Wijnand and Fanja Pon, the Dutch owners of WINSTONgolf, are part of one of the largest family businesses in the Netherlands, employing 12000 people in diverse industries from automotive to agriculture. They were the first Volkswagen dealership outside of Germany way back in the days of the old East Germany. After unification, they purchased a number of big agricultural companies in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, near the capital of Schwerin, and this gave them enough land to build what would turn out to be a generous 45-hole golf complex.
Not only that, on this particular property near the hamlet of Vorbeck, there was a 150-hectare site on which a quarry had previously been planned (to mine a top layer of around 30 metres of pure sand) and this proved to be an ideal, free-draining landscape for a golf facility. And so, at the start of 2001, golf construction company Carolina Golf began shaping the fairways of the Open golf course, working to the plans of Holger Rengstorf, who was an apprentice of Floridian-based architect Bill Amick. Just over twelve months later, and the layout was ready for play.
The terrain is close to ideal for golf. There are undulations, but none too severe and enough natural features to make things interesting. As an example, there is the "rabbit hill" on the property, which is used for two tees, the 4th and the 16th. Getting to the top is just a short walk and the holes are far enough apart to avoid the "not again" effect and instead foster a sense of familiarity. Other holes have artificial features like water hazards, sleepered bunkers or a stone wall, which tie in nicely with the surroundings and also work very well strategically. Sure, there's a bit of eclecticism going on, but it never feels over the top or contrived. The four par threes (at 4, 7, 11 and 15) are all noteworthy holes of different length and character, but the par five 1st with its alternate fairways is an especially interesting design. The 18th is perhaps less innovative, but as closing par fours go, it is a real looker.
The soil is very good, it can absorb a lot of rain and the rolling terrain helps in channelling excess water off the fairways. Combined with rigorous maintenance standards this means that playability will rarely be compromised. Good news for the professional circuit, in this case the European Senior Tour with five appearances up to 2019. If it weren't for a few pedestrian holes like #9 and #14, then all it took to bridge the gap to true greatness were a few cherries on top. But in any event the course is a blast to play and shouldn't be missed when visiting the resort. While the 18-hole Links course that opened a decade later has somewhat overshadowed it, the Open is still and will always be the Beauty to that Beast.
In September in between lockdowns we managed to escape The Netherlands for a whirlwind tour of the best that German golf has to offer. An essential stop on this tour was a long awaited visited to Winston Golf Resort. Home of two solid courses and one par 3 short course.
First up was the Winston Open Course. It’s heralded as the more classic design and an open parkland course. Important to note right away is the excellent maintenance and condition of the course. This course is characterized by wide open rolling terrain, plenty of width in the fairways and large greens allowing many different pin positions. The course really blends into the landscape nicely with a natural feel. The open nature of the course really allows the elements to play a large role in the game. We faced a really windy round on this course which added to the fun and challenge.
The landscape has quite big elevation changes that have been well utilized throughout the routing. There are also quite a few risk reward heroic shots.
A couple notable points, all the par 3’s play downhill, at least slightly. Two can be considered drop shot par 3’s playing to tricky well bunkered greens. Unusually enough my favorite par 3 at Winston Open was the 15th, unusual because it was the longest by far and normally I prefer shorter one shotters. What I liked about this hole playing at about 210 meters was that it really lent itself to a tee shot that was run up and onto the green. It also played from an elevated tee.
My favorite par 4 was the short finishing hole. It’s a proper stadium like finish. The tee shot plays to a neck in the fairway with water on the left that can be reached if you smash driver on the wrong line. The best play is picking a club to layup short of the neck. Then taking the water on with a short iron to the green nestled tight up against the pond with the clubhouse as the backdrop.
The best par 5 is the 9th that plays back up to the clubhouse. This hole played straight into the wind so took 3 really solid shots to reach it in regulation on our day. Although quite wide open this hole is actually a double dogleg, first right then back to the left with bunkers challenging each of the shots.
Winston Open is a very nice compliment to the Links course and at the same time a complete contrast in the style of golf. This very much adds to the allure of the resort and variation available for a visit. There is something for everyone.
Bit surprised to see this sneak into the Continental Europe top100 to be honest! This is clearly the second course on the property. Doesn't say anything of course, but we're not quite talking Winged Foot, Barnbougle or Sunningdale here. The course for the largest part has a parkland feel to it and it's wide open. The property didn't cause for many restrictions and this shows. The routing goes up and down and through the hills and goes to every end of the property, ususally guarded by clods of forest. There are some very interesting and challenging blue holes. Even to begin with. The first is a solid, but relatively gentle par 5 to start with; 2 is a great hole reminiscent of Le Golf National, where one plays from a highly raised tee box, where an iron is enough but you can decide to bite some yards off, but the fairway narrows. this is probably the best hole on the course. The player is encouraged to go as close to the water as he dares to keep the approach over water as short as possible and the green is guarded by bunkers and drops towards the water. the 18th hole is also a guarantee for drama overlooked by the terrace) but the rest of the holes are mediocre, forgettable holes lacking features and relying on the beautiful countryside backdrop, with a few exceptions. There's a little too many par 4 in the 300-340 meter range. The round was still enjoyable however for a relaxed round.