chart as it’s way better than a handful I’ve recently played in that particular listing.
I played the Dunes last week whilst on a short holiday at Costa Navarino. It is a superb resort style course with spectacular views. Like many resort courses there is no real rough, if you hit a wild shot it is a lost ball. The fairways were generous but the greens were very well protected with strategic bunkering and slopes. It was easy to get around providing the driver was working but scoring required very accurate approach play. It was in a very good condition. I would recommend a taking a buggy as it is a long way between some holes.