Probably the most controversial course ever built in Germany, it's a wild and rugged "faux links" - meaning that it looks like one, but was carved out of the gently rolling Baltic landscape that is otherwise characterised by forests, rivers and lakes.
It certainly took a mammoth construction effort, so what a stroke of fortune that the Dutch owners Wijnand and Fanja Pon have amongst their many business lines one of reselling Caterpillar machinery. The yellow juggernauts sure came in handy for moving the more than 1.2 million cubic metres of earth that stood between well-tested standards and precarious innovation. All sand, except that for tees and greens, was taken from the site, so architect David Krause must have had a field day digging this dunescape out of the rather unremarkable land. These massive internal slopes are the hallmark of the course and distinguish it from any other in Continental Europe.
The basic concept is clever; start with a flat site and then break it up internally. That way it can have all the quirks of an undulated property, but none of the strenous walks. At Winston Links it is generally just a few steps to get from a green to the next tee. Together with the generous layout and 15-minute tee time spacings the prevailing sensation is one of having a huge, undiscovered landscape to oneself. The only discording notes are the frequent views of the heavily wooded surroundings, which keep on sending the message that "this is not real". Some displeasure has also been voiced at the sharp tips of the pyramidal-shaped dunes, but experiences elsewhere (e. g. GC Bachgrund near Frankfurt am Main) show that this type of Alpinisation wears off over time and once the vegetation gets going, the contours are softened considerably.
True, this isn’t quite a Sand Hills or a Ballyneal but it’s a pretty good effort that doffs the hat to golf’s linksland origins. At no time does routine settle in and there are new surprises behind every twist and turn of the inspired routing. Gorse, heather and tall dunes (more than 30 feet high) flank many of the fairways which pitch and roll with the wildest of Irish and Scottish links. The bunkering is authentic and many of the sand traps are built in gathering, magnetic fashion designed to catch out unsuspecting golfers. The greens are big and bold with deep swales and subtle borrows.
Undoubtedly this course deserves to be acknowledged for its uniqueness alone. But whether it is fun to play after the novelty effect wears off remains to be seen. It may well be the hardest and most relentless course in Germany, but is a sustained clobbering really what repeat players are looking for? If yes, then Winston Links will certainly provide that in style.
For those, who are rather more timid at heart (or
fashion a handicap over 28), David Krause also designed the fun 9-holer
WINSTONkranich (crane – a common bird locally), which is a short par three
track that’s fashioned in a similar style to its big siblings. And of course
the Winston Open on the other side of the clubhouse is always a delight.
This course is not big, it's B-I-G and the design is absolutely spectacular. None of the holes can be conquered with routine strategies, there are no boring connector shots and the severity is not at all simplistic (like jotting down a few ponds or growing US Open rough would be). Instead, there are so many purpose-built features that it is actually unlikely that errant balls will end up in an "undesigned" place. If you have an arsenal of creative recovery shots or want to develop one, this is your playground.
On the other hand everything that's good can also be overdone and understatement is not the strong point of this layout. Playing the course from the back tees and in any kind of wind is brutal and even from some of the regular tees it can take more than a decent drive to reach the fairway. Sometimes there are so many bunkers and other obstacles that it seems almost moot to ponder strategies other than "hit and hope". A case in point are the alternate fairways on several holes. While this is generally a popular feature among players, it can rarely be employed, because two fairways need twice the room. Unless you do it like David Krause here and take a fairway of standard width and split it into two arms by breaking up the ground in the middle. It looks like the player has more options, when in reality he has fewer, because he can't go up the middle anymore. And even if the ball lands correctly on one of the arms, then the severely rolling contours can still propel it anywhere. And while the dunes do provide containment for errant shots, they are utterly unpromising to play out of.
Fortunately the punishment does not continue on the greens, although they are quite undulated and seem to resist one-putting very well. But they also offer an array of interesting short game situations and often several options for shot selection. Due to their internal slopes they cannot be maintained lightning-fast, so mindful players have a fighting chance.
The enclosed picture shows the approach to the 16th green from a valley, where the blind second shot will end up in for all but the longest of hitters. It's a par 4 and you have to play three very good shots just to set up a bogey! Winston Links: love it or hate it, but don't miss it. (UM)