The St Dionys course lies on a wonderful 225-acre site of heather, pine and birch trees just outside Hamburg, on the edge of Lüneburg Heath. Designed by Harald Gratenau and Udo F. Barth and opened in 1972, St Dionys is a fine, undulating moorland course extending to almost 6,900 yards from the championship tees.
The deforestation of the area between Hamburg, Bremen and Hannover in medieval times was due to the economic necessity of providing firewood for salt production at Lüneburg and the resultant landscape of the heath, with its naturally free-draining soil, is ideal for ensuring fairways do not become water logged during prolonged rainy periods. A few patches of heather also appear on the course but, for a full-blown reinstitution, many trees would have to go. As it is, the greenkeeping staff do a great job of removing the undergrowth, so some balls can actually be found.
Due to a recent land dispute, the club lost most of the front nine and in 2012 re-engaged the original designer to create replacement holes on an unused (and rather undulating) part of the site. This change led to a fair amount of criticism, as better players found the new holes too tight and some bounces uncontrollable, whereas older members had naturally come to love the original holes.
The club is working to mitigate some of those effects, but to the unbiased outsider, the new holes are certainly the most spectacular stretch of the journey. A case in point is the new 191-yard 6th, which is reminiscent of some of the great English par threes at courses like The Addington, in that it demands a long and accurate shot over hellish terrain to a green with fall-offs on every side.
The back nine is more subdued, even to the point where a few holes are a bit too simplistic strategically. The action picks up again towards the end of the round, although the challenges are of a more subtle nature and visually not quite as striking as on the front nine. However, the springy turf and true-rolling greens are of the same quality throughout. Altogether it’s a classy experience, added to by the very friendly atmosphere at the club.
St. Dionys is a surprisingly good golf course in a beautiful dense forest with sand drifts. It ticks all the boxes to challenge players of all abilities and is maintained with great care. The course is not overly long, but there are some narrow tee shots to be negotiated and tricky doglegs that favour a considerable draw or fade.
I'm not sure what the plan is on the par 4 3rd hole. It now has an O-shaped fairway with a big old forest in the middle, giving the player the chance to decide to play the hole as a dogleg right or left, although the pin location could be awkward considering the green is big and wide and multi-tiered and badly reachable with the approach if you drove to the 'wrong' side. It's a lot of fun and kind of intriguing though. It's also an impressive sight to see the amount of earth that has been moved here and turned into a sand drift. As the course progresses, we find some raised greens, strategically placed diagonal water hazards guarding fairways and greens, and often greens are placed right next to thick bushes.
The par 5 4th is a very good three shotter unless you risk hitting a fade over the water splitting the fairway. The long par 4 5th is another fantastic hole. It is a dogleg to the left where the approach is played over a lake. A drive to the left side of the fairway makes the approach a lot easier, but one does risk being blocked by the forest or flirting with the water. A more conservative drive however leaves a daunting long iron/hybrid over the water, and there isn't exactly much room on the left and right either.
The back nine has a slightly more open feel to it, but form a design perspective also a bit boring (hole 10, 13, 14, 16) at least compared to the rest of this fine course. Long drivers can take advantage here.
As I said the Luneburg Heath forest might be old, but the course itself has a modern, slightly immature feel to it. I find it hard to appreciate clearly artifcial elements such as water hazards in an otherwise very natural environment. St. Dionys has done them right however and many geese on the course beg to differ with me. They are functional in that perspective, they provide a challenge and they have been put in the right places. Give it some years but this course will definitely stand the test of time. Not quite in the same league as Falkenstein and De Pan but a quality course nonetheless. I do recommend putting it in the itinerary when you're to visit Falkenstein and Winston perhaps. MO