This course is a very pleasant walk and still quite a good test of golf.
The Ballesteros course of Crans-sur-Sierre (also known as Crans-Montana) has been the locale of what is now called the Omega European Masters since the end of the Second World War (actually since 1939, but proceedings were haltered during the war). It is not a particularly long course overall, especially when one takes into account the fact that due to the altitude balls fly around ten percent farther than at sea level. Therefore, the course has undergone many redesigns and adjustments over the years to adapt to the evolution of the professional game, and to be able to attract, still today, top world players like Sergio Garcia or Adam Scott who both own apartments in town and play the course from time to time, either as part of the European Masters or when they take a recess from their respective tours.
Lately, after the 18th hole was redesigned some four years ago to protect the green more prominently with water (a cascade was installed just in front of the green leading to an expanded pond left of it), the 13th par-three was totally renovated from an uphill, mostly blind tee shot to a spectacular hole with a large pond in front of a wide green surrounded on three sides by a grass amphitheater where 3,000 people can admire the pros’ precision shot making. Last year saw an upgrade of the fairways of the incoming nine, and the greens’ maintenance system. Next year a new irrigation system will be put in place, and at the end of season 2019 the nine fairways going out will also be upgraded. All of this is aiming of course at retaining the interest of the pro players in the European Masters, the success of which in turns determines in good part the welfare of the club through the thousands of visitors who book tee times during the short playing season. Located at 1400 meters above sea levels, the golf club does not open before May in general, and closed in October.
As a result of the above, the course is very pleasant to play. It is renowned for the view of the Alps from the green of the 7th, a spectacular par-four which a number of European Masters competitors try and drive from the tee to set themselves up for an eagle, despite the big bunker in front of the green and the complicated slopes of the putting surface. On a clear day, the view of both the Mont-Blanc (some 60 kms away southwest down the Rhone valley and the Matterhorn (40kms south southeast) is indeed special. The players enjoy a few other nice viewpoints on the mountains, but mostly the course is a parkland course with rows of trees between the holes so their attention is not distracted too often. From mid-June and until September when the big tournament is usually scheduled nowadays, the condition of the course can be relied upon to be between good and perfect. The greens are prepared specifically for the first weekend of September, but through the rest of the season they still offer very good playability and speed.
Apart from the 7th hole and its view, the first half of the course offers a good rhythm, with the first real tough hole being the 4th, a long, downhill par-four measuring 460 meters from the tips, and finishing with the hardest hole on the course, the long 9th with 545 meters from the back tees to reach the green. Interestingly, the two par-fives are at either end of the half, while in the second half of the course they are one after the other and in the middle of the run (14th and 15th). Before you get to them, you have to negotiate the 12th though, where your drive should reach the top of the small hill in front of you but not further if you want to have a good view of the green down on the other side while avoiding an awkward, downhill lie for your approach shot. The par-three 13th is also fun to play with its amphitheater behind the green. The downhill 14th is a challenge in disguise: a very good drive might give you the impression you could reach the green in two, but beware the lake front and right, the trees very close to the green on the left and the out-of-bounds behind! Still, if you lay up, your lie will be downhill, making the approach shot just this much more complicated. And then the parallel, but uphill 15th is definitely a long haul to the green where the pin can be hidden from sight unless you are less than 135 meters from the green if it is located at the top of the putting surface.
The finishing holes are not as easy as they look. The 16th (a long par-three for the pros, a short par-four the rest of the year) is on the narrow side, with a couple of firs guarding the green against low or off line approach shots. The green of the 17th is quite slanted, so the approach shot must be precise for a real chance at birdie. The 18th is a little easier today than in the past, and is designed to provide an entertaining finish for the tournament as a birdie hole.
Date: October 29, 2017