Opened for play in 2015, the course at Pärnu Bay Golf Links was set out by Lassi Pekka Tilander, the Finnish architect who was also responsible for designing the 27-hole facility at the Estonian Golf & Country Club some eight years earlier.
The course is situated on a narrow strip of land in a stunning coastal setting where the forest meets the sea at Pärnu Bay, featuring wide fairways, expansive sandy waste areas and multi-tiered greens.
There are too many trees and small lagoons for it to be considered a classic links in the true sense of what you’d expect to find in Scotland or Ireland but, for this part of the world, it’s nothing short of a golfing wonder.
The following edited extract by architect Lassi Tilander is from Volume Seven of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at email@example.com.
“It was during 2005 when Peter Hunt (the Swedish-Estonian entrepreneur) purchased a ‘half-finished’ golf course from developers, assuming it would be ready for play within two years. Soon, though, it became apparent that work done on the course, starting with the original design, was mostly unusable. Further issues emerged, including problems with permits. It took several years to straighten everything out, and we finally shook hands on the deal at Tallinn airport on 18 December 2010.
At first sight, the proposed area was impressive. It was a golf course architect’s dream, comprising sand, 180 degrees of coastline, and heathland. Further inspection brought up some interesting challenges regarding the design. The property is long and narrow: approximately 1.5 kilometres in length and 400 metres in width. As the clubhouse location had already been established at one end of the property, it meant there would be many holes running on a north-south axis.
A second challenge was the low-lying nature of the property and the possible rise in sea levels during autumn storms. The area is slightly tilted towards the sea: roughly four metres above sea-level at its highest, yet only one metre above at its lowest level. Of concern, was the fact that a good majority of the proposed golf course lay below the two-metre mark. Much work was undertaken to build and raise all areas to at least this height.
Pärnu Bay represents my design philosophy at its core. Personally, my playing strength has always rested upon a tidy short game: and my designs demand that same skill in and around the greens. Even when fully stretched to the tips, the course is short at only 6,143 metres. The challenge, therefore, comes when approaching the greens; and from strategically situated bunkers.
Visually, the open landscape harkens back to golf’s traditions. The wide fairways were shaped only as much as was absolutely mandatory for drainage purposes. Beyond the fairways many holes have large waste-bunker areas. As the city of Pärnu is well-known for its expansive beaches, from the outset I wanted to bring the same element to the golf course.
Limited resources forced us to concentrate on the green complexes and the bunkering. But it is these elements that really make the course come alive! It was a privilege to work alongside lead shaper Mick McShane, a Scotsman with much experience. The bunkers he carved with his bulldozer ended up exactly as raw-looking as I wanted them. The large, multi-shaped greens will make each round feel like none other.
Maintenance plays a major role in how the course is experienced. From the start it was clear that all grass would be pure fescue. Drought-tolerant fescue was chosen because of its superb playability, and for its low-irrigation needs. Optimally, the playing surfaces are being kept firm, giving rise to the importance of mastering the low-flying bump-and-run shot. All regularly maintained areas have only two mowing heights. The entirety of the playing area is cut short, while the greens are maintained to be especially ‘keen’.”
Played the course on August 24, 2021. I was the only one playing golf at noon and lucky not to get eaten by bears.
Holes 1 to 5 and 10 - 13 were into the wind, playing difficult. 15-18 downwind were particularly unimaginative. The ebb and flow of the routing is unnatural. The first 4 holes are 2 par 3s and 2 par 5s.
To me what the architect tried to achieve is not understood by the greenkeeping staff, they try to keep fairways overwatered and nice and green. The greens were probably a 7 on the stimpmeter. The course has to play firm and fast. Slopes around the greens and fairways are very severe and it is easy to miss the green/fairway by 3 yards and end up in an unplayable lie. Silly golf but an enjoyable experience. Not sure about the lone tree on 12 in the middle of the fairway. Many Coore/Crenshaw like design features including tee boxes on fairways.
Overall the course is flat - should be classified as wet Florida marshlands rather than links - you can see the bay on 18 if you look hard enough. The highlight is the stylish clubhouse.
Pärnu Bay Golf Links is one of the best golf courses in Estonia and Baltic States, real links course in the true sense of the word: a coastal stretch of land with sandy soil and fescue grasses. The course features wide fairways and expansive sand areas, as well as multi-leveled greens with bold movement. The par-72, 18 hole course plays to ~6,200 meters. The course also features riving range, putting green, marvelous clubhouse facing the sea with a fully equipped pro shop, saunas and restaurant EAGLE offering local and international flavors. I never tried so tasty huge burger like here. New and ultimately modern clubhouse. At the top of the highest point on the course, the glass-walled restaurant offers a breathtaking 360-degree view – enjoyable sight of the sea, forest, or golf course, or all three with just a turn of the head. Located in seaside of the Baltic sea, golf course has four last holes with beautiful view of coastline as background. Concerning prices it is not cheap golf course, but green fee prices include trolleys, course guide, saunas at the clubhouse. Also you must check special price time by time they offer.
Course is not very long and easy playable without buggy. I prefer walk here and find it comfortable and enjoyable. I was played here twice in the middle of the summer from white tees. I didn‘t find big challenges here except few holes. Fields condition was excellent, greens and fairways good maintained. Fairways are wide enough for long drives and greens also large. The first hole par 5 is very good begin for long hitters. Fairly straight field with fairway-protected sand areas from the edges makes it easy to reach the green with a second shot. No doubt second shot must be straight and accurate. After easy par (or birdie) the second hole is bit harder par 3. First shot must carry water hazard and two sand bunkers direct to center of the green. Next par 5 hole is longer than first one, but straight enough and with good opportunity to make par or better. ctually all holes in first nine are straight enough with large fairway for landing ball after drives from the tee. The second nine holes are more challenging. The 10th long par 5 (longest hole in the fields) with small dog leg to right and water hazards in both sides is one of the hardest and interesting. Each another hole is more atractive and challenging to compare with first nines. Exception is 15th short par 4 hole. Here you can play risky with first huge drive direct to green, or safety with 7 (8) iron + PW (AW) to reach middle of the green. Everything depends on wind also... Lets check yours brave :) The last hole par 5 is also challenging with narrow fairway and huge water hazard in right side and sand in left. Finally Pärnu Bay is the place where you can improve your hcp or have nice and enjoyable day.
As every golf course rating is always a subject with a lot of subjectivity, depending on various criteria and personal point of view to importance things, my personal opinion depends on following criteria: course complexity or challenging, fields condition (especially greens & fairways), service (only what you can get: buggie, club rent, condition of clubs, the amount of choice and etc. except staff and other subjective things that depends on your or staff mood), surrounding views or pleasure to the eyes and definitely value for the price. All criteries will be rating from 1 to 5 stars. My priority is challenging and value for price criterias. Pärnu Bay Golf Links gets:
1. Challenging - 3* +
2. Condition - 5*
3. Service - 5*
4. Surroundings - 5*
5. Value for the price - 4* +
Really pleasant to play here. Will be back soon.