Back in 1968, golf was still very underdeveloped in Austria. In fact, there were less than fifteen courses in the country when Mr. Karl Bauer and Dr. Wolfgang Paul (the first president of the club) created an 18-hole golf course on a piece of flat land south of Vienna with the help of Scottish architect Douglas Stonehouse.
Föhrenwald was very open then, but the club soon called in Jeff Howes, a Canadian golf architect who worked for Jack Nicklaus before relocating to Ireland and setting up his own design business. Jeff Howes has been tweaking, redesigning and improving the course for some twelve years now, planting trees, reshaping holes and greens, and creating several holes on land acquired after 1968. The new holes add relief to the layout as they are located in two quarries which used to border the golf course.
Golfclub Föhrenwald was home to the Ladies European Tour’s Austrian and then Uniqa Open from 2005 to 2012, which unfortunately no longer exists within the LET calendar. However, the course is still kept in very good condition all year round and will be a source of enjoyment to golfers of all levels.
Föhrenwald may have lost its main claim to fame, the Ladies European tour event which took place eight years in a row at this location, but it is still a very good golf course, and still improving since its architect, Jeff Howes, is still seen around the fairways imagining ways to tweak and fine tune his layout, thirteen years after he was first called in by the club’s board. Either that, or he fell in love with the small critters running along the fairways at all times of day: the course is “graced” with hundreds of susliks, or ground squirrels, a protected species in Austria that loves terrain like a golf course as they dig their burrows in grassy areas with short turf. The good thing is that they are probably too small to be interested in stealing golf balls!
I liked the intelligent design of the course, which takes every advantage of the natural resources that can be found on the site: the expansion holes (3, 4, 7 and 8) that have been created in land that used to be quarries, giving some (moderate) elevation change opportunities; the small river crossing the locale which was used to create two lakes and a hazard zone defending the front of the 9th and 13th greens. The long hitters on the 9th may be tempted to reach the green in two, but they must be sure of their distance to avoid the stream. And the par-four 13th is not only a scenic hole due to the forest around it and the creek, but also one of the tougher holes to score on, with its green tucked around a dogleg placed a long way from the tee and with the same stream crossing the fairway just a few yards in front of it.. There are also a good number of bunkers strategically placed, which to me seemed to remind golfers that Jeff Howes first worked for Jack Nicklaus: the bunkers are often in clusters of three and four, especially the fairway ones, and sometimes around the greens they are quite expansive. Another unusual feature of the course, is the huge waste area that separates the 7th and 8th holes.
The course is far from short at 6323 meters from the tips, 5960 meters from the men’s tees and still 5099 meters (not 5100, according to the score card!) from the ladies’ tees. This in addition to everything else was a good reason for the European lady pros to come back to this venue year after year as they could stage their battles on a course that was not too physically demanding but which required good strategy and length off the tee.
The “signature holes” are to be found next to the clubhouse: the short 16th crosses the main lake and demands a high tee shot with precision distance as the green is defended by three big bunkers guarding its front, its back and its left side, the right side keeping very close to the water. And then the long finishing 18th hole, where the stream can be first encountered crossing the fairway a good 100 meters short of the green, runs along the other side of the lake with the moderately elevated green flanked by convoluted bunkers on one side, and the lake on the other. I think my favorite hole was the par-four 3rd though, which runs along the edge of a sharp drop all along its right side. It is a dogleg right, and the options for the tee shot are interesting, a classic risk-reward situation depending on how much the golfer wants to cut across the hazard. The “Tiger line” may not be such a good option for long hitters though, as there is a large bunker lurking inside the dogleg to catch the ball of the golfer who only thinks about carrying the ravine.
And, last but not least, the team at the clubhouse and at the restaurant are very welcoming to the visitors and the food offering is quite good. It proves much harder to leave this golf course than to find one’s way to it, as is rendered even more obvious by the very healthy membership, close to 900.