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Hamburger Falkenstein

Hamburger Falkenstein

Hamburg, Hamburg
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Stefan von Stengel
01/11
Hamburg, 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.

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Stefan von Stengel
01/11

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.

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Course Architect

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Harry Colt

Harry Colt studied law at Clare College, Cambridge. Twelve months after his 1887 enrolment, he joined the committee of the Cambridge University Golf Club and in 1889 became the club's first captain.

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