Exciting times for golf in the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is the last of the four Central European nations in the Visegrád Group that we've visited in the last couple of years. We went to Hungary and Slovakia in the summer of 2017 and last year we were in the north of Poland on a fact-finding golf mission.
Some might consider another excursion to the Czech Republic as being long overdue and perhaps it was about time that we flew to Prague to find out how the golf product within the country is developing. Well, that’s exactly what we did at the end of last month.
We were initially attracted by a couple of new projects around the capital but, on closer inspection, we saw there were at least another half a dozen highly ranked layouts located less than an hour’s drive of the city centre, so it made sense to check them all out over a few days.
It also helped that big tour events on both the male and female professional circuits had just taken place on a couple of the courses, so that in itself was a prior indication of the potential that we could expect to find on our travels around the country.
While golf is stagnating or declining in many of the traditional European golfing nations, the Czech Republic is bucking that trend in a big way as indicated in KPMG’s Golf Participation Report for Europe 2018 which listed sixty thousand registered golfers at the last count, a rise of 11% on the previous year.
We started off at Albatross, the #1 ranked course in the country, where Thomas Pieters had just won the Czech Masters event on the European Tour the previous weekend, his 1-stroke advantage over his nearest challenger giving him his second victory in five years at a venue that obviously suits his game.
The golf facility is part of the prestigious European Tour Properties network and a lot has been done in the last few years to upgrade the original Keith Preston design, with the addition of four lakes, two of which come into play – beside the 1st green and in front of the 12th green – and the redesign of the par three 16th hole.
Situated less than 20 kilometres to the south of Albatrosss, Karlstejn Golf Resort was our next stop and it too had just hosted a big professional event a couple of days previously, when Carly Booth claimed the Czech Ladies Open, her third title win on the Ladies European Tour and her first victory on the women’s professional circuit in seven years.
The Red course (comprising holes 1-9 and 10-18, as you might expect) is undoubtedly the championship layout at Karlstejn but the additional nine (holes 19-27) that were built a decade ago on the southern slopes of Voskov hill are, if anything, even stronger than the old course and well worth playing on a full day’s golf outing.
The Beroun Golf Resort lies close to Karlstejn and it too is a Les Furber design. The Canadian architect must have impressed with his work on the original 18-hole layout at Karlstejn in 1993 as his Golf Design Services firm was hired by the Korean owner at Beroun fourteen years later to construct this course.
Like its near neighbour, Beroun is set out across a hilly landscape and both nines feature water-laden finishing holes close to the clubhouse, where four irrigation lakes come into the reckoning in a rather menacing manner. At 6,078 metres from the back tees, it’s a testing track but also a lot of fun to play.
Alongside Albatross and Greensgate Golf & Leisure Resort, Beroun is a partner in a project called Golf Via Carolina, offering golfers a number of different stay and play packages at a variety of hotels close to the three courses. Prices don’t include transfers but these can be arranged if required.
We then headed from the southwest reaches of Prague to the southeast, taking in another three excellent layouts, the first of which was the very private course at Casa Serena, host venue (starting in 2008) to four editions of the short-lived Casa Serena Open on what was then called the European Senior Tour.
Designed by Robin Hiseman of European Golf Design, the course at this facility – which has only three members – was commissioned by Taiwanese businessman Terry Gou (founder of Foxconn, the world’s largest manufacturer of electronics) who operates a plant ten kilometres from the property.
The Panorama Golf Resort isn’t far from Casa Serena in the small market town of Kácov and it’s a 27-hole facility that’s only in its third season. Planned by respected EIGCA members Libor Jirásek from the Czech Republic and Rainer Preißmann from Germany, the layout was built by HB Golf Ltd, a firm with experience in North Africa and elsewhere in Europe.
The Meadows and Forest loops form the 18-hole course of first choice here but don’t let the name of those nines fool you into thinking you’re in for a nice easy stroll through pastures and woodland because there are considerable elevation changes on both these nines, lending a surprising degree of extra challenge to a number of holes.
The 45-hole golf facility at Konopiste Golf & Spa Resort sits forty-five kilometres from Panorama in Tvoršovice and there are two 18-hole layouts – d’Este and Radechy – in play at this impressive complex, plus a short par-29 Public course for beginners and players without a handicap.
After World War II, the chateau at the centre of the property was nationalized and used as a retirement home but the castle was returned to the Bartoň-Dobenín family in 1989. By the end of following decade, this magnificent building was being used as a hotel, with a restaurant also serving golfers on the ground floor.
Before concluding our golf course tour around Prague’s periphery, we broke away for a day to venture westward and play a couple of courses in the historical western Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. There were quite a few long stretches of roadworks to negotiate along the way but that particular inconvenience was well worth enduring in order to sample golf in this part of the country.
Royal Marianske Lazne, known by its German name of Marienbad, was formed in 1905 when King Edward VII cut the inaugural ribbon on the first 9-hole layout at the club and it’s said that this course was partly paid for by local hotel owners who recognised the value of an additional summer attraction.
A second nine was added in 1923 and, apart from two holes replaced forty years ago, this is the 18-hole course that’s played on today. The Czech Open was held here for three years starting in 1994 and, in more recent times, the club hosted matches in both the St Andrews Trophy and the Jacques Léglise Trophy in 2006.
The Gary Player-designed layout at Cihelny Golf & Spa Resort is positioned thirty-five kilometres further north and it’s one of only a handful of designs that bear the Black Knight’s name in Central or Eastern Europe.
Set within the Slavkosvsky forest, close to Karlovy Vary, most of the fairways lie alongside the River Teplá, with a single track train line also running through the course in a very picturesque setting.
Because Karlovy Vary Golf Resort was co-hosting the Czechone Open on the Pro Golf Tour, we were unable to play the course but we looked in at the clubhouse to get something of a flavor of what the club was about. Founded in 1904, the club moved to its current site in 1933 but the clubhouse and course were only completed after World War II in 1949.
Fairways have been hewn from thick forest and those that could be viewed from the clubhouse were neither flat nor wide so accuracy is a must when playing in such tight and undulating conditions. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to actually play here when we return the year after next.
The West Bohemia Golf Pass can be used to gain discounted green fees at Royal Marianske Lazne, Cihelny, Karlovy Vary and three other clubs in the region. Golfers can choose either a 4-green fee or 5-green fee pass, with the price dependent on the courses selected.
Returning to Prague, we had time to have a look at three other golf facilities before flying back home.
The course at Loreta Golf Club in Pyšely is a Keith Preston production that is quite unlike his other work at Albatross and Ypsilon. As the designer says himself: “If you didn’t know you would probably never guess that it was the same architect at work. Variation is the spice of life and of golf.”
Loreta fits beautifully into the Posázaví countryside, incorporating wetland areas, hedgerows, and mature trees into the design. There’s also a spacious driving range and a large short game area for practice. Additionally, there are eight double rooms and two apartments available for stay and play on the second floor of a well-appointed clubhouse.
Twin Chapels has taken more than ten years to reach the position it’s now in, with the clubhouse almost ready and the course growing in. The remains of two small historic chapels on site – Nezamyslická kaple and Nicovská kaple – were the inspiration for the name of this development which is located only 15 minutes from the Old Town Square in Prague.
The chapels are on what used to be the Saint Wenceslaus pilgrim route (the Via Sancta), built in the 17th century in honour of Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia and Patron Saint of the Czech state, who was assassinated by his younger brother in 935.
Regarding his involvement at Twin Chapels, architect Jonathan Gaunt told us: “It’s been a long journey since first getting involved in 2004” but at last the project is almost nearing completion. All twenty-seven holes, a large practice area and a children’s “golf zone” have now been shaped and seeded but finishing touches like access roads have still to be built.
We had a peek inside the 2-storey clubhouse which is basically still a shell and about to be fitted out and we also had a look around parts of the property where low-lying wetland areas have been established and exposed rock formations unearthed.
Another big new project outside Prague in Nebřenice has also been a long time in the making. The Oaks, recently appointed as the country’s flagship PGA National golf facility, has just opened nine holes (#1 to #3 then #13 to #18) for preview play, with a temporary pavilion in use until the other holes are ready next year.
We were lucky enough to speak to the architect’s main construction man Dave Smith (who was temporarily on site between jobs and who we last met during the building of Bernardus in The Netherlands two years ago) and he told us work on the remaining nine was cracking on at a fair pace.
The opening three holes are routed around the old chateau which is being refurbished to become part of the future golf infrastructure then the closing six holes are arranged in a big loop which ends with the 17th and 18th laid out in parallel alongside the 1st hole. Fairways are wide, greens are huge and the ragged edged bunkers are simply sensational.
Managed by Troon Privé, the course is a Kyle Phillips design that will certainly raise the bar of golfing excellence when all eighteen holes are finally made available sometime next year.
Sincere thanks are extended to the following who made the trip happen:
Martin Šlajchrt at Czech Tourism and publisher/journalist Antonin J. Grimm. Monika Bažantová at Twin Chapels, Paul Dennis at The Oaks, Mirko Grossmann at Karlstejn, Tereza Klečková at Royal Marianske Lazne, Michaela Kučerová at Cihelny, Lucie Krýslová at Karlovy Vary, Stanislav Lisner at Albatross, Tomáš Malec at Panorama, Dominik Maršík at Casa Serena, Vojtěch Matějček at Beroun, Jiří Novosad at Loreta and Zaneta Patova at Konopiste – quite a cast but each and every one of these people played a part in making the visit such a memorable success.
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