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
Winston Open on the other side of the clubhouse is always a delight.
The following edited extract by architect David Krause is from Volume Seven of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected].
“It was during 2008 when I was first invited to visit WINSTONgolf. Located near the city of Schwerin, it was at that time a 27-hole golf venue. The Pon family had fallen in love with this part of the country and wanted to raise the interest level for their course. The facility had space for another nine holes, which was the cue to be straight with them.
My feedback was that if another nine was built, they would possess thirty-six attractive golf holes, not twenty-seven; and not much would change. It was impossible to miss the availability of open terrain and how the majority of the land was suitable, free-draining sand for the development of fescue grasses.
When getting back to them with the results of my study, it seemed reasonable to adopt a bold approach. This involved suggesting they surrender nine of the holes they had built only a few years previously, paving the way for us to create an inland ‘links’ – a course completely different than the beautiful 18-hole parkland layout that they possessed.
The concepts also called for re-routing the entrance road and required a completely new practice facility. Initially, I was concerned that these requirements were overwhelming to them. To my delight, they responded only three days later and said simply that we should get started with the planning.
Clearly, within the rolling rural landscape into which the golf course is set, the Winstonlinks is completely artificial. And it lies about 100 kilometres from the Baltic Sea; but it is easy to forget this fact when you are out playing among the dunes. When meandering through some breath taking terrain you come to realise the course is bereft of dull regions.
We seeded 100% of the course with a blend of three fescue varieties, which is unique in Germany. The only difference between tees, fairways, greens and rough is the height of cut. It was a little nerve-wracking during the growing period, as fescues are notoriously sensitive while they are young. However, we are all extremely pleased with the results; not the least because here exists some of the best year-round putting surfaces in the country.”
Strange... it's the only word I keep returning to.. After driving truly to the middle of nowhere, you are presented with two utterly unnatural golf courses. Was it worth the drive from Amsterdam worthwhile.. About the only clarity I found after playing these two was..no it was not worth the drive.. but that said.. it was strange..
As noted elsewhere, there is not on bump, line, or hazard naturally occurring anywhere on the course. It's titled "Links", and sure .. there were some links characteristics on the back nine, but the front nine climb up, down and around a very un-links-like hill. And as a dedicated walker - the gravel road and rocky paths to teeing locations laid out simply to provide scenic spots made 18 holes much closer to 27 actual steps according to my GPS tracker. The other "un-links-like" issue was many of the greens required American style short/mid iron fly & spin approaches, rather than presenting multiple, ground based run-up options. This was especially true for the front 9.
Objectively, the conditioning was good, greens were varied and undulating creating interesting pin placements, and the greens were OK - running around 9.0-9.5
The staff and catering were top notch, they also had nice amenities including a very nice driving range, par 3 course and even electric vehicle chargers available.
If someday I had a meeting in Rostock (can't imagine.. but stick with me..) I would travel the 60 KM to play it again.. otherwise.. this one goes in the been there, done that... didn't feel compelled to buy a tee shirt category.
Did I mention ..strange...?
Perhaps this is a misunderstanding. But even to THINK that the journey from Amsterdam is not worthwhile must be rejected with verve. This golf course is not natural? True. Ever since Tom Morris passed away, heavy construction vehicles have been used to move tons of sand/earth/stones etc. when building golf courses. Or do you want the course to yust look natural afterwards? That would be a call for self-deception. All joking aside: I had the privilege to play this course several times since 2012 and everytime left it with one single wish: Please, let me do it again!
Besides the fact that the Winston Links is build on sand of the purest quality, and therefor has the subsoil you'll find on all true links courses (with the turf and firmness that goes with it), there is another similarity with links golf: you have to play the course more than once to understand it and start to appreciate it. So in that respect it would be worthwhile to make the trip from Amsterdam again. With respect to the design: the qualification 'inland links' is alway tricky and yes Winston Links has some modern design features to it that separates it from The Old Course. But in my view there are a lot of holes, including on the front 9, that have a strong links character (4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 14, 15, 17, 18). And, as with almost all links courses, there are some quirky ones too (2, 12). In my view the only hole that falls out of place is the 3rd. And funny enough, that's the hole that is appreciated by many players. Especially by the ones who aren't too familiar with links golf.
Admittedly, I had an idea what to expect out of the Links course at Winston Golf, with that said, if you told me, driving to the heartland of Germany for golf I would run into a golf course that made the Castle Course at St. Andrews feel like a subtle and natural links experience I would have called you crazy. After I played the course, I would have apologized for doubting you.
This golf course is truly crazy, and I would say is either a love it or hate it kind of course. First of all, it’s a totally artificial and fabricated inland links experience in the middle of the countryside in a classic parkland area, yet somehow it really works. It’s totally over shaped, built up with massive containment mounding to give the feeling the holes are separated and often resembles a kind of artistic lunar landscape. However, it plays very linksy right down to the turf which is very firm and fast throughout the course. For me this fact and how massively it contrasts with the Open course at Winston Golf is what really makes it work. Winston Links is tough and at times very unforgiving, but this too is a contrast to the other course. It’s also a course that would take several plays before you get a feel for where you can miss and how you should play each hole.
I’m attaching several photos to accompany my brief description above as they will give you a much better idea of what I’m talking about. Winston Links is a must play course, it’s unique and I doubt honestly you will ever see another course like it. The routing is very walkable and there are a ton of weird and fun shots out there that you won’t see at other courses. Try to keep an open mind and enjoy the wild ride that it is.
Special Golfcourse in Germany, well worth to do a detour
I had my doubts when I came to visit Winston. Arriving at the car park and having passed the countless man-made pyramids of earth demarcating the boundaries of the course, I thought this would be the antithesis of Falkenstein, which we also paid a visit this weekend. In terms of style, there's no point in comparing the both. More interestingly, I was curious if the experience would be 'over the top'. I must say this is not the case, the links is well designed and well built and it is as spectacular as it is a fair test.
The front nine have been place near the edges of the woods and therefore have a mature natural feeling. The par 5 3rd is s nice hole, playing into the gorse-lined valley from an elevated tee. The corner can be cut off with an aggressive line over a bushy water hazard. I was smart though (this time), but it left me a long second all the way up to the green again that has two tiers which alter more than two meters. Guess where my chip ended up. The par 3 5th is a gorgeous one shotter in a natural stadium/punchbowl. 6 is a monster par 5 into the wind with trouble down the left , then heading down on the second shot and next to the green on the right.
From hole 8 and onwards the holes are more exposed to the wind and trees are scarce. I can't imagine the amount of earth that has been transferred to build the course. On the back nine, a few holes are built around the man-made 'grand canyon' and the wind comes into play even more. The course can show it's teeth then because the long par 4's play into the prevailing wind. It was a very windy day when we played, and I caught myself smelling a salty sea breeze multiple times before realizing each time this could not be the case.
Favourite holes here are 12 15, 16 and 17 but they are all very good actually. Greens are big and undulated and often decorated with architectural gimmicks as false fronts, awkward angles, deceiving views and . You often have multiple options to reach to green, with high approaches as well as running shots and multiple preferred angles into the green depending on the pin positions.
Therefore also higher handicappers are able to enjoy the course (but please don't meet up in a weekend-fourball…) All in all I was impressed with Winston LINKS and the first ever course I encountered that could genuinely be described as an inland links. A very modern interpretation of this, but it will stand the test of time and
The club and clubhouse do lack some atmosphere if I have to be critical. It's clinical and a bit depressing , but luckily there's two quality golf courses that are completely different. The commercial focus is evident, but The Open is also a lot of fun to play, albeit quite easy, because it's hard to miss the fairway and the course is not long. Combined with a stay in Schloss Kaarz you will be in for a great weekend of golf, but you should have some time for the trip to get there. Well deserved top 100-spot in continental Europe, 84th might even be a bit underrated.
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)