The Dunes course was the first 18-hole layout to appear at Costa Navarino in 2010, fashioned by Bernhard Langer in collaboration with Ross McMurray of European Golf Design. The following year, the Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed Bay course debuted at nearby Navarino Bay, around ten kilometres south of the main resort.
At the start of 2022, two new 18-hole courses were unveiled on top of the higher ground that lies immediately southeast of the Navarino Bay development, with all thirty-six holes laid out by two-time Masters champion and Ryder Cup legend José Marίa Olazábal and his team at Olazabal Design.
Stretching out across 375 acres of rugged terrain, the International Olympic Academy course and the Hills course offer panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and the historic Bay of Navarino, scene of a decisive sea battle in 1827 which consolidated Greek independence.
“The setting at Navarino Hills is one of the most spectacular that I have seen,” said Olazábal. “The characteristics of the site are wonderful for golf and it surely ranks among the most beautiful properties we have ever had the chance to work on.
“The International Olympic Academy Golf Course is the longer and tougher of the two courses that I have designed. It’s more compact and, in style, different to the Hills course, which is set in the valley and has more room, especially off the tee.
“We are spoiled as golfers because there are so many great places to go, but Costa Navarino it is the whole experience that is exceptional – from the nature, the culture and the people with their amazing hospitality to the food, the beach and so many activities to choose from.”
The new clubhouse, designed by acclaimed architect Lubomír Zeman and built using local stone materials, serves both courses from a central position and there’s also a nearby driving range with a capacity for sixty players, along with a 15,000 square metre short game area.
I was lucky enough to play the course from the 1st tee during a media event last month, when participants were involved in a shotgun start. This of course gave me the chance to have a “proper” game and to gauge the rhythm of a normal round a lot better. Buggies were the order of the day, and I imagine most golfers will choose to play that way here as it’s quite a long walk otherwise.
There was thunder and lightning in the area overnight, accompanied by a torrential downpour, and a few of the fairways were still soggy in places as a consequence but putting surfaces and green surrounds were in remarkably good condition. It was also nice to see locally quarried sand used in bunkers as this obviously helps to integrate the hazards into the landscape far better than dazzling white sand.
The 1st offers a gentle introduction, bending slightly left and downhill to an offset green that’s well protected by bunkers to the front left of an enormous raised putting surface. This green, like all the others, was huge in area and sensibly graded to allow a good variety of different pin positions.
The blind par four 3rd is rated stroke index 1 and it wasn’t until you arrive closer to the green that you discover why it’s so strongly rated – there’s an attractive stone-walled irrigation lake positioned rather menacingly to the front left of the green – not quite what you might expect to find on an uphill approach shot!
There’s a bit of an awkward transition between the green of the short par four 5th and the tees for the par five 6th which heads uphill then plunges down to the most southerly point on the course, close to an enormous 45-acre solar panel farm. The par four 7th then runs parallel to the previous hole before arriving at a green positioned near the 6th tee boxes.
The very short par three 8th plays slightly downhill to the most entertaining green on the layout, a wonderful split level affair that runs the length of the putting surface so if your tee shot ends up on the “wrong half” then you’ve got your work cut out to make par.
The 9th is a doglegging par four which swings 45 degrees left and sharply down to a green that runs away from front to back. This hole will tempt the big hitter to cut the corner and go for the green but a birdie is far from assured due to the contours of the putting surface.
The opening two holes on the back nine – the first of which, a par four, features a rock-lined ditch crossing the fairway – bring players to the most interesting part of the course, between the par three 12th and the par three 16th, with these two holes played in opposite directions along the edge of an escarpment overlooking Navarino Bay below.
Linking these two spectacular short holes, there are three very interesting short par fours to be tackled, with acres of sand set out as the main defence on each of these holes. After holing out on the 16th, golfers continue along the side of the cliff with another rock-lined drainage channel crossing the fairway on the par five 17th less than 100 metres from the green.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play this hole (or the 18th) as thunder and lightning overhead stopped play and forced us to literally run for cover. The only compensation was my 4-ball group managing to tee it up at the par three 16th with none other than José María Olazábal, who had agreed to play at least one hole with every group attending the media event.
The clubhouse was still a shell but it’s due to be finished in time for the two new courses opening in February. No doubt work will continue at a pace over the next two months to get connecting roads surfaced, along with finishing off incidental landscaping and installing new course signage. Once the peripheral infrastructure is in place, the International Olympic Academy course can then take centre stage.