Teeing it high in Switzerland
Crans-sur-Sierre is golf with altitude
15th October 2014
When the invitation arrived on the Top 100 desk to sample the golf and culture of the Swiss Alps as part of a small media group, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. Switzerland may not be a top-of-the-list destination for many travelling golfers, but there is more than enough going on in the area to keep both golfer and non-golfer entertained.
Our trip was based around the picturesque towns of Verbier and Crans Montana where you are more likely to see a well-known film star than anyone wearing a football shirt. Verbier is best known as one of Europe’s premier ski resorts and Crans Montana is renowned for the European Tour event that has been held at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club every year since 1972.
I made the decision to hire rental clubs to cut down on luggage, as a three-hour train journey is necessary when travelling from Zurich, changing at Visp to Martigny in the Alps. I needn’t have worried as the trains are comfortably spacious and golf clubs wouldn’t have been an issue.
Verbier Golf Club is unlikely to appear in the Swiss best in country rankings, but it has more than enough character to keep you interested throughout. The unusual location just above the town, with the fairways clinging to the side of the valley, leaves a lasting impression, and although there are a number of blind shots and a few quirky holes, the course is great fun to play. The ski lifts that cut through the layout in numerous places serve as a constant reminder that for six months of the year snow covers everything. The course is laid out on cleverly designed terraces which run across the slopes, and our host Rico ably demonstrated that strategy and precision is required if you are to overcome the numerous streams and natural obstacles.
Unusually the round begins with a ten-minute buggy ride to the top of the course from where you begin your slow descent. The course is certainly walkable; the only hard climb is to the 1st tee and then on the 15th and 16th holes where you play two short uphill par fours before heading back down to the clubhouse. There is also an 18-hole par three course nearby to cater for beginners. Dinner in the ultra-modern Arola Restaurant, at the exquisite and rather funky W Hotel, was the perfect way the end the day, sampling local wines and incredible tapas.
No time was wasted the next morning as we headed to two small local Museums, part of the Musee de Bagnes, one of these being an old forge where cow bells were manufactured for many generations. The excellent Renoir Exhibition at the Pierre Gianadda Foundation in Martigny was next, where over a hundred works by the most famous portrait painter of all time had been assembled from galleries and private collections worldwide.
Our next stop was Crans Montana, which is set in one of the most stunning Alpine locations. Perched on a plateau 1,500 metres above sea level, this a jaw-droppingly beautiful place. After checking in at the well-appointed Royal Hotel, we took a short walk through the picture postcard town to the famous Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club.
This is undoubtedly one of the more picturesque and most popular destinations on the European Tour, having hosted more events than any other course on the Tour. The layout has undergone several redesigns, including changes made by Seve Ballesteros in 1997 that led to the course being re-named in his honour. Recent modifications have created several lakes, rivers and tees, which have made a spectacular impact. The on-site facilities include an impressive academy and range built into a small hillside, which helps screen the building from the course, a putting green on the roof blending into the landscape seamlessly, and a pretty little halfway house where you will receive a welcoming smile from Corinne.
The course boasts a number of classy holes, particularly the run between 12 and 14. On the par four 12th your approach must be played downhill to a sunken green guarded by a lake, the magnificent par three 13th is set in an attractive amphitheatre, again being closely protected by water, and the beautiful downhill par five 14th has a wonderful risk and reward dilemma to contend with. Currently ranked #4 in Switzerland, Crans-sur-Sierre has some of the most inspiring views in world golf; the vista of the peaks and valleys from the 7th tee is simply breathtaking.
Cornelia Brukkner from Golf Women in Germany and myself were fortunate to be joined on the round by club teaching pro Eddie Gardino who was also an experienced European Tour and Ryder Cup caddie. Eddie, who twice appeared on the TV golf show “The Big Break”, speaks five languages and told many interesting tales from his years carrying the bags of some big name players. His most memorable moments came on the bag of Ángel Cabrera when he won the 2007 US Open, with Sergio Garcia at the 1999 Ryder Cup and with Miguel Ángel Jiménez at the 2002 Ryder Cup. At dinner, conversation focussed on an unforgettable day’s golf as we enjoyed traditional Swiss food and wine at La Bergerie de Cervin.
The next morning we called in to the Pierre Arnaud Foundation, a modern new facility in Lens, to take a look at the surrealist art on show before our final round on the 9-hole Jack Nicklaus course at Crans-sur-Sierre. Although relatively short at 2,729 metres, this course is well worth playing as it boasts a number of raised tees and plateau greens. The fairways are tree-lined and mainly quite tight, so accuracy is vital if you are to score well. There’s plenty of variety in the design, the putting surfaces were excellent throughout, and both par threes are easy on the eye as well as challenging.
There are a number of other courses nearby in the Valais region for those who want to play a few more. Both Riederalp GC and Matterhorn GC offer 9 holes in the mountains, while Sion, Sierre and Leuk are all 18-hole parkland style courses laid out on fairly level ground on the valley floor.
This golf trip was certainly different to anything I’d previously experienced. It was not only thoroughly enjoyable, but also very memorable.
Sincere thanks to Delia Inniger and Melanie at Valais Promotion for hosting such a great trip, and Switzerland Tourism for making the travel arrangements. Thanks also to the other hosts and guides we met at various locations for being so welcoming and informative. For more information on the Valais region visit www.valais.ch
15 October 2014 Respond to this article