Hats off to Hilgert and his CDP associates. Koln is a very consistent, well-maintained championship test in a lovely setting. It would be fitting if the course played firmer. The lay-out is suited for it. The routing is spacious, coherent and consists of three returning loops.
The round is off to a strong start with the lovely, friendly par 4 first, although the first trees blocking an even better view of this hole are visible on the right side. The 2nd is a strong, strategic slight dogleg right par 5 with a stream running diagonally across the fairway. The short, blind and reachable par 4 4th is also an early highlight in the round, and my favorite hole on the course. It features a sloping hill that is easily carried but is all you can see off the tee, and you know and hope what lies behind must be quite wide. The left side is favourable for the best approach into the green, which looks awfully small and narrow from a but is in fact quite large.
After a while it becomes apparent that many holes are doglegged with the dogleg dictating the preferred strategy. Nevertheless, Refrath is well-bunkered and the green sites provide for plenty of interesting (recovery) situations, run-offs and a set of crowned greens with intelligent slopes. It all works very well and the spectacle is evenly spread throughout the round, without an obvious climax stretch of holes. A weaker spot in the routing is that the par 3s, although pleasant and pleasing to the eye, are samish in length and roughly play in the same direction (all 4!). The 12th however is a brilliant hole with a superb elephant back green, sloping away front to back and to the left.
I really liked the width of the holes at Koln, the course is very spacious and therefore the round was a very pleasant walk without the need to search for lost balls more than occasionally, without compromising on challenge. The demanding par 4 14th on the other hand was a hole, not unlike the extreme 14th at The Island, where a dead-straight shot is the only option as the hole was clearly very narrow in comparison with the rest. This however worked quite well whereas it could have been just another cramped par 4 if the tree management hadn’t been quite so good. Well done Refrath, especially from a German perspective it is admirable that you’ve chosen to be a role model for other classic courses that have overgrown over the last century.
Refrath has a similar ‘je ne sais quoi’ sense of stepping inside a painting with almost unnaturally beautiful satured colours that can be experienced at Les Bordes (Old). The bunkers contrast with very bright, blinding white tints and are surrounded by a well-manicured, brazilian waxed landing strip of rough edges for definition. If you’re spotting parallels with Falkenstein I wouldn’t say that’s far-fetched either, although the land is less exciting at Refrath, is closer to parkland than it is to heathland, and feels more contrived in terms of the shaping of the holes and hazards – the water hazards for example that have sharp stone wall edges with sudden height differences between bordering parts of the fairways. It doesn’t feel too out of place though and the style is consistently applied throughout the course.
This place is well-deserving of a visit and should be seriously considered for a place comfortably in the next continental top 100.
Date: June 13, 2022