It must be assumed that for the last couple of centuries the Hofgut Georgenthal estate was a rather unpopular place, as it was the church's official leaseholder for collecting the tithe (one tenth payment) from the surrounding farms. These days it's the rather more well-to-do resort guests and golfers, who are expected to foot the bill and it's a much happier place for that. And instead of the church overseeing affairs, it's now the family of the late Heinz Hankammer, founder of the well-known water filter brand BRITA. Brita is also the name of Hankammer's daughter, who runs the place and made the decision in 2011 to build a golf course on the agricultural grounds around the manor.
A couple of the usual woes later (contractor bankrupt, no water on-site, archeological protection zones) she got lucky in retaining Christian Althaus, who was ready to deliver his first masterpiece as an up-and-coming golf architect. He chose the faux links style popularised in Germany by Winston Links and the similarities to the Schwerin behemoth are indeed striking, even if the detail work isn't quite up to that level. However, the severely undulated site probably trumps anything that faux links has ever been attempted on. In fact, it could be called a "bowl links" with the hotel sitting at the bottom and the fairways running up, down and across the side walls. It is certainly an imposing sight that presents itself to the first-time visitor, when he emerges from the deep forest after a prolonged drive through the Hessian backwaters.
Germans like to practice. Therefore the already rather small site had to accommodate a full-size driving range, assorted practice facilities and a three-hole short course in addition to the main attraction. The toll on yardage is not much of a problem, but even seasoned walkers will feel the sting of an Alpine front nine with several connector walks and a climb from the lowest to the highest point of the property in just one par 4. Luckily there's also an upside to the rugged terrain: it gives up 18 super-memorable holes and delivers a Tour-worthy arena experience. As befits any difficult looking course, getting the ball in play is actually a bit easier than it seems. This might have to do with the fact that the 18 tee shots are the only shots played off a level lie. As on most links courses – faux or not – par is primarily defended at the green and Hofgut Georgenthal is no exception. The green complexes not only tie in to the drama, but also add their bit on top.
Only time can judge long-term appeal, but as of now every golfer will want to see this course at least once. Some may leave it at that and some might even regret making the trip, but no one will come away indifferent. At the very least it is a beacon of hope for the golf industry to see a high-quality, new build succeed in creating an unforgettable place with so little yardage.
If Pennard is the "links in the sky", then this is the "links in the woods". Despite that bizarre designation and any number of flaws, I'll let this contraption sneak into the five-ball category. I tend to rate the "one of a kind" factor highly and Hofgut Georgenthal has more of that than some of the real links courses I've played. It is not possible to experience this course on paper, be it by word or pictures. So all I have are some rambling thoughts:
* On such a severe site the main focus should have been on walkability and flow. Of course the hills can't be moved and safety can't be compromised, but some of the climbing is unnecessary except perhaps for the resort's cart business. The cobblestone walk between holes 9 and 10 is incomprehensible. The back nine is a lot easier to digest: the fairways are routed in terrasses along the slope and there's just one connector walk and that's downhill.
* The greens are very firm, but run-up shots are hampered by the soft approaches. Hopefully this can change over time.
* I don't like it when drive length is artificially limited for average hitters, while longhitters get a free pass. Hitting a career drive on a risky line should be rewarded.
* The architect has a few tricks up his sleeve. Where the contours are the wildest, there is usually ample room off the fairway, whereas a tighter game is needed around the "more level" holes.
* As for the short game, all bets are off - a horde of elephants has been buried under those greens! They are undulated to the point of having no pin positions at all. Every little tap-in will break. And some of those bunkers are effectively unrakeable, so hard is it to get into and out of them.
* My impression is that the owners haven't decided yet what type of business they are shooting for. There's no place for golfers to relax after the round. The restaurant is for hotel guests only and the bar tries very hard, but seems more like an afterthought. They can get a small selection of food from the "off limits" restaurant, depending on availability and eagerness.
Despite all those nuisances, it is still great fun to navigate the complexities of this design. Most players will leave already theorising about how they are going to play certain holes when they return. I think I have a pretty foolproof plan!