On the edge of the Marbaek Forest, amongst stands of pine, spruce and larch lies the 42-hole Esbjerg Golf Club and one of Scandinavia’s best courses is the Marbaek. The North Sea port of Esbjerg isn't a natural tourist spot, serving mainly the offshore oil and gas industry, but if you love your golf then you really should make the effort to play at Esbjerg Golfklub, where the fairways are sympathetically laid out within a national park.
Frederik Dreyer designed the Marbaek in 1975 and the same architect returned to fashion another nine in 1993. A further nine was appended fourteen years later to form the 18-hole Myrtue layout. There's also a charming little 6-hole par three course to help hone your short game. From the tips, the Marbaek is a formidable challenge, stretching out over 6,357 metres, and with par set at 71 you will need to hit a long and straight ball to score well from these tees.
There's only one small water hazard to fear at Esbjerg, situated in front of the green on the par five 4th, but when the wind blows from the direction of the North Sea, hold on to your hat and keep a look out for the clever bunkering that waits to catch the errant shot. Esbjerg is a largely flat but memorable course that despite its topography is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands in many ways.
The club has hosted a number of big professional and amateur golf tournaments in the new millennium, including European Challenge Tour events in 2004/5, the European Girls' Team Championship in 2006 and the European Amateur Championship in 2008. Architect Philip Spogard has consulted at Esbjerg in recent years, with a view to the Marbaek course being upgraded in preparation for the hosting of an event on the ECCO Tour, Denmark's professional circuit, in 2018.
With an ever growing number of American-inspired designs now dominating the upper reaches of the Danish ranking chart, it was refreshing to discover the totally natural layout of the Marbæk course was more than capable of holding its own against these newcomers – indeed, creators of some of the more recent additions to the national golfing portfolio might learn a thing or two here!
Esbjerg Golfklub was founded in 1921, moving to a couple of different sites before relocating to its present position within the Wadden Sea National Park in 1975. Over time, two 18-hole layouts and a short 6-hole par three course have been established, offering golfers a wonderful woodland golf experience in a delightfully tranquil setting where even the clubhouse roof is covered in turf.
The Marbæk course is divided into several little tracts. The opening and closing two holes on the front nine lie on flat land in front of the clubhouse but the parcel of land between the 3rd and 7th is where the five best holes (closest to the coastline) are situated. Here, the holes are more heathland in nature, with heather flanking the fairways on both sides.
Holes 4 and 5, in particular, are outstanding. The former doglegs gently down and right to a raised green that’s fronted by a small pond whilst the latter doglegs back up the gentle incline – separated from the adjacent 4th fairway by a sea of heather – to a green which is protected by a couple of massive bunkers to the front and left of the putting surface.
On the back nine, holes are also separated into a couple of different plots. Holes 10 to 13 include parallel par fours at the 11th and 12th, where the second of these holes plays slightly uphill to a raised green shaped like a sow’s back, with the crowned putting surface running off on either side as its approached.
Holes 14 to 17 occupy the next large allotment of land, and the first of these, the par five 14th, is probably the most striking hole as it crosses a little ridge off the tee before dipping down then up to a sand-protected green. The 18th then plays very tight off the back tees before the heather-fringed fairway then opens out a little to allow a straightforward approach shot to the home green.
One tip from me: find enough time to play both the Marbæk course and the newer Myrtue course! The tree-lined front nine of the Myrtue was built in 1993 and there are some terrific holes on it, like the left doglegged, slightly uphill 4th and the par five 7th, where the split fairway offers a couple of routes to the green.
The back nine is only ten years old and it’s more open, except on the par five 18th, where the fairway narrows considerably as it heads from the tee, with trees encroaching on either side to the home green. The enormous waste area on the 16th spoils this newer circuit but, that hole apart, the Myrtue has a lot going for it and it’s well worth playing as a warm up for the main event next door.
The course is in fine conditions and the greens have a good speed to them, however the holes are far from extrodinary and that makes for a mediocre course without any memorable holes. The only thing I remember is the settings. And that gives this course an average feel certainly not anything special.