Prague does not instantly spring to mind when thinking of good golfing destinations in Europe but there are a number of fine courses worth checking out within a short drive from the city centre of the Czech Republic’s capital – Konopiste, Ypsilon Liberec and here (30 kilometres south west of Prague) at Karlstejn Golf Resort.
Opened in 1993, immediately after the demise of the former Czechoslovakian nation, it was one of the first European ventures undertaken by Golf Design Services, the firm of architects Les Furber and Jim Eremko, who have constructed dozens of golf courses in Canada since the company was formed in the 1980s.
The original Red course lies close to Karlstejn Castle (which dates back to the reign of King Karel IV in 1348) and is routed over a hilly, wooded landscape with limestone outcrops, ravines and a couple of lakes. As the architects say, the holes were designed as “easy to bogey but difficult to birdie” and, as a consequence, the layout presents a formidable challenge to golfers of all abilities.
The strength of the course is its shorter par four holes with half of the ten two shotters on the card measuring less than 350 metres in length. The 323-metre 2nd hole is easily the most thrilling, played downhill and right to a green that's protected by a pond on the left, a large bunker on the right and a small ditch in front – what you might call a classic easy bogey/difficult birdie hole.
Such is the demand at Karlstejn, a relief 9-hole course was built in 2007 to take some pressure off the 18-hole course, allowing club members to still play when there are corporate and tournament days on the main course.
In 1997, Karlštejn hosted its one and only Czech Open – then under the sponsorship of the import/export company Chemapol. Bernhard Langer won the event, posting a final round course record of 63. We’re sure Karlštejn would have played host to more Czech Opens but sadly, due to terrible flooding, the 1998 event was cancelled and the Czech Open disappeared from the European Tour schedule until it was resurrected in 2009 and hosted at Prosper Golf Resort.
In 2019, Scotland’s Carly Booth ended a seven year wait for her third Ladies European Tour title with victory in the Tipsport Czech Ladies Open, a dual-ranking event with the LET Access Series.
We were curious to know how Canadian architect Les Furber became involved in design projects in the Czech Republic, so we asked him, and he kindly provided the following explanation:
“I have a friend named Roger Schmidt from my home province of Saskatchewan who excelled in World Curling Championships and represented Germany numerous times at many curling tournaments. As a successful curler he was engaged in teaching curling throughout Europe.
Roger was asked in 1989 by the Minister of Sports in Czechoslovakia to help create a new golf facility for the people to play.
We became involved and worked closely with a local group to identify a good site and procure the land from more than 60 landowners. The project was the first modern golf course design in the country after communism ended in 1990 and was completed in 1993.
In 2006 we were asked to return Karlstejn Golf Resort to add the third nine holes to the facility.”
It’s a sensational setting for a game of golf, with views across the Berounka River to Karlstejn Castle, nestled in the densely forested hills a couple of kilometres to the northeast of the golf resort. Carly Booth had won the Czech Ladies Open here just a couple of days previously so the course was in great condition, as you might imagine, even though the rough had been allowed to grow very thick so close to the edge of the fairways.
For mere mortal amateurs who play the game, the current trend of having width on golf holes is one that the top ladies professional tour in Europe obviously chooses to ignore in order to punish inaccurate play in their eyes. It’s not a golfing world I’d like to inhabit and I don’t envy those who try to make a living from the sport having to perform in such stifling conditions.
The Red course consists of two returning nines, holes 1-9 and 10-18, and there’s another nine (holes 19-27) that were developed ten years ago by Les Furber, the same architect from North America who originally set out the championship course at the start of the 1990s. All told, this is a top drawer 27-hole facility that’s quite a bit more challenging to play than your typical resort setup.
The photogenic star of the show arrives really early in the round at the par four 2nd, where the teebox is positioned next to a rather obtrusive communications mast at the highest point on the property. The hole then plummets downhill and right to a green that’s protected by water to the left of the putting surface.
The following four holes then basically tack round the side of a hill before the tough par five 7th, rated stroke index 1, starts the uphill trek back towards the clubhouse and the large double green that links the 9th and 18th holes.
After playing the opening three holes on the back nine in the southwest corner of the resort, close to the main road in to the clubhouse, the remaining six holes are routed inside the front nine, with the two par fives at #13 and #17 the best holes for me on this stretch.
In particular, the 526-metre 13th is probably the best hole on the card, veering first to the right then heading left and narrowing as it crosses a little gully a hundred metres short of a long. L-shaped green – it’s a cracking hole and a fine example of how to make a long three-shot hole interesting from start to finish.
I didn’t have enough time to tackle the 9-hole South course but, after a spin round the layout on a buggy, I had to agree with a local journalist who said it was an absolute bargain to play during the week for less than £20.00 or £30.00 at the weekend. Built to the same exacting standards as the main course, though a little bit more constricted in places, it’s well worth considering for a 2-hour game if time is tight.
Golf Resort Karlstejn opened in 1993 and was designed by Canadian architects Les Furber and Jim Eremko.
The course occupies a hilly Bohemian site in the grounds of Karlstejn Castle, near Prague in the Czech Republic.
There are 27 holes at Karlstejn. The original championship course (holes 1-18) is known as the Red Course. A further nine was added in 2008 (holes 19-27) and can be added to either nine of the original nine to make up The Blue Course or The Black Course. Members are spoilt for choice, with 3 course options available!
Karlstejn had the honour of hosting the European PGA Tour Event in 1997, and will host the Ladies Open in 2019.
The hilly site challenges players with undulating lies, water hazards, strategically placed bunkers and greens with a lot of movement. The course demands precision iron play to a number of raised greens/up hill shots- and there are some difficult pin positions. It is fun to play but can be quite challenging. It is also a course with long and undulating walks between greens and tees- an ideal course to consider the use of golf carts.
If you find yourself in Prague with your golf clubs in tow, why not visit Karlstejn Castle and play Karlstejn Golf Resort?
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.