St Leon and Rot were two fairly non-descript towns that voted in 1973 to merge into one fairly non-descript town called St Leon-Rot. Incidentally, this was also the year when SAP came out with the first version of their accounting software. Nothing much happened in St Leon-Rot in the next two decades, but SAP became a gigantic enterprise and CEO Dietmar Hopp, one of the original founders, made the Forbes list.
In the 1990s he began looking for a way to spend his fortune and, amongst a good amount of charity work, he came up with the idea of creating Germany's leading golf club: a professional operation adhering to the highest of standards, open to all, but especially committed to developing the best young talents in the country. He bought a large tract of land in St. Leon-Rot, only 5 miles from SAP headquarters, and made it so.
The Rot course was opened in 1997 and hosted the European Tour's Deutsche Bank/SAP Open in 1999 and 2001 – Tiger Woods won on both occasions. Subsequently it got a little quieter with the new St Leon course taking over the tournament in 2002 (Tiger Woods again) and 2004 (Trevor Immelman). However, one startling accolade still belongs to the Rot course: its 9th hole was canonised as one of the "Top 500 Holes in the World" by a German magazine.
The layout was devised by a fairly unknown designer called Hannes Schreiner, who started a regional career in golf architecture on the back of this prestigious assignment. No expense has been spared in shaping a huge, modern, stadium course, routed over open parkland with plenty of water hazards. No less than five greens on the front nine are defended by a pond and despite the severity, these are the most engaging holes. The architect also managed to create some nice green-to-tee connections and used out of play vegetation for shielding against adjacent fairways.
The back nine is more straightforward, so some of the intimacy is lost, while the additional width perhaps could have been used more productively to create strategic options. The undeniable technical qualities have to carry the day, as there isn't much to get emotional about.
If you do feel beaten up after your round here, by either the length of the course or the number of times you have incurred a penalty shot through finding water, then you can always seek comfort in a clubhouse that is widely regarded as one of the finest in all of Europe. In fact, you might not even make it past the main halfway house (yes, St Leon Rot Golf Club has more than one), it is a fantastic place to repair to.
As an example, I find it not particularly attractive to put a toothless bunker in front of the green, when the putting surface itself is huge and largely flat, with speed being its only defense. I made some bombs with the flatstick on account of getting a very true roll, but also struggled more than usual from short and medium range. I suspect that a lot of three-putts are recorded at St. Leon-Rot, but nobody ever putted off the green. Good or bad? You decide.
So for me it's a bit of a mixed bag, albeit a very well-groomed one and without any glaring nuisances. Perhaps with the exception of the disappointing backtracker from green #4 to tee #5 - there's no need for such a makeshift routing on an abundant and largely featureless site. Outside of that head-scratcher it's a very comfortable walk. Still, there's no mistaking the fact that the course is a bit of an artificial enclave - it certainly does not sit lightly on the land.
Anyway, if you're looking for an authentic Tour experience, you will come away impressed by the sheer effort expended on getting the smallest details right. But if golf to you means seeking a connection with nature, you might enjoy the cold perfection of St. Leon-Rot's courses considerably less than its friendly atmosphere. (UM)