A few classic English parkland courses are actually set in a real park, and some of the best, such as Stoke Park, are as much a Harry Colt course as they are a Lancelot "Capability" Brown landscape. Interestingly, Colt's very first German acolyte (Bernhard von Limburger) and Capability Brown's foremost German follower (Peter Joseph Lenné) came together in Feldafing – like their forebears in different centuries. The Lenné Park in Feldafing was created in the 1850s as a Royal retreat for Bavarian King Maximilian II, who also got as far as building the foundations of a castle, which today lie buried under the 11th tee. Maximilian's son (the famous "fairytale King" Ludwig II) had other plans though, he ventured further into the mountains to build the unfathomable Castle Neuschwanstein. The only time he came back to the shores of Lake Starnberg was to either drown or be shot while boarding a boat, depending on which theory you believe.
And so the Lenné Park in Feldafing fell into disrepair until 1927, when Bernhard von Limburger stepped in to create nine golf holes, thereby putting about half of the park back in play. The other half followed in 1962, when Limmy returned for the second nine. Subsequent restoration efforts by the State of Bavaria have resulted in today's dual utilisation as a golf course and a public park. This is probably a mixed blessing for both sides – the club cannot manage the trees, which are protected by severe state laws. And the public must be careful where to step, lest some unwitting player swings away when he really shouldn't. On the other hand the golfers have become part of the park's lore and done their part to keep it open.
The seniority of Feldafing's arboreal inventory is thus undeniable, as is its effect on the golf: tightness and wet soil on one side, aesthetics fit for a King on the other. Much of the tightness appears in the first few holes, with the par three second probably taking the cake – the one redeeming factor are the views of Lake Starnberg shimmering through the foliage. So there is no period of adjustment or easing in to the peculiarities of the game played here. Feldafing is not a course to be attacked and the whole challenge is best described as tricky and strategic. As the round progresses the fairways do get a bit wider, but not necessarily any easier to negotiate as they wind up and down and across the slopes leading down to the lakeshore.Overall, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the golf architecture: the routing is exquisite and every hole has its own character. While there are no obvious standouts, there's also no filler material – a very rare condition on tree-lined courses, where all too often one fairway looks like the next. And while longer hitters may have less of an advantage here, there are plenty of opportunities for driver play, especially on the more open back nine. Add to that a very Colt-like collection of one-shot holes requiring thought and precision and you'll end up with a course to be savoured by discerning players.
The six word abstract: great summer course for straight hitters.
Generally, I'm not a fan of tree-lined courses. Sure, trees are nice and occasionally magnificent, but they tend to diminish strategy and promote a feeling of sameness. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find 18 distinctly different holes here. Even a relatively flat and straightforward hole like the 3rd has an unusual edge in two stacked bunkers in front of the green, of which only the first is visible. If you think you can play it safe, you'll end up in the second. Another example is the very long par 4 13th, which on so many other courses would have turned out to be a boring slugfest: hit driver, hit your longest club off the fairway and see how much you have left. The version at Feldafing has a fascinating design feature in a creek bisecting the fairway longitudinally, which makes you think on the tee whether to go right or left of it. There is less carry on the right, but the fairway runs out at some point and the angles don't work in your favor. The left side is a more elusive target, but you get an easier second shot. So you can play it as an interesting par 5 and marvel at the two stately oaks presiding over the first two shots.
It's for the variety and the truly unique setting that I rate it at five balls - just barely! The lack of sun and wind, the tightness and the blocked views of the beautiful lake and mountains are undeniable. And although the routing is superb and largely avoids unnecessary walking, it is not a stroll in the park either. The terrain and the golf are quite demanding. Still, there can be no doubt that it is a very classy (and classic) challenge. Greatness comes in many shapes and this is the serious business end of it - go somewhere else for the light-hearted and fun aspects. It's not easy to fall in love with this layout, but equally hard to find better golf on truly historic grounds. (UM)