Costa Navarino – where great golf in Greece just got even better
We were in Greece at the end of 2017 attending the annual congress of the PGAs of Europe – since renamed the Confederation of Professional Golf – which took place at Costa Navarino in Messinia. At that time, the venue had two courses in operation: the Dunes championship layout, designed by Bernard Langer with Ross McMurray of European Golf Design, and the Robert Trent Jones Jr- designed resort-style course at nearby Navarino Bay.
There was talk at the time about building an eco-friendly clubhouse for the Bay course and plans were at an advanced stage for the construction of two new 18-hole layouts on hillier ground further inland from the Navarino Bay area. Well, fast-forward four years to last month when we revisited Costa Navarino to discover the full extent of exactly what’s been going on since we were last there.
The stunning, award-winning earth-sheltered Bay course clubhouse opened in 2019 and work is currently proceeding on an ultra-luxury hotel immediately adjacent to the golf layout, with 99 suites and pool villas due to open later this year, along with an exclusive beach club, large swimming pool, destination spa, plus a variety of restaurants, bars and terrace spaces overlooking the historic Bay of Navarino.
As if that wasn’t enough in terms of building work on site, the new Navarino Waterfront development is also taking shape next door and this enterprise is also scheduled to debut in 2022, offering a 250-bedroomed hotel and a contemporary version of a traditional port town, including a waterfront ‘Agora’ (marketplace) with retailers, artisan food outlets and lagoon pools.
Those ambitious new projects will drive the future use of the site but, of more pressing concern for us, was the need to see the two new courses which now complement the original Dunes and Bay layouts. Designed by two-time Masters champion and Ryder Cup legend, José María Olazábal, the International Olympic Academy Golf Course and Hills course now double the number of 18-hole layouts at the resort.
Set high above the historic Bay of Navarino in the rolling hills that lie just a 5-minute drive from the bay clubhouse, the two courses are laid out across a rather bleak, rock-strewn landscape which must have been a very difficult place to set out thirty-six holes. Indeed, many truck- loads of topsoil were transported in from the bay area to fashion the fairways by the Greek contractor AP Maragakis, the company that previously built the Dunes and Bay courses.
Matthias Nemes, co-founder and Managing Partner of Olazabal Design, introduced José María Olazábal to the assembled group of media and tour operators who’d been invited to play the International Olympic Academy Golf Course before it officially opens this February. Standing close to the back-to-back par three tees at the spectacular 12th and 16th holes (set along the edge of the escarpment on the western edge of the site), Ollie had this to say:
“I first came to Costa Navarino around six years ago when they were looking for a designer for the two new courses planned at Navarino Hills. My team and I all absolutely love the region here and we put in our very best effort to win the design job. Obviously, we were very happy when Achilles Constantakopoulos (chairman of Temes, the developers of Costa Navarino) chose us.
“The views are absolutely stunning, not just across the historic Bay of Navarino but also towards the mountains in the background. This sets the tone for the whole site and gives it a very strong character amidst the garrigue vegetation which is typical for the Mediterranean. Costa Navarino has found an absolute jewel with this property and they are trying to develop it sensibly with great focus on protecting the environment.
“The International Olympic Academy Golf Course has stunning views over Navarino Bay and is the longer and tougher of the two courses. It’s more compact and, in style, a bit posher than the Navarino Hills course. Navarino Hills has a more rural feel and takes you into the outback where you can enjoy a stroll in beautiful nature.
“Costa Navarino is already well known around the world but what the two new courses will do is to lift it from the status of a golf centre to being a full golf destination. With four golf courses, Costa Navarino will appeal to the global golf-travel market and I’m sure it will be successful in attracting many new guests.”
Olazabal Design lead architect Toni Ortner worked alongside José María on the project, ensuring the courses and state-of-the-art practice facilities blend seamlessly with their wonderful surroundings. The routing required a minimum disturbance approach regarding earthworks and forest clearing to create holes that are rich in variety and natural looking, using swathes of local grasses and scrub that grow on-site to blend with the areas of manicured grass.
Existing rock walls and rock outcrops were brought into the design, along with beautiful olive trees – many of which are hundreds of years old – and these prominent local features are used as strategic elements on a number of occasions. Nearly every hole is played in splendid isolation, in complete harmony with nature, to continuously maintain a sense of anticipation during the round.
We were well impressed with our subsequent round on the International Olympic Academy Golf Course, despite the fact we were unable to play the last two holes due to a thunderstorm that blew in. The following day, we arranged a quick buggy tour of the Hills course (still growing in and lacking sand in the bunkers) and this new layout, if anything, looks as good as, if not better than, its new stablemate!
It’ll be very interesting to see which of these two courses up in the hills emerge as the preferred option for visiting golfers once they’re both up and running from February 2022…
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