For the story on how SAP moved into the town of St Leon-Rot, 4,000 strong and led by CEO and single digit handicapper Dietmar Hopp, see the description of the slightly older Rot course. The second layout, naturally called the St Leon, was given to international name Dave Thomas, while local hero Hannes Schreiner was reduced to the role of advisor. The Englishman struck rather more gold, as he secured himself a follow-up job at Terre Blanche. Sean Connery owned that property, but didn't get anything done, so he sold it to Dietmar Hopp, who did.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the panel with the club presidents at St Leon-Rot still bears only one name and why not? Hopp has certainly realised his vision: the youth program is the foremost in Germany, top flight amateur events are regularly staged here and in 2015 the Solheim Cup will be contested over the St Leon course.
Next to the two championship courses there is also an executive 9-holer and everything is somewhat intertwined, so there is a fair amount of criss-crossing going on. The signage is of course excellent, so no skimping on the details. Naturally this also applies to the impeccable services and maintenance standards. Interestingly, the whole area sits on top of a mighty layer of sand, which is up to 1,000 metres deep, but doesn't come up all the way to the surface. So it's parkland golf after all, albeit with good soil and great tree management. Legend has it that Hopp wasn't too fond of the tight and hilly courses in the region, so here is the antithesis.
The most interesting holes on the St Leon layout tend to be the ones played over water, which is certainly legitimate, but also raises questions of creativity. The bunkering, it has to be said, is generally less than fearsome and the elaborate mounding more glitter than gold. Coupled with huge and relatively flat greens, quick as they may be, the entire burden for making it difficult is placed on the sheer length of the layout.
However, golfers appreciating technically faultless construction and perfect presentation will not find this course lacking. As a level playing field for the competitive sport of golf and perhaps a place to feel a little like a high roller, this one ticks all the boxes. The more playful or even spiritual aspects of the game have probably not featured quite as largely in the founder's mind. But if you're looking for an end-to-end pampering in a very friendly atmosphere, make your way to St Leon-Rot Golf Club.
I suppose if you want a championship venue like the Belfry, then the late Dave Thomas could guarantee that. But to me the second take at St. Leon-Rot is somewhat less impressive than the first (Course Rot), which wasn't exactly a world-beater to begin with.
Granted, the site is flat and surrounded by industrial estates and agriculture, so almost every feature had to be created from scratch. However, with SAP money behind the project, the economics were certainly viable. Pete Dye would have gone wild with this, but Thomas was apparently content to build another American style Tour venue. That notwithstanding, the club sells it as reminiscent of a Scottish or Irish links, which just doesn't go down very well.
Expectations were fairly high for me after the opening par 4 with its spectacular alternate fairways, but the second was a major let-down - it's a contender for straightest hole ever! Apparently the club realised that as well, because for the Solheim Cup they're going to start on 2 and finish on 1.
There are a handful of good holes scattered throughout the course and my favorite was the 8th (see the included picture - and ignore the ubiquitous cart paths if you can). You actually have to draw it off the bunkers to attain the optimal position. Needless to say, if you're long enough to blow it right over them, you can hug the drier right side. The approach to the green is over water again, so playing it too safe off the tee incurs a subsequent risk.
I also liked #6, the prettiest of a set of par 3s that otherwise suffers from yellow fever. Meaning that little thought was given to the members tee, so you will hit only one or two different clubs from there, whereas the ace player gets a nice spacing of distances from the white markers.
So if you're more of an average hitter or seek a simpler and perhaps more charming game, you're better off elsewhere. As is your wallet. (UM)