The lavishly presented course at Golfclub Schwanhof would work in any metropolitan area by catering to high rollers seeking out the top location for their golf and business. However, the club is not in Munich or Frankfurt, but in a rural region of Bavaria called Upper Palatinate, where folks are sturdy beer drinkers rather than lofty champagne sippers.
The reason for this odd coupling is the nearby headquarters of Conrad Electronic, a huge German retailer of electronic products and parts. It's a long-standing family business and the Conrads are avid golfers, who got 1976 US Open winner Jerry Pate (whose remarkable five-iron approach to within two feet at 72nd hole of the championship at Atlanta secured a remarkable victory) and local hero Reinhold Weishaupt to design this course for them.
Patriarch Klaus Conrad not only gave $5 million Euros to his employees on his 80th birthday, but also stated that he doesn't like to play golf alone, so everyone is invited to join the club or play for a reasonable daily fee. And indeed, apart from the Klaus-Conrad Boulevard leading to the club and a few reserved parking spaces near the clubhouse, the visitor wouldn't know that this is a family affair.
The layout is set out on both sides of another municipal road named after a local window and door manufacturer, which seems slightly surprising. One would think if you have 4,000 employees and a boulevard to your name, you could also get the mere road of a 300 employee guy rerouted out of the way of your golf holes… but apparently not. So a tunnel was built under the road to connect the front and back nines, which in turn causes a long uphill walk to the 9th tee and another long passage from the 9th green back through the tunnel to tee 10. Other than that the flow is organic and walkability not compromised. It must be noted though, that the rolling terrain is a tougher hike than it appears, despite the absence of any steepness.Schwanhof has been used for minor professional events, but contrary to some other "Tour calibre" courses, it is actually fun to play for average hitters, at least the first 17 holes. The 18th was designed as a tough par four for elite players and turned into a ho-hum par five for members. Still, one such hole is tolerable, considering that the others carry a lot of interest. There simply is room to play – the expansive feel of the site is facilitated by generous fairways and trees that are set well back from the playing corridors. At no point does tightness assert itself on the golfer's mind, even though some very exacting shots have to be played, especially on and around the greens. While not every club can have a generous sponsor, it is refreshing to see that money can actually produce a very sensible course for real world players.
I enjoyed playing here. It's a classy place, but not aloof in any way. Sure, the clubhouse does serve some quite sophisticated food for a price and I saw a greenkeeper cutting the hole edges with scissors, but the members and staff I met were very friendly and down to earth people. How down to earth? Just look at the mural in the tunnel, it shows golfers engaging in all kinds of questionable activities and that's all I'm going to say about that!
Concerning the course itself, I wouldn't throw it in with the greats, as there's nothing particularly unique about it. But I do think that the designers should be commended for providing an all-around good track that is fun to play and does not repeat itself. The view from the 7th tee box shows much of what is good about it: the wide fairways, the undulated, but not severe terrain and the pleasing views. What can't be shown in pictures is the slickness of the greens. The surfaces roll true, but micro-undulations means you have to commit. Any half-hearted attempts go offline in a hurry. I went home with 37 putts, thank you very much.
They don't maintain the course firm and fast, it's more a target golf affair. Still, I'll make it a solid four balls for the fun factor. This could be an ideal club to be a member of. (UM)