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King’s course at Royal Bled heads our new Slovenian rankings

04 October, 2017

The King’s course at Royal Bled heads our new Slovenian Top 5 chart

Last month’s Golf Participation Report for Europe 2017 from KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice threw up what we thought was a very interesting statistic: the percentage increase in Slovenian registered golfers between 2015 and 2016 (49%) was the second highest of forty-three countries and territories across the continent.

It just so happened that Top 100 Golf Courses was attending a press trip a couple of weeks ago in nearby Slovakia so we thought it made sense to stay an extra few days and travel to Slovenia to have a look around some of the main golf complexes that are attracting local people to the game.

We’d heard too that the King’s course at Royal Bled had just reopened in August after a three-year renovation led by Swan Golf Designs, when Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia played the ceremonial opening shot from the 1st tee to formally launch the refurbished course and mark the 80th anniversary of the original layout.

Four teams (led by Scotland’s Sam Torrance, Italian Costantino Rocco, Marcel Siem from Germany and Slovenia’s own Challenge Tour professional, Tim Gornik) competed against each other at the reopening event and Rocca’s team emerged as winners, with Siem posting the new course record after carding an impressive three under par score of 69.

Located within the Julian Alps, close to the Triglav National Park, Royal Bled changed ownership in 2013 after it was acquired by Serbian entrepreneur and passionate golfer, Dragan Šolak. The new owner then embarked on an ambitious (and costly) mission to upgrade the King’s course and its infrastructure, returning the club to its former position as one of Europe’s most sought after golfing destinations.

As we witnessed, the results of this makeover are simply stunning. The King’s course bears little resemblance to the layout that first opened in 1937, having been lengthened and largely rebuilt, especially on the back nine where exciting new risk/reward water features have been installed. The appropriately named King’s clubhouse is also now fit for royalty, having been furnished with downstairs locker rooms and upstairs overnight accommodation of the highest standard.

Royal Bled is now one of a select group of twenty-six top-end golf facilities across Europe participating in the IMG Prestige elite reciprocal program, and its inclusion in this prestigious enterprise is an indication of just how far the club has come in recent times. We’ve absolutely no reservations about naming the Royal Bled (King’s) course as our number 1 layout in Slovenia – indeed, we fully expect it to debut in a prominent position when we re-rank our Continental Europe Top 100 before the end of the year.

We had a look around two other courses that are located close to Ljubljana. Arboretum (our new national number 3) was an absolute delight, sited close to the largest botanical park in the country, where tree-lined fairways are set out within an expansive, undulating property. Italian Marco Croze designed the original nine at the end of the 1990s, with local designer Peter Škofic adding another nine a few years later.

Nineteen kilometres from Arboretum, the course at Diners in Smlednik (at number 5 in our new Slovenian chart) lies in the shadow of the Šmarna gora hill, which rises 664 metres above sea level, offering terrific views of the Kamnik and Julian Alps and the Ljubljana basin. First opened for play nine years ago, this golf operation has recently suffered financial problems, leading to a new consortium taking over the management of the course and its extensive practice facilities.

Away from the capital, Grad Otočec remains at number 2 in our national listings. It’s a Howard Swan and Peter Škofic co-design, with the Englishman setting out the original nine in 2005 and the Slovenian architect doubling the size of the layout a few years later. For those who think the course at Arboretum might be too undulating, they should come here and see what really contoured land looks like – if thrilling golf is what you’re looking for, then this is the place to find it in the midst of a fabulous forested property near the old castle.

The small town of Ptuj is situated a two-hour drive to the northeast of Otočec and the landscape of this pleasant 18-hole layout at Golf klub Ptuj (at number 4 in our Slovenian rankings) is almost totally flat as the course lies on the floodplain of the Drava River. The Studencnica brook comes into play from time to time but the main aquatic challenge on the course arrives at the par three 14th, where the hole plays to an island green in the middle of a lake.

A further 50-kilometre drive northeast of Ptuj lies Murska Sobota, in the very northeast corner of Slovenia, not far from the border with Austria, Hungary and Croatia. The small spa town of Moravske Toplice sits nearby and one of its main sporting attractions is the course at Golf Livada, where the par three 15th (with a low-lying ornamental hedge next to the left hand bunker) is the signature hole on the card. Unfortunately, Livada didn’t quite make the cut for the current Slovenian Top 5 chart but that might change when we next re-rank.


To view further details of our newly updated Slovenian Top 5rankings click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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