Links Golf: Long awaited visit at Golf Club Föhr

aaaI can’t recall exactly but I might have been to Föhr a dozen times. Föhr, the neighboring island to Sylt in north Germany, was one of my parents’ usual family summer holiday destinations and as a kid I remember spending quite some time on the island. I didn’t appreciate the beauty of it back then and when I reached a certain age, I just stopped going without hesitation. Needless to say I wasn’t golfing in my teens and never visited the golf course—until just recently. I had to become 40 years of age and the course needed some severe renovations in order to be mentioned in golf articles and to earn a spot on my bucket list.

I was born and raised in the north of Germany and therefore beaches, islands and the North or Baltic Sea are quite normal go-to places for me. I’d say I feel comfortable on remote islands, appreciate the Frisian landscape, the way of life and also enjoy the nature more and more.

In 2019 I thought it’s about time to go visit the island of Föhr again, spend some time with my parents in our old holiday hideaway, bring my own little family and wallow in reminiscences. Clearly I packed my golf clubs as well, because in the past years the local golf club, which is around since 1925, underwent quite some drastic changes to the course layout and architecture and all I’ve heard and seen so far sounded amazing. So I just had to go.

Insta Post Föhr Stunning

The North Frisian flag and the club’s logo is yellow, red and blue and quite fitting the club offers three 9-hole loops, and they are called “yellow”, “red” and—yep—“blue”. As said, the club history dates back to the 1920s when it started as a private golf course of the North Sea Sanatorium and was the first one ever built on North Sea shores in Germany. It was rebranded Privat Golfclub Südstrand Föhr and later Golf Club Föhr from 1966.

While the famous German golf course architect Bernhard von Limburger created the original 9 holes back in the days, the club had to move to another property at some point and Frank Pennick was asked to create a completely new 9-hole course design in 1971. It was later extended to 18 holes in 1989 and could be described as a classic parkland course, as it was meandering through forest, despite being so close to the North Sea coast.

20 years later Städler golf course architects were put in charge to create another 9 holes to complete a desirable setting with three 9-hole loops. And it took another five years that Christian Althaus was reassigned as course architect to overhaul most of the existing holes to create the modern classic it has become today. With his own course design firm he was indeed able to drastically change the look of most golf holes and convert them into an interesting parkland/links combination, a new setting of 9-hole loops that all start and end at the club house, which obviously makes course trafficking much easier.

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All three courses have slighty different course characteristics and therefore attract different players and desires. What they all have in common is that the parkland holes of the past are integrated in every loop: Old course characteristics in the first one or two holes are combined with newly crafted holes as it opens up to the more linksy area of the course, and then by hole 7, 8 or 9 you find yourself back in the parkland area of the course again.

This is likely the only obvious weakness of the club that they spent a good portion of emphasis on new routing, new dunes landscapes and extravagant and extraordinarily beautiful golf holes with duneland characteristics, but at the same time somewhat neglected the holes just around the club house. There really is a drastic drop in flamboyance when you reach hole 8 or 9 on every loop, which is a pity.

I had a good chat with a course marshal before my first round and he said they are at least re-doing the bunkers and greens of the old holes soon. That should help indeed a little. The club has the potential to play a big role in Germany’s top-5 for a very long time – even without a dedicated dunes course. It’s just that the architectural hole quality should be equaled throughout each round.

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But let’s start at the beginning.

The course is located next to the Föhr airport and a stone’s throw from the south beach of the island. It’s not exactly a links course per definition, being rather inland, and due to the fact that Föhr basically has very little natural dune formations, all aspects of dunes golf on the golf estate had to be done by hand. In contrast to some other courses I know, here it looks very natural indeed and you do believe it just belongs here.

The course doesn’t offer tee times, which actually I like, it’s just a bit uncommon for a player residing in the Frankfurt area, where it’s all about foursomes throughout the week. But I’d prefer an empty course I could just go to and start like here on Föhr any given day.

So I checked in, had a chat with the marshal and he convinced me to start with the red/yellow course combination. You are free to decide spontaneously, obviously depending on tournament closures and other restrictions.

Some general remarks on the course before I’ll go deep on each loop by itself. There is a little driving range and practice facilities which I totally neglected to be honest. What I learned quite quickly is that neither my GPS watch nor my Golfshot app on my phone could offer distances. Not sure why Golfshot wasn’t updated but I failed to synchronize the golf watch for a while and hence had no yardages whatsoever.

That was an unfortunate situation as I pretty much rely on my devices I have to admit. So without that technical support I had to look for distance poles and sprinkler heads again and had to pace out distances, the good old way. My bad if that’s poor preparation but it felt unfamiliar and I adapted with clubbing down with most approach shots to be on the safe side. Gladly I bought the birdie book, maybe the thickest I own to date, which was helpful, too.

The layout of the course is fantastic. It’s fair for most players, has penalty areas here and there but not too many and is just pleasing to the eye. The fairways were more on the brown side I have to say, so it’s not lush green what I experienced, there were numerous neglected areas which didn’t differ much from the rough other than being cut shorter. I understand the course should be kept as natural as possible but I was a bit disappointed by the fairway quality.

The greens have been in immaculate condition however. They do tend to be slower than expected on hard coastal soil but were undulating and interesting to play.

Being close to the sea, the course is impacted by rather strong winds, as you might expect on a links-style course. On my second day I played the blue/blue course combination in decent storm and it was really tricky to maneuver the ball from tee to green.

Even with the wind, playing the course is an absolute joy. With its interesting layout, the dunes, the features such as a double green on the yellow course, the wildlife, the birds, the tranquility of the course, it’s real fun and a great golf day is guaranteed. I was carrying my bag (on day one), the walking distances are rather short and sometimes you get that Monte Rei feeling when you walk the fairway and all you see is dunes, no other track, no other soul, no distraction whatsoever. Really enjoyed that.

Let’s jump into the course specifics, shall we.

Yellow

The yellow course is the one of the three that stands out because it’s a little different, I’d say. In contrast to red and blue there is no particular linksy character, it’s more a typical north German inland course.

It starts with a tee shot that could be in Pinehurst as well: Wasteland areas and tree lines. The hole finishes after a dogleg left on a mere 100 meter long double green, sharing it with hole number 7.

Number 2 is a beautiful par-5 with loads of waste areas and a set of bunkers in approach shot distance to the green. What follows is a beautiful par-3 and the interesting 4th that features water left and right of the fairway and left and right of the green.

The 5th is another exciting par-3 over water with a 40 meter green complex, guarded by large bunkers. Number 6 and 7 offer extensive wasteland and dune formations, while 8 and 9 are coming back towards the club house.

The yellow course is quite a forgiving track, not too tricky but exciting to get around. When I played it, there was literally no other person and I was super quick. I have to say, I was clubbing down, played safe, teed off with my 2-iron (not on the par-3s obviously) and kept the ball in play at all times. Good feeling!

Red

The red course starts with four beautifully modern wasteland holes, then has three pure links-style holes before it ends with two really boring holes towards the end.

It all starts with a dogleg par-4. You’re playing out of the wood towards water which guards the green and you’re happy to reach it in two safely. Hole 2 is a par-4 dogleg right with huge wasteland areas to the left and right side of the fairway.

Number 3 is an interesting par-3 and 4 is a par-4 with wasteland to the right hand side.

Hole 5 is the first dune hole, a fairly straight one, while the 6th is a 150 meter par-3 over a ditch. 150 meters sound ok, but if it’s windy you find yourself grabbing for a longer iron or even a wood to master the distance to the plateau.

The 7th is an interesting par-5 through the dunes landscape before 8 and 9 are again extremely boring and old-fashioned holes.

On my round I was stuck in traffic like maybe never before. There was a threesome in front of me and these people were everywhere but they weren’t in the fairway. It took ages to get from hole to hole and they didn’t let me play through, and I was playing as a single! Super frustrating. Thought about stopping or playing criss-cross but then accepted my fate and stuck it out.

Blue

The blue course shares its characteristics with the red course I would say. Some parkland holes, the rest links-style:

Holes 1 and 2 are an old-fashioned par-4 and par-3. Nothing to be too excited about unfortunately. Then however, oh my, the 3rd, a split-fairway par-4 with a green tucked away in the upper right corner. Really cool hole, almost unexpected after the underwhelming 1st and 2nd.

Here it opens up to classic links holes. Number 4 is a par-5 with various elevation changes, the 5th is a long par-4 with an interesting green complex, followed by the 6th, a beautiful par-3, one that you might find in golf publications.

Holes 7 and 8 are very good straight par-4s with dunes characteristics while at the same time getting back into more of the tree-rich area of the property. Hole 9 is another one of these super boring old ones that urgently need some refreshing.

I liked the blue course very much. So much that I played it twice actually—in heavy storm I have to add. It was a bit more dangerous with the longer shots, but I managed to keep in play and only lost one or maybe two balls.

Due to the weather there was no traffic at all. Sometimes I saw another person on one of the other holes but nothing kept me from playing 18 holes in 2.5 hours. That’s right. It took me 150 minutes for a complete round of golf, on one of the most interesting and beautiful courses of the country that is! Amazing.

In case you are interested, here are some nice flyover videos for yellow, red and blue.

As a conclusion: If you’d ask me which course combination would be my favorite, it’s tricky to answer. Yellow is interesting and beautiful but being in the rugged north, it has to be the red/blue combination that pulls the trigger as the best holes you can play here. But that’s just my opinion and you have to see for yourself.

As far as critique goes: I already mentioned that green-keeping should definitely maintain the fairways in a better shape. Summer wasn’t even hitting the north much by then and yet the fairway looked very pitiful I have to say. Another point is the lacking quality of flagsticks and cups. That sounds a bit pedantic but during my round on blue/blue, playing in the storm, 6 out of 18 flagsticks were torn out by the wind and were lying flat on the ground. First I thought I should blame the group in front of me but then I realized that it’s just not stable enough and that the club management apparently saved some dough and went for the cheap stuff when ordering flags and cups. As a recommendation, Golf Club Föhr should reconsider.

All in all two fantastic rounds of golf. The club is a real treat and much better than some of the other North Sea golf courses, of Sylt for instance. Yes, it takes some time and effort to get to the course, being on an island, but once you are here, you shouldn’t leave without teeing off.

Fun fact at the end of my report: At one point during my trip to Föhr I was pony riding with my little 2-year old daughter. What I learned weeks later is that the pony trail that we walked was on the old golf course property that Bernhard von Limburger had built in the 1920s. What a coincidence!

Photo credits: golficiency.com, golfclubfoehr.de, clubtags.de
Disclaimer: Golficiency was offered a reduced media rate.

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