Ofterschwang is a small village in the Bavarian Alps with the five star Sonnenalp hotel as its centrepiece. The resort includes two 18-hole golf courses and a 9-hole executive track. The older of the two full courses is called "Sonnenalp" and was designed by Donald Harradine in 1975 and, despite being somewhat butchered since, it still makes for an enjoyable round. However, the top banana is now Kurt Rossknecht's spectacular "Oberallgäu" layout from 2004. It is situated on the edge of an Alpine valley, complete with 360° views, wild terrain and everything else expected from a mountain course.
The routing must be considered a stroke of genius due to the dearth of contiguous space. More than once it looks like the golfer has finally played himself into a dead-end, but the course keeps on winding its way forward between houses, barns, pastures, ravines and mountains. Rossknecht even managed to create returning nines with hardly any backtracking, harsh climbing or green to tee odysseys, which is no small feat on this bumpy site. Still, could #17 (the only flat hole) and #18 (an ok par three) be replaced, if we gave up the returning nines? This otherwise dramatic layout would deserve a more exciting finale.
The bulk of the holes are full of interest, although long hitters might feel a bit restricted with the driver. Average hitters with a bit of game can easily step onto the back tee and will then experience a course of similar length to that which they are used to. The round starts off with a driveable par four from an elevated tee that is pretty accessible, but the architect quickly ups the ante with the difficult tee shot on the second and then a par five with seemingly no place to go after a centred drive. Two holes later another very twisted par five appears and the back to back three-shotters at #15 and #16 are no easy pickings either with their fairly involved strategies. There's also another driveable par four, albeit heavily defended this time and a bunch of good par threes.Kurt Rossknecht will be known to most as the architect behind many Bernhard Langer designs, in which capacity he churned out one American style Tour venue after the other. This is actually relevant for Oberallgäu, because the bunkering seems to be straight out of that part of his portfolio. The greens could use a few more undulations as well, since Ofterschwang will not keep them at Tour speed. Those quibbles aside, it is extremely refreshing to play a course, where it is not immediately obvious what is going to happen next.
The Oberallgäu course is a decent track and the owners definitely put a lot of Money into building the course. The course Routing is quite clever. Therefore you do not have too many sloping lies. On the other Hand the bunkering does really look artificial and does not fit with the natural Beauty of the surroundings. And the course has too many short holes. I recommend the sister course Sonnenalp over the Oberallgäu course, since this is a classic Harradine course that fits beautifully into the landscape and it has some very interesting holes. Although it also has some issues with too short holes, especially on the par 5s.
Both show (from left to right) the first and the tenth hole, two short par 4s from an elevated tee, so you can start each nine with a bomb from the big stick. I took the first picture in the height of summer and the second at the end of November - which look do you prefer? I can certainly say that for me Oberallgäu played just fine in November, which is very rare at this elevation (e. g. Sonnenalp was already closed for the winter and other nearby courses were pretty wet). So they seem to have really good soil for golf, which is sometimes the case in Alpine regions, but certainly not the norm in Southern Germany.
Anyway, even though this vantage point is not even the most scenic, it does demonstrate the natural beauty of the property. However, it also showcases the bunkering, which seems to be straight out of the RTJ school of parkland delights. To me it has no business on a rugged mountain layout. Tastes may vary, of course, but a site with an abundance of natural features does not need artsy bunkering to create challenges for the golfer. More sloppy details: the cart path is an eyesore on many holes. No thought seems to have been given to hide it. What's more, on the second green it's built right across a mound, which the crafty ground game expert would like to use to steer a rolling ball onto the green. Best to get rid of the path entirely and reserve carts for medical conditions. The course is walkable and great fun to negotiate. (UM)