Seddiner See Golf and Country Club was founded in 1994 by a group led by Ferdinand von Bismarck (great grandson of "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck). They acquired almost 600 acres of farmland in the heart of the lake district, only about 30 minutes south of Berlin City Centre. This convenient location drove a sizeable real estate development and two golf courses, the North course (designed by Rainer Preißmann) opened in 1996 and one year later Robert Trent Jones Jnr. delivered the South course, still his only layout in Germany. Which seems a bit surprising, considering his worldwide success, although other international stars like the Dye and Fazio families (and indeed the rest of the Jones clan) are also ominously absent.
So the spoils are paltry for RTJ fans in Germany, but at least Seddiner See should meet their expectations to the fullest. It’s a fairly secluded property with about a dozen ponds that not only play a role for golfers, but also for more than 300 species of plants and animals, including 75 from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Due to the site's former usage as agricultural land, there are no trees or other natural features, so everything had to be built. This is of course especially true for the trademark RTJ bunkers, sprawling landscapes of sand that are liberally pebble-dashed all the way round the South course.
The fairways appear wide, but everywhere a ball can conceivably land, some of those bunkers eat into it. They're all fairly shallow and can be played out of, but it’s still half a shot gone and on most holes there are several opportunities to fall prey to that. But despite the extraordinary number and size of those bunkers, there is a noticeable element of subtlety to the design. The difficulties aren't shoved in the player’s face and it is only after finding yet another trap that one begins to understand what "resistance to scoring" actually means. It’s certainly a challenging course that rewards long and accurate hitting. Conditioning is good, the greens can handle a wide range of speeds and a healthy celebrity factor is included as well.
If you like playing from sand, then this is your course. The Trent Jones philosophy of "hard par, easy bogey" is certainly operating here, but I wonder how many players find that relevant. Even a legitimate bogey golfer has to make a few pars every round in order to balance out his "others". Therefore a couple of holes, where par is a realistic score for the average Joe, seem to be in order. But Seddiner See Süd follows the principle that it should be hard to get the ball in play and stay in play, unless one were to lay back of the bunkers. Which of course more or less rules out par and makes bogey hard to attain.
Case in point is the 3rd hole (200 yards from the middle tee, see picture): average hitters have a wooden club in hand and need to carry the pond and the bunker and then hold a shallow green. I played this hole into the wind and actually had to hit driver, made a good swing and landed it in the face of the bunker. Which is probably the best result I could get, because of the deep rough behind the green. Without the bunker there would be a realistic run-up shot, but with it the hole becomes one-dimensional. The "easy bogey": hit a mid iron onto the fairway and pitch on. Doable, but how much fun?
In general the site is flat and devoid of surprises, so the holes are rather similar and all about avoiding the sand. It's the very definition of target golf; there is no ground game at all. The soil does not support it and there are no contours that could be used, if it did. Many greens are also closed off to running approaches with the 15th probably taking the cake. It is bunkered in front and again very shallow, so clearly designed for a high wedge shot. However, average hitters will for the most part wield a hopeless mid to long iron. So they can choose to either lay up or overshoot the green (naturally, there's deep rough behind it).
The course has received many accolades, it does what it was designed to do. In that sense it is a high-end course, but I didn't find it particularly entertaining. (UM)