Hamburg Golf Club was founded way back in 1906 and in those days the club played over a nine-hole course at Flottbek. It must have been a fine course, because in 1910, Flottbek was the venue for the inaugural German Open Championship. But, as golf grew in popularity, the nine-hole course became crowded and new land was eventually found at Falkenstein. In 1930 a new 18-hole course for the Hamburger Golf Club was ready for play and it’s an absolute masterpiece from the brilliant design firm of Colt, Alison and Morrison.
The majority of the original layout remains intact but the great German designer Bernhard von Limburger made a few alterations in the 1960s, adding a couple of holes (at the 2nd and 3rd) at the expense of losing a couple of others.
It’s a glorious, natural course that is laid out on undulating heathland and, as we all know, this sandy free-draining ground is perfect for golf. Falkenstein was originally developed as a championship course and between 1935 and 1999 it became a regular venue for the German Seniors Championship. Falkenstein also played host to the German Open on no fewer than eight occasions and, in 1981, the club was delighted to see Bernhard Langer triumph here (the first German to win the national open).
Falkenstein is an attractive course, which is routed in all directions of the compass. The wooded location provides a genteel oasis to play golf, away from the hustle and bustle of Hamburg’s city centre. While tree-lined courses often have dull highway-like holes, here only the 2nd and 11th are relatively straight and that is just the right amount of diversion on a course full of doglegs and interest. Every hole presents a unique challenge, the bunkering is vintage Colt (with some modern alterations) and the green complexes provide great entertainment without going overboard.
There certainly are some hills to conquer and valleys to drive over, but it remains walkable and, for the championship minded golfer, completely fair. The maintenance practices are to be commended – so often these historic courses are allowed to overgrow and play soft when trees and rough replace the heather and block the original playing angles. Not here at Falkenstein, this is a firm and fast experience like no other in Germany.
The following article was written by golf course architect Tony Ristola and is an edited extract from Volume Three of Golf The Sands Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected]
Harry Colt’s Hamburger Golf Club Falkenstein crushes the myth that large budgets are necessary for ‘first-rate’ golf to emerge. The fact is, in much of Germany you can come close to constructing a Falkenstein for the price of a ‘big-name’ architect’s design fee! If built today, Falkenstein would cost one to one and a half million euros, possibly less! This is due to its sandy soils, superb topography and co-operative climate.
Constructed in 1931-32, ‘the actual construction period was 76 working days from the start of surface construction to the completion of seeding.’ They did not use scrapers, bulldozers excavators and dumpers to move 120,000 cubic yards of soil but horses, tractors and 140 men. Time is money. With good planning, a favourable site and modern earth moving equipment guided by a skilled and committed architect, golf courses of distinction can materialize… affordably.
Falkenstein unfolds like a model from Colt and Alison’s book Some Essays on Golf Course Architecture (1920). The routing, bunkering and greens set the course apart, and reveal the architect’s values, flair and knowledge. It is a wonderful example of what makes the game fun, interesting, the course affordable and its principles worthy of imitation.
Falkenstein’s routing is dynamic, taking full advantage of the natural, rolling terrain, presenting all manner of shots – uphill, downhill, side hill, drop shots and seemingly every mixture of these elements. The outcome is a wide variety of holes with challenging and memorable shot opportunities.
Harry Colt further differentiated the eighteen corridors with expertly devised greens and hazards, but especially noteworthy is Falkenstein’s complete absence of water! The property did not have any naturally occurring water and back in the 1930s it was difficult, slow and costly to construct functional, natural-looking water features in fast-draining soils, hence no water.
The bunker scheme is distinctive when compared with the modern practice because it is designed to influence the line of play to the hole, not simply punish bad shots. Instead of plopping bunkers alongside the fairways in range of better players, Colt’s are set at a wide variety of distances, often eating into the fairways, intruding on the direct line to the hole.
To have a course of class you need quality greens and surrounds and Falkenstein’s do not disappoint. There is no ‘framing’ with mounds, only rolls, knobs, depressions ad bunkers, combined with the contour of the greens and their varied outer slopes. It makes for interesting putting, approach and recovery shots. These greensites are testing, fit seamlessly into the landscape and are cost-effective to construct and maintain.
By flawlessly executing the essentials on a fine piece of land – routing, hazards, strategy, aesthetics and greens – Harry Colt’s north Germany success story remains full of interest, challenge and fun three-quarters of a century after its completion. This jewel has stood the test of time (and) it never has, or will, require costly redesigning, only preservation. Hamburger Golf Club Falkenstein is tremendous value that money alone cannot buy.
Falkenstein is in a class of its own in Germany. This course is very consistent, varied, gorgeous and challenging. Colt and his mates and German Von Limburger really did a sublime job here, and the club is doing an equally sublime job in maintaining the grandeur of the course and design.
The course is perfectly in balance and the routing is magnificent. It is 100% natural and benefits maximally from the landscape, also strategically. The greensites are among the best I've seen anywhere. You need to use the natural slopes to work your ball towards the green or the hole and it's very satisfying to judge them right. When you fail to do this, it can be quite educational to look at the same shot from the other side.
As for the club experience: It's a warm welcome when you enter the grass on the members side of the clubhouse and one is greeted with an abundance of rhododendrons and top notch practice greens. We got 20 percent off because the greens had recently had a necessary treatment due to some recent championships. The greenkeepers are very passionate about their job and entrusted me we should have played the course the week before, as the greens never had been that good in their opinion. They were still bloody quick though.
Favourites on the front nine include the par 5 th, par 4 6th and par 3 8TH. From 8 onwards, an amazing stretch starts all the way to the 15th. The 16th is a little boring (out of place) perhaps.
The par 3 10th next to the clubhouse with a 20 meter drop is fantastic and the 13th is one of my favourite par 4's everywhere. It's only 314 meters and it couldn't be better. The tee shot is played from a hill and the fairway narrows at 210 meters, where a big bunker awaits one's tee shot. On the left, There is room for a longer tee shot but you risk not having a line to the green due to tall trees in front of you. To far to the right and you're to far into the bushes. So an iron it is for mr. conservative, but the fairways looks really tempting, and the iron shot will inevitably roll down to the right part of the fairway leaving an approach that plays considerably uphill to a back to front left to right sloping green. The 17th must be one of worlds most beautiful par 5's. One should be careful to not drive it through the fairway. Then you can go for the green on this short par 5, but you have to hit it over 50 meters of heather, also stretching the whole length of the par 3 8th that lies next to the 17th. It really doesn't get any better.
This is the kind of course where you want to play every day. It's a fair championship test and it's glorious. Every hole is a challenge, very beautiful and different. Not unimportantly, it is perfect as it is. I find it hard to compare it to other Colt designs or heathland courses. We're lucky to have a couple in the Netherlands. I'd say Falkenstein is as good as De Pan minus 1 or 2 mediocre holes. Fontainebleau is superb, but it needs some love aka deforestation. Falkenstein shows it's full potential and that is very special. Therefore I think Falkenstein is underrated. I would not be surprised if Falkenstein sneaks into the World top 100 one day, it's a worthy contender at least and it has my vote! MO
Hamburg is the premier golf club and course in Germany. It’s a true Harry Colt delight with fabulous golfing topography with 18 holes in existence since the early 20th century. This is authentic heathland golf and has the exact same look and feel of those famous heathland courses in Surrey/Berkshire, England.
I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that British soldiers during WW2 enjoyed golfing here as it reminded them of home. Beautiful heather lines many of the holes, and with a constant change in direction across highly undulating land, the course is the perfect marriage of beauty and outstanding design.
The first hole gives you a flavour of how the land moves, and the second hole introduces the challenge of playing through the trees. The routing changes direction in each of the first 8 holes before returning to clubhouse. Stand out holes on the front side include the epic uphill par 4 6th hole which you get a glimpse of while walking down the 5th fairway. It’s really eye opening and gets the heart racing just thinking about it. The 6th hole is hugely unique and incredibly steep leaving par feeling like a birdie.
Consistent with Colt’s acclaimed courses, the short par 4s on the front are strategic, tempting and bold. It’s been noted by other authors that the par 3s at Hamburger are not Colt’s best and in combination feel a little bland compared the outstanding par 4s. It’s hard to forget how incredible the short holes at Sunningdale, St. George’s Hill and Swinley Forest are, so with those images in your mind, the par 3s at Falkenstein pale in comparison – but only because the bar was set so high elsewhere.
The back nine is full of heather and is packed with delightful undulating and dog-legging par 4s before the famous par 5 17th which is arguably the best hole on the course. Those brave enough to hit a heroic carry over the purple heather will have a chance to hit the green in two.
Colt did a marvelous job of discovering 18 fantastic green-sites among the treasured heather, rolling ridges and towering pines - I am firmly a big fan of this German work of art.
I agree with everything that has been said in previous reviews, but would like to add a few more reasons to play here. First up is superintendent Norbert Lischka. He is a pioneer for heathland cultivation and firm playing surfaces in Germany and keeps his course in world-class condition with just a handful of greenkeepers and a minimum application of chemicals. Clearly the way forward for golf and you'll love how his course plays. Then, if you come here in August, when the heather is in full bloom, you'll be blown away. Not many courses can compete with Falkenstein in the heathery department. On top of all that you'll still pay less than at comparable venues like Alwoodley or Ganton or anywhere in Surrey. Just be reasonable and polite, they'll get you out on the course. And if you enter the HuLoPo competition, which consists of 100 holes played on a long day in June, the club will probably lose money on you!
There is very little to be said against Falkenstein, perhaps the configuration (only three par 5s, two par 3s of similar length) is a smidgen below world class and there is tree encroachment in places. However, the fairways are surprisingly wide on most holes and the playing strategies are absolutely intact. Tree-lined courses often have boring highway-like holes, but here only #2 and #11 are relatively straight and that is just the right amount of diversion on a course full of doglegs and quirk. Every hole presents a unique challenge, the bunkering is vintage Colt (some modern alterations) and the greens are thankfully still original. There certainly are some hills to conquer and some valleys to drive over, but it remains very walkable and, for the championship minded golfer, completely fair. For continental Europe it doesn't get much better than this. (UM)