The brief from the Russian client when European Golf Design worked on the Zavidovo PGA National course was to produce an 18-hole layout capable of hosting professional events so this track offers golf on a big scale.
Developed by the giant AGRANTA conglomerate and managed by industry specialists, Braemar Golf, the Zavidovo PGA National Russia course was constructed by local contractors GeoKam, working to the plans of architect David Sampson.
Situated just over an hour’s drive from Moscow, beside a tributary of the River Volga and enclosed within a forest of pine and birch trees, the course was designed with wide, mainly doglegged fairways, reasonably contoured greens and extraordinary heather-fringed bunkers.
Opened in late 2012, Zavidovo has been described as having the look and the feel of a traditional Scottish layout, with a blend of heathland and links features and a few water hazards thrown in to add to the challenge.
Notable holes include the right doglegged short par four 6th and the 142-metre 7th, labelled in the course guide as “petite but perplexing”. On the back nine, the heavily contoured green on the par three 12th demands respect, as does the pair of strong par fours at holes 15 and 16, which are more than capable of derailing a good score.
The most enthralling hole on the card arrives late in the round at the par three 17th, where a nerve jangling tee shot must carry a sizeable body of water to reach the safety of the green. Designer David Sampson described the hole to us as follows:
“The final short hole and probably the most ‘picture postcard’ hole on the course. A tee shot, which suits a left-to-right shot, will require some form of carry over the large water hazard; the amount of carry lessening the further forward the markers are located. The short approach fairway is set on a diagonal, affording golfers the option of playing away from the lake, but the largest bunker on the course set right and back-right will likely ensnare the overly cautious. Each and every time, it’s wise to aim for the plateau ridge which dominates in the higher middle portion of the green. Avoid taking the direct route to the small back left pin and rather choose to use the contours to coax it close. The hole really is a truly beautiful and dramatic one-shotter, coming late on in the round, to test those nerves.”
Zavidovo lies 80 KM north of Moscow on the St. Petersburg highway. As part of a purpose built resort, the club can be played by both members and guests of the Raddison Blu hotel nearby.
While a typically Russian limited season, the team does an outstanding job of maintenance across highly variable weather conditions. The track was purpose built on not terribly interesting terrain, but no cost was spared moving dirt to create variations and drainage well beyond the natural slope.
The course is laid out in a 9 out / 9 back arrangement with a snack shack at the turn. Each hole is unique - given no parallel fairways, making for an interesting playing experience. Among the best holes are #1 a very interesting par 4 to start the day #3 - a short par 4 with several different strategies off the tee leading to quite varied approach shots; #10 which has a nice balance of risk and reward (although the back left pin is a bit unfair, where even a well struck wedge risks running off unnecessarily) and #14 which - depending on the mood of the grounds crew can either be a full- swing away- drive (if the rough is cut down the right side) or a miserable, nearly unreachable long par 4 with a very narrow landing area.
The 18th hole, deserves it's own paragraph, however. Many of the members (including those involved in the initial design) laud it as a "great" risk -reward hole. Most lower handicap players violently disagree, leading to animated post-round debates every week. From my perspective, its design misses the mark. The split landing areas demand a choice... left is too tilted and narrow to hold anything other than a hard fade, risking a runoff into a lake, right is blind and a funky landing area. With a stream running across in front and along side the green, from neither right, nor left is it smart to risk getting home in 2. As a result, one either hits a VERY short iron (say 8 or 9) and runs to the bottom of the hill.. or a hybrid across the stream, still leaving 90+ yard in. Risk is not in any fashion rewarded, creating a very frustrating dink, dink, dink, 2 putts, have a beer finish.
Zavidovo is well worth the visit and I must highlight the staff and team before closing this review. They are fantastic. Inviting, professional and quite relaxed, making a day or weekend a wonderful mini-vacation. I highly recommend the visit.