For a number of historic reasons, Germany has no "Royal" golf clubs (Dortmund’s Royal Saint Barbara was founded by the British military), but if it did, then Golfclub Regensburg would be a prime candidate. The course is nicknamed "Thiergarten" (Animal Garden) after the surrounding forest that has been used for hunting by the regional nobility since 1813. The former hunting lodge is now the clubhouse and it smells authentically royal and ancient thanks to the vintage wood panelling. From the stately entrance road to the splendid patio, everything here has class written all over it.
The course, an exemplary Donald Harradine design on a pretty severe site, is a slightly different story. While it certainly exudes plenty of blue-blooded elegance, there is also an element of blue-collar raucousness when holes suddenly seem to drop off the face of planet Earth. It's a stroll in the park from the parking lot to the first tee only, then the course plunges down the hill and zigzags in terraces back up to the clubhouse. And that is actually the flatter part of the round!
The 10th hole drops down again to the lower part of the site, but this time there are no terraces to soften the return climb. Instead, the golfer now bears the full brunt of the terrain in an all-uphill struggle home from the 15th tee. While this does create a few fantastically dramatic holes, it also makes the closing stretch quite laborious.
The forest provides many different species of trees (and occasional boar sightings right of the 17th hole), but also a number of shaded areas that have a hard time drying out. However, in all other respects the conditioning is excellent, perhaps helped by the superintendent being a scratch golfer himself.
So, despite a tendency for wetness and its awkward routing, "Thiergarten" is a very good course, certainly one of the most interesting in Germany. The golf history buff will have an additional reason to visit as the city of Regensburg, itself a Unesco World Heritage site, also houses one of the foremost European golf museums.
Let's start this review with the patio - it must be one of the most stylish 19th holes anywhere. None of the terrors that lurk out on the course are visible, in fact everything looks standard parkland from here. Contrast that with the enclosed image of the par 3 16th. It could be an all-world par 3 without the tree encroachment, but even so it has several distinct strategies: either challenge the deep bunker on the left or flirt with the white stakes on the right or try to run one up the slope in the middle. This hole is a good example for what awaits you at Regensburg: lots of drama and excitement that will keep you on your toes, while at the same time instilling a sense of natural beauty and tranquillity. There is little fault to be found with any individual hole, but for me it was more a succession of interesting challenges than a unified experience. Perhaps an out and back routing instead of returning nines would improve that situation.
I suspect the low handicappers of this club are very good iron players, especially off the tee. In fact, I know one, so it must be true! I'm handing out a very shaky five balls score here, simply to acknowledge the uniqueness and the style - this is an experience not easily to be had elsewhere and certainly the best course in the region. However, I'll forgive those bemoaning the tough and sometimes incongruous walk, the tree encroachment and the assumable wetness during the shoulder season. But it's nothing a few good winter storms couldn't fix. (UM)