Canadian-born architect David Krause – an associate of Robert Trent Jones at Valderrama in the 1980s – established his own business in 1993, arriving in Germany after spending a couple of years in France. One of his first German designs was the Deinster Mühle course near Hamburg and from that fine start he’s gone on to oversee more than twenty golf projects, one of which was here at Hardenberg in 2004.
The local distillery has been producing schnapps and liqueurs for over 300 years, and one of its most famous brands is “Schwartzhog”, a dark-coloured digestif named in honour of a black wild boar that apparantly saved the inhabitants of the nearby castle from an unexpected attack back in the 16th century. The hog is meant to have squealed during the night when it sensed invaders, enabling the Hardenberg army to see off the attack.
Why the history lesson, you may ask? Well, the signature hole on the Niedersachsen course is the par three 11th and its island green complex is shaped like a boar’s head, exactly as depicted on the Hardenberg family crest! From the back tees it's a meaty 200-yard shot – take that Sawgrass #17.
There are actually twenty-four more holes in play at the Hardenberg Golf Resort, a 6-hole beginner’s course and another 18-hole course named Göttingen that was designed by Donald Harradine. Back to Krause's Niedersachsen, it is (almost) everything that is good and bad about modern golf in one course. On the outside it's a completely mixed bag and yet, when stripped down to the bones, there is quality at the core. It looks as if every hole had a different designer and the modern notions of brute force and “Tour style” are certainly there as well. And yet it is loads of fun to play for everyone.
Krause stands for eclecticism taken to an extreme – all for the sake of variety, but at the expense of naturalness and believable aesthetics. Conventional wisdom has it that “Best of” courses never worked and never will, but the set of par threes here defies any such conventions. Despite not being easy on the eye, this modern course is one to play.
Hardenberg has the feel of a high-end club with excellent practice facilities and 36 holes of parkland golf. It’s situated in a beautiful area of rolling hills and significant elevation changes. We played the Niedersachsen (championship) course which I’d classify as a challenging walk with a lot of hill climbing and elevation change. There is a lot of variation built into this course but also an abundance of man-made features like greens built up with stone walls in front of them. That’s not one of my favorite features to be honest. With the elevation changes it was definitely a challenge to put this routing together. Starting with a long par 5 of 500 meters from the medal tees, then a downhill par 4 of 380 meters then a steep uphill par 5 of 452 meters it’s not exactly a gentle handshake to get going. For me the awkward holes start at #4 which is an uphill par 4 dogleg right that plays to an elevated green fronted by a rock wall. It has OB straight and then on the left side as it hugs the property boundary. The next hole feels slightly out of place, it’s a blind par 4 with a stop light for safety. This short blind par 4 plays over a hill with the oncoming fairway to the right side. There is no aiming point, which is fine if you have played the course several times but it’s a challenge to play the hole safe if you have never seen it. It plays over the top of the hill then drops down significantly on the back side. The approach is downhill to a green that drops away and is surrounded by rough.
The set of par 3’s really highlight some of the most artificial aspects of the course which simply fall into an architecture form I’m not that fond of. The 4th playing 170 meters on the day stretches to 202 meters and requires a carry over a dry wash area to a 2-tier green that has been raised and fronted by a brick wall. The 9th, which was playing 180 meters for us, also plays up to about 208 meters to an extremely narrow green with a bunker front right and a manmade stream that runs down the hole to the left side coming back in tight at the green. To my mind this is over the top. The 11th, the signature hole plays to about 181 meters, though it was only at 161 meters for us, from an elevated tee to an island green in the shape of a Boar’s Head – which represents the family shield of the owners. No further comment needed here, please see the photo. Finally, the 14th which plays to about 150 meters downhill with water left and bunkers right. That may well be the best of this bunch but not one I would run to play again. I think I’d go as far as to say they all push towards the school of penal architecture and require very accurate shots to play well. The course was certainly made with the intent of challenging good players from the back tees. In my opinion, the medal tees while quite a bit shorter also offer up a tough test of golf for the level of player that will be playing them.
For me the strength of the course is not the routing but really the beautiful area where it has been made. They seem to have had a huge amount of land to work with which is part of what makes it such a long walk. That adds to the elevation changes requiring several holes that play fairly steeply uphill and others that of course play fairly steeply downhill.
Another critique would be the greens, surrounds and bunkering. I found the bunkering to be quite non-descript, a mix of roundish shapes with other modern swerve shaped bunkers and a couple large, sanded areas that have a different color sand and also play as bunkers. What feels non-descript is that you can only partially see the bunkers in most cases so there is no framing of the greens, this is something you need to see in the photos below to get a feeling for what I mean.
I don’t want to come across overly critical regarding Hardenberg, clearly it was not my favorite, but I have heard from quite a few people that absolutely love it. Which is totally fair, it’s a very popular club and again it’s located in such a beautiful area. I just can’t help but to believe it could easily be so much better and more fun with a different set up and routing, a stronger set of greens and a different style of bunkering. To me this is the kind of landscape where someone like Tom Fazio could best layout a fun and challenging yet aesthetically beautiful design that really compliments this impressive landscape.
Being a huge fan of Donald Harradine I was really looking forward to come to the Hardenberg resort to play his Old Course. I didn't know much about the Niedersachsen Course and expected even less from this modern abomination - or so I thought. Well, I was wrong, "Krause's folly" blows "Harradine's classic" right out of the water.
The key is the variability created by an undisturbed out and back routing over some of the most perfectly rolling land to be had. Every hole has its own, distinctive challenges and is completely different from anything before or after. Sure, there is a lot of eye candy, which I would consider to be way over the top in most places, but somehow this layout carries it. Krause's cause is helped enormously by the conditioning: not firm and fast, but as close to it as can be on sticky soil - a great job on part of the greenkeeping staff and playable throughout the winter as a consequence.
It's a veritable Tour de Force through the world of golf: the supplied image shows the 4th hole and you may be able to make out a few rocky fortifications, which appear on this hole and the amphi-theatrical 5th. That apparently took care of Pete Dye, so that the 6th could be a bunkerless, old-style short par 4, followed by a well-bunkered version of the same template. The 8th with its creek-like water feature looks positively Irish inland and the 9th presents an army of revetted pot bunkers - hello Scotland. And hard on its tail comes the inevitable 11th with the boar's head.
I am not always fond of Krause's work in other places, but credit must be given where it is due: in spite of any number of face palms, this course is a blast to play. (UM)