In de Bargen 59,
- +49 (0) 40 812177
10 km W of Hamburg
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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."
Frank Pont began consulting at Falkenstein in 2015, advising on mowing lines and returning greens to their original shape and size, as well as reintroducing close-mown areas around the putting surfaces. A bunker restoration programme began in 2018 (on the par three 8th and 10th) using old aerial photography as a reference. This work carried on the following year on another six holes, with all eleven upgraded sand hazards refurbished using Blinder bunker lining.
The project continues in a phased manner.
Our whirlwind trip sampling the top ranked courses in Germany truly ended with the best of the best. Being one of the older clubs in the country and one of the few Golden Age designs that was originally crafted by Colt himself, Hamburger Falkenstein is a true standout.
The sandy soil and naturally undulated terrain are a perfect mix for great golf design. Colt’s routing runs seamlessly in every direction through this beautiful landscape and ironically the only question marks for me result from work I’ve been informed are not the product of Colt’s original routing. Can’t say I’m surprised by this.
I’d have to say, I love the feel of the club, the open practice area and putting green in front of the clubhouse and the ability to view some of the action while sitting on the patio of the restaurant. It has a wonderful old school feeling to it.
The usage of the central dune as teeing grounds for the 1st and 10th holes is also genius and creates excellent starts to both 9’s. The opening hole presents an elevated tee shot to a short dogleg left par 4 that plays longer than the distance on the card due to the uphill approach to the green. Bunkers are placed strategically along the right side of the fairway and fronting the green on the right side.
Arriving at the tee box to the second hole the main critique for the course becomes readily apparent. There has been a clear lack of a tree maintenance plan over the years that has allowed the trees to largely infringe on the playing alleys. While this does seem to be an issue on many holes of the course, some holes enjoy open areas of heather and lovely vistas, there are far too many holes that are suffocated by the overgrowth of the trees. Even the first hole is affected but from the second hole this becomes obviously an issue.
The good news is that the club is working on this with a long-term strategic plan and hopefully this will see extensive tree removal that will greatly improve light and air circulation and thus turf conditions, fully returning wonderful vistas and increasing playability.
If there is one hole that doesn’t quite fit into the mix for me it’s the 3rd hole. A long par 3 playing to an elevated green. This one simply didn’t have the feeling of being a Colt one shotter given his prowess for designing amazing par 3’s. In fact, this and the 2nd hole seem to have been later additions by the famous German architect von Limburger. The simple fact that it’s easy to distinguish between Colt’s original work and the more modern iterations really speaks volumes as to Colt’s expertise.
The 4th, 5th and 6th holes are interesting dogleg right holes. 4 (a par 5) and 5 both play up over hills and utilize right side fairway bunkering to challenge the tee shot. Long hitters can take on the bunkers to gain significant distance advantage by landing tee shots onto the down slope of the backside of the hill, but a very aggressive line is required. The 5th and 6th vary greatly in length as well as the angle of the dogleg, the first playing at a much sharper angle. The 6th plays steep uphill for the approach.
Note that significant tree removal would benefit all these holes. Then you arrive at the 7th which may receive the award for the hole most in need of significant tree removal on the entire course. Colt would be rolling over in his grave to see what’s become of this hole. Otherwise, it’s an excellent short par 4. A strong drive down the middle leaves a semi-blind uphill approach to a wonderful green full of undulation and left to right movement with the right side being guarded by 3 deep bunkers.
The 8th hole is a beautiful mid-length par 3 that is befitting of a Colt 1 shot hole though it seems the green has been heavily modernized and reshaped in places, possibly due to drainage measures. It plays slight downhill over a large field of heather which was fortunately in bloom during our visit.
The 9th takes the player back to the clubhouse with another blind tee shot that plays up over a hill. This one is also playing rather tight in the trees and would hugely benefit from significant tree removal. The green complex was really interesting and blended into the dune on the left-hand side. It’s also very well protected with bunkers and plays from a right to left sloping fairway to a right to left sloping green, a tough shot given the draw lie.
The 10th is another excellent mid-length par 3 as previously mentioned playing from the dune in the opposite direction of the first hole.
The course then goes on an interesting run of 4 par 4’s. 11 being a long one, 12 a mid-length and 13 and 14 being short holes that play from elevated tees down into fairways then up hill to the greens. These represent quite interesting usage of the natural contours of the land.
The 15th is the last par 3. It’s a dynamic drop shot par 3 playing over a hill of heather. Interesting is that this hole very much reminds the player of Simpson’s par 3 – 4th hole one the Valliere Course at Morfontaine. I’ll admit to being quite a fan of this hole and it caught me by surprise at this point in the round. It only plays to 142 meters but given the level of drop can easily be a wedge.
The 16th is also a bit of an odd hole for me, it’s a dogleg left but one that plays over a tree on the left side but also has a couple large trees on the right side that are in the fairway leaving the feeling from the tee that you either need to hit up over the trees or keep the ball under them which is definitely something that would not be common for Colt. This hole and the par 3 – 3rd were my least favorite holes on the course.
The last two holes provide a really strong and interesting finish. The par 5, 17th requires a really good drive and then a careful decision of whether to take on the field of heather and go for it in two or lay back safe. It’s a 437-meter dogleg left par 5. Quite short by today’s standards so playing more like a par 4.5 which is fine for players of my length and ability, I’d say, and makes for a really fun hole. However, for long hitters this hole could be too easy as a par 5 given they could with the right line hit 3 wood or even 2 iron around the corner and get a favorable bounce and run out leaving them with a mid-iron into this green. Nevertheless, a hole that I really liked.
The course finishes with a solid dogleg left part 4 taking the player back towards the clubhouse.
Hamburger Falkenstein is truly a classic, currently, as mentioned, they are undergoing significant improvements and I’d hope that some of the mentioned points will be taken under consideration which would be to the benefit of all players and condition of the course, at least when it comes to tree removal. This is a brilliant course and a must visit, it sits on the cusp of being recognized as one of Colt’s great legacy courses but would hugely benefit from some proper loving in terms of a thoughtful renovation.
The bones and the potential are certainly there and it’s worth a trip to Germany just to play it.
This is one of if not the best course in Germany. The only point you could critisize is the lack of length but that is a problem many of the old classic courses have. I think it would deserve to be in the top100world List. Extremely nice staff and members! A must play in Germany!
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)