Pannonia Golf & Country Club is located twenty-five miles west of Budapest, on the outskirts of Alcsútdoboz village. In this rural idyll, Hans G. Erhardt collaborated with Doug Carrick to design one of the best golf courses in either architect's portfolio. Interestingly, around the same time, these two designers also jointly fashioned Fontana, the Austrian Open venue near Vienna.
Open for play since 1996, Pannonia is laid out in the style of an old country estate that winds its way through a sweeping valley landscape that is blessed with defined elevation changes where the often-present wind can dent the scorecard.
Water comes into play at eight holes but none more dramatically than the 129-metre 17th where an island green sits precariously below the teeing ground. Pannonia’s greensites are striking and invariably raised, strategically bunkered, large and well contoured, placing a premium on accurate approach play.
Measuring a tad more than 6,400 metres from the tips, Pannonia is no shorty, but numerous tee boxes cater for all abilities – the layout plays less than 5,000 metres from the forward tees.A chapter titled “Driving the Danube” was written by Jim Lamont and published in Chris Santella’s book, Fifty More Places to Play Golf Before You Die. “For trips that begin in the east, players fly in to Budapest. After a day of touring the twin cities of Buda and Pest, you’ll make your first golf stop at Pannonia Golf & Country Club, the finest of Hungary’s courses… The grounds of Pannonia once belonged to the Hungarian branch of the Hapsburgs, and the ornate clubhouse where you’ll dine after golf once housed a greenhouse.”
A solid 18 hole parkland course an hour out of Budapest.
Water, modest elevation changes and bunkering create most of the design challenges but the long and thick second cut of rough is also to be avoided.
The most interesting part of the course, for me at least, was the constantly changing directions of almost every fairway. No straight lines between tee and green seemed to be on offer anywhere on the course. There was always a jink to the left, or slight dog-leg right and on many holes, combinations. Add bunkers before, after or right at the turning point and shot-making required a significant amount of thought. I played on a cool and overcast early October day, with a three club wind blowing, so probably had every right to be in a lesser frame of mind, but the twisting and turning nature of the layout made it more enjoyable. There were plenty of water hazards as well, which is not surprising seeing as the course is situated in the vee of a slight valley.
The clubhouse is built around and in an impressive older facility and the overall impression is of a manor lodge and grounds. I imagine this would be in the Top 150-200 range in Australia and lower again in the UK and for a green fee of about €50, the course felt like good value.
Where to start with Pannonia? The old clubhouse is an absolute delight – a long, elegant building that was used in the past for agricultural purposes, as far as I’m aware, however you’d never guess that from the four tall stone columns that support the entrance frontage, which was probably added in more recent times.
Moving away from the long terrace that runs along the back of the building and onto the course, everything seems pretty much in order and the first hole, rising steadily up to a three-tiered green, is a wide, comfortable way to ease yourself into the round but there was something not quite right and it took me until the tee shot on the 2nd hole to realize what it was – the poor mowing lines of the fairways!
As the round progressed, I become more and more upset with the way the grass had been cut in dead straight lines from tee to the green, offering very little fairway definition or assistance in shaping the holes. In some cases, it was difficult to know exactly where a semi-blind or doglegged fairway was leading to, which greatly impacted on my enjoyment of the course.
The first four holes are rather mundane, essentially played out on the side of a hill before the routing drops down to the green at the par five 5th, where the fairway kinks sharply left a hundred metres from the putting surface. The following hole narrows considerably towards an offset green that’s fronted by a couple of small wetland areas and a tree sitting rather incongruously in the middle of the fairway, doing its best to obscure any view of the putting surface.
The par three 8th plays downhill at what seemed to me like a 45-degree angle to the natural line off the tee box area, which I found somewhat disorientating, and I also wasn’t impressed at this hole by the large beach bunker that separates the raised green from the pond on the right side of the putting surface.
My notes for the par five 9th amount to one word: “confusing!” as it perfectly sums up the path from tee to green on a snaking fairway that’s bounded first by water to the left then to the right, with precious little by way of guidance towards the target from the way the closely mown grass has been cut.
On the back nine, the par fours at the 12th and 13th are routed along a ridge at the highest point on the property, dropping down to a green that tilts significantly from back to front on the latter hole, and they’re probably the best two holes on the scorecard.
The downhill par five 16th is another strange hole. There’s a large bunker complex just left of the tee box area (so maybe the hole was once played uphill in reverse?) and an enormous waste bunker runs almost the full length of the fairway on the right side, totally out of place with anything else on the layout.
The par three 17th plays downhill to an island green before another set of odd mowing lines on the 18th eventually brings us back to the clubhouse – now, I may be doing the head greenkeeper a disservice here with my criticism as he/she may be very experienced at their job and know exactly what they’re doing though it didn’t seem that way to me across large swathes of this layout.
Still, there were loads of people out on the course (many groups of Asian women in 4-balls – maybe there’s a Samsung facility nearby) who, unlike me, seemed to have no qualms whatsoever about where they were going as they played their round. I can normally see past conditioning nevertheless, on this occasion, it had such a detrimental effect on proceedings that it just couldn’t be ignored.
I’m sorry, but I expected far more from a course that’s been ranked the country’s number 1…
I guess I more agree than disagree with Jim's review, as I too expected more from a course rated number 1 in Hungary when I played it. But for a country without much golfing heritage, maybe that is simply expecting too much.
I do disagree about the sightlines issue, as I found the cut of rough to be a different shade of green and it provided the necessary delineation of where the holes were being routed. A handheld GPS also helped navigating the plethora of shot options.
Finally, the 16th - I think Jim is on to something: that long waste bunker running 250m down the righthand side of the hole didn't seem to make any sense. It commenced near the tee but then stopped 150m from the green. Add in the bunkers on the lefthand side close to the tee but nowhere near the line of play and it's further nonsensical. But, played in the opposite direction the hole would be quite something else!