Flat but bloomy: Bad Vilbeler Golfclub Lindenhof

To kick off my tournament season earlier this year I decided to play a round at Bad Vilbeler Golfclub Lindenhof, north of Frankfurt, Germany. I played this course once before, but only for 12 holes or so.

So I was excited that day, the weather was holding up quite nicely and I was really interested to see the rest of the course. In early summer, when everything is in full bloom, this course is supposed to be extremely beautiful. That day was a little different, no blossom to be seen.

Great stage for today's Deutsche Bank tournament.

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The course is rather flat but interesting nontheless. On many holes you find water as the prominent hazard, on most holes you do find however multiple areas you wouln’t want to place your ball.

The 9 and 18 really stand out in my opinion. The 9th is a par-5 dogleg right with a huge pond right in front of the mens tees. Either you are overly brave (and good enough) and drive over the water, or you lay up to the left and start to play to the right side starting with the secon shot. Great hole. What’s cool as well is the fact that you have a telephone at the tee box with which you can order something to drink or eat at the halfway house. So when you reach the 10th 15 minutes later, everything is waiting for you. Cool.

The 18th is a par-3 towards the clubhouse. What makes it special is the sheer amount of water you find on that hole.

So playing Bad Vilbel was a treat, a nice course, definitely not perfect but when you are in the area anyway, Bad Vilbel is a nice addition to your list – and stay for dinner if you can and enjoy the evening.

Sweden golf, Ekerum Resort Öland

During the preparation for our holidays in Sweden I researched so much on golf courses and was literally stunned by the sheer amount of top notch courses they have.

I wanted to play them all. As that’s not really possible when you travel with your family I narrowed it down to a bit more than a handful. Still a lot of golf. And then our itinerary required some severe adjustments so that we cut most of our journey through south Sweden and ended up in Stockholm and Öland.

No hard feelings, but I managed to play one round and one round only on Öland.

I played the Långe Jan course at the Ekerum Resort just outside of Borgholm, Öland. The resort features two courses, one named by the lighthouse in the very south of the island, the other named by the lighthouse in the very north. Both of them are supposed to be very nice, the Långe Erik being more kind of a “normal” course, and Långe Jan featuring a modern re-fit with wasteland areas and some tweaks you don’t find at every other course.

Långe Jan course, hole 1, Ekerum Resort Öland, Sweden.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the course, even with my round taking donkeys with some slow people all over the place. I got in traffic, joined a couple’s group which happened to be members and they told me they never experienced such traffic on the course yet. Well, bad luck for me.

Sweden has great courses to offer, and a big shoutout to the Exilgolfer and Sweden Golf, I got some great recommendations which courses to play. I will take my notes out again next time Sweden is back on my list. I can’t wait to play Bro Hof, Barsebäck, PGA of Sweden, Hills, Sand, Falsterbo, and so many more.

For this time it was just Ekerum. Very good course though. Would definitely recommend you play if you are on the island.

More information: Ekerum Resort Golf

An autumn round which felt like summer

My in-laws live in south Germany and we visit them from time to time over the weekend, as you do. This time, they weren’t even there but we went there anyway (for other reasons) and I brought my golf clubs to play a round.

The area near Ulm is beautiful but not at all blessed with many golf courses. So it was easy to pick a course. After I played GC Ulm last time, I went for GC Donau-Riss, a 15min ride from where we stayed.

The course is equipped with an 18-hole course, a large range, decent training facilities and a short course. The overall appearance of the track is rather open. What I mean by that, it’s not your typical parkland course, on the contrary, without many obstacles you can overlook big parts of the course. Not all of it, but it is rather open, you get what I mean.

Carrying my clubs today… honestly, why would you do that if you had the choice. Trolley next time.

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It was early Oktober and during the round I hated me that I didn’t wear shorts. It was really hot, the sun was burning and it felt like a little reward for the bad summer we had so far.

I started my round on the 10th. No intentionally, but because I followed two youngsters which intentionally started on the 10. I just realised when my GPS watch made no sense whatsoever for my approach shot.

The course wasn’t overly packed but after some holes I got in traffic and joined another couple’s group, played along for 6 or so holes, played alone again, got in traffic again and joined another golf buddys’ group for the last 2.

All in all a fun round in just over 4 hours. The course was nice, while not extravagant. Holes which are worth noting:

  • 1. Split fairway.
  • 4. Double fairway, meaning you can decide to play left or right around an area of rough and trees.
  • 9. Uphill par-4 with a huge biotope area which you have to lay up for.
  • 15. Huge biotope again.
  • 17. Short par-3 with liver-shaped green. I couldn’t putt straight to the hole and had to putt “around the corner”.

So when you are in the area, give the course a chance. It’s not worth a huge travel but definitely is much fun to play. I had a great day on the course.

Matt Ginella’s Top 50 US (public) courses

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In case you don’t know Matt Ginella, which would surprise me, but anyway, let me briefly explain what his job is – and let me warn you, you might want to quit yours immediately.

The story is easy, Matt works for the Golf Channel and is paid quite a salary to travel the world and play golf. That’s it. He plays the best courses around the globe, then comes back to Florida and talks a bit about his endeavours. Sounds stressful? I don’t think so. In my opinion this guy has the best job on earth. And I guess there are thousands waiting in line waiting for the moment he decides to resign – for whatever reason.

So Matt travels the world, he plays astounding courses and he regularly creates best-of lists, which I really like in general.

Not long ago he (re)created the Top 50 US public golf courses list, and you should definitely have a look:

Beachfront golf in Marbella: Real Club de Golf Guadalmina

Planning a golf trip to Marbella is rather difficult. Not because there is a lack of appropriate opportunities to swing a club, it’s rather the opposite! The Costa del Sol in the south of Spain offers not less than 70 golf courses along a coast line of roughly 300 kilometers. And especially the region in and around Marbella offers so many courses that it’s tricky to pick THE right one.

After our tour through Andalusia it was Marbella being the last stop on our itinerary. Sure thing we wanted to end the journey with a nice and memorizable round of golf in the sunshine.

There are so many great golf courses to be found in this region that it’s really difficult to find the one that’s just right for you. I investigated so much in preparation for the tour that I was seriously confused about where to play eventually. Long story short, I decided to play the Real Club de Golf Guadalmina. This club offers two courses whereas the south course stands out and offers nicer scenery and architecture, at least in theory. Also it was very close to our hotel and I got a good rate.

A word and a blow, instead of checking in the hotel I immeadiately drove to the club house which sits in the middle of a… well, dated residential area with a supermarket-like car park. Entering the club house, it was nobody there to greet or guide you, all lockers and bathrooms were locked and apparently reserved for members who know the numeric code to enter. The waiters in the downstairs bar weren’t really helpful either so I had to ask my way through the facilities. I’m not saying I was shocked, but I had hoped for another kind of start to this round.

Finally I found the person at the counter to pay my green fee, bought the obligatory club logo ball souvenir and left the building. It took me a while to understand that in order to get to the first tee of the south course you need to leave the premises, cross the car park, pass the weird shops and bars to the side of it and then walk for a couple of minutes on a public street through a residential area to then get to what was the first tee. Seriously, I haven’t expected this – in any shape or form. Again, not that I was shocked but this course received so many so positive reviews from all over the place… I was dissapointed, I guess that’s the word.

Next dissapointment was just around the corner: on the first tee there were like 20 people waiting to tee off! I had a tee time in ten minutes and all these folks were about to start their round just now. Apparently there was a double booking for some slots and so I had to wait until all 38 French golf tourists in their fourballs were ready to go and I had my turn finally. That was roughly one hour later.

I had a nice chat with the starter and it wasn’t really his fault but the whole situation was kind of stupid. Especially because I played on my own and was obviously stuck in huge traffic right from the start. As the North Course was closed that week for maintenance I had no chance but wait, play slow and be patient. I told everybody “I’m in no rush” which was true but I had no idea how horrible the next hours turned out to be.

When I finally teed off I decided to play two balls, an advice the starter gave me. It didn’t really help. When I finished hole 1, I realized that there were three groups on the next hole – a par 3!

So I couldn’t help it and had to wait. I practiced putting a good 10 minutes on the first hole until I finally teed off myself. It was quite a busy spot of the course with a busy street to the left and the highway behind the hole. I tried to forget all that once I putted for a par and tried to move on.

Next hole 3rd was a dogleg left with villas to both sides. I had to wait for some minutes before I absolutely bombed my drive to split the fairway. So I was standing there in the middle of the hole, waiting for the French to move on while the group behind me closed up and waited for me to clear the fairway. I wanted to scream that it’s not my fault but I had more chances to let them know later.

When I finished hole 3 I realized that the group in front of me not even had teed off the 4th yet. Oh boy, it got slower and slower, that was for sure. I went over and had a little chit-chat with the French folks and finally couldn’t do anything else than let them go play and wait.

That was the time when the Spanish couple arrived in their cart and realized that I was still waiting there. They were members of the club and seemed very nice, although pretty annoyed about the slow play too. We decided to play together and talked a lot. It turned out that they just months ago moved from Madrid to Marbella because the quality of life supposedly is so much better in Marbella. They said they literally live on the golf course and play here at least 4 times a week. They just take their golf cart from the underground parking and head to the course. Wow, what a lifestyle: Living in a nice house or apartment with sea views right next to a golf course which you get to play a couple of times per week. I was jealous. Pretty jealous.

The path between the 4th green and 5th tee box went under the big motor highway, the autovia. So to set the scene, imagine a nice golf course with a 6-way highway cutting right through it – that’s what you have there. Really a pity. Apart from that the course was rather nice.

We played the 5th, again with a lot of waiting, when we decided that all this absolutely doesn’t make sense at all and totally ruined our mood already. To avoid that we headed for the 15th as it seemed there wasn’t somebody playing the back nine at that time. With the 15, 16, 17 and 18 I finished nine holes in total (the not so pretty ones) in almost 4 hours!

What a pathetic round of golf!

I was disappointed with the area where the course was located, a little bit with the course facilities, with the noise, the slow play and that I just was able to see half of the course. Needless to say that it wasn’t possible to get a refund at the reception.

A golf day to forget.

The first Ballesteros Design I played: Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club

The prefix “Real” stands for “Royal” in Spanish. That’s the case for Real Madrid and also Real Golf de Valderrama. And also for Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club.

The latter surprises a little bit because there is very little royal flair in the Urbanization Novo Sancti Petri, south of Cadiz. It’s a rather nice holiday residential area with dozens of hotels and uncounted weekend and holiday apartments. The big asset of Sancti Petri is the beautiful stretch of beach, long, wide and white along the Costa de la Luz.

The coast in general is famous for travelers and sun seekers, but indeed this part of the region is beautiful and offers a lot to recreational or regular guests.

We stayed at one of the best hotels the coast has to offer and enjoyed some days by the pool, strolling the beach, enjoying the sun, the wine, the tapas and the southern Spanish lifestyle.

Of course golf was on the agenda too. As little as Novo Sancti Petri is, it offers quite a variety of golf courses. I decided to go for the most prestigious club, which alone offers two championship courses plus a short a pitch & putt course, and also went to play the apparent better course, the “Mar y Pinos” (Sea and Pines), or “A” as they call it themselves.

I paid a very reasonable green fee, ordered a cart (because I walked at least 12km every day during the week before) and off I went. The signage turned out to be somewhat improvable but eventually I managed to find everything I needed to.

The driving range features a lot of possibilities to warm up and is home to the Jack Nicklaus Golf Academy, just in case your swing needs some urgent adjusting.

On tee 1 I was grouped together with a German couple, both in their 50s, he played golf, she only took pictures and used the first nine as a nice walk. She didn’t really talk much but he was very nice and we chatted along quite nicely. Turned out that he’s coming for 20 years and just started to find back to his game.

The course was built in 1990, designed by nobody less that Severiano Ballesteros. I’m not a big expert on course design and definitely wouldn’t recognise Seve’s handwriting but I have to say that the overall layout and architectural course design was not more than ‘good’. Saying it was ‘mediocre’ wouldn’t do justice, but it’s clearly not the biggest asset this club has to offer – or reason to get awarded with the prefix “Real” to the club name.

Hole 1 is a very straight hole, an easy one for the start. With a good tee shot you can reach the green next to a small lake which forms a water hazard for a number of the following holes. For the second you have to drive the ball over water towards a normal-width fairway, surrounded by holiday villas to the left.

After 3 and 4, two rather unspectacular dogleg-left par-4s you get to the next par-4 dogleg-left. This time your second shot has to travel over water to a smaller green. Which didn’t work out in my first attempt I have to say.

Hole 6 is without a doubt one of the more spectacular ones. It’s an uphill tee shot with a second into the green which sits right on top of the beach with beautiful views along the coast. Very pretty indeed.

Hole 7 is a rather long over-water par-3 and is followed by an intersting par-5 and a dull par-3 to finish the first nine.

Today's highlight: golf at Novo Sancti Petri

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I totally screwed up the 10th (God knows why) and really enjoyed playing the following holes; long par-5s, interesting par-4s and short par-3s. All in all I preferred the back nine, both in quality of the design, the absence of holiday homes right next to the fairway and water hazards and frankly because I played really good golf there. I think it’s just a mood issue. The more birdie chances you have (and eventually make) the better you like the holes.

So after all, I enjoyed playing this course. There are of course some things that didn’t go well: The staff was friendly but not very helpful with orientation, the caddie master wasn’t helpful at all, the carts were neither equipped with water, towels, tees nor with a GPS system and as I forgot my GPS watch at home, there was a lot of guess work involved.

Would I recommend the course to others? Yes if you are in the neighbourhood, no if you would need to travel just for this.

Golficiency Rating: 5/10

Spontaneous Andalusian Golf Break

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What to do when you realise you have so many holidays left for the year? No question, you find some great ideas where to spend them. As summer started to turn ugly in Central Europe we decided to head to South Spain, enjoy the sun, the culture, the history, the tapas, the vino, the flamenco, the hospitality, the picturesque ancient towns and the golf. And no doubt – they have plenty of all.

Starting from Malaga, we had on our itenerary penciled in for Nerja, Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla, Jerez, Cadiz, Sancti Petri, Vejer de la Frontera, Gibraltar, Ronda and Marbella. Basically every single corner of Andalusia.

Everybody knows that golfing is easy in South Spain as they have plenty of courses, both at the Costa de la Luz or the Costa del Sol (aka Costa del Golf). The problem is even to decide which one to play as due to the sheer amount of possibilities you are seriously overwhelmed and need either expert advice or a lot of reading. I did both and had an initial list of courses to take into account.

Pretty early in the process I ruled out three courses, not because I changed my mind but because I figured I won’t spend that much money on golf. Don’t get me wrong, I’d absolutely love to play these but for somebody who has to work hard for his lifestyle, the requested green fees are totally out of this world:

  • Real Club Valderrama (Best course in Continental Europe since 1988), Robert Trent Jones design
  • Real Club de Golf Sotogrande, Robert Trent Jones design
  • Finca Cortesin Golf Resort, Cabell Robinson design

And also, as we planned a road trip through all of Andalusia we didn’t want to spend too much time in the Sotogrande region anyway – because there are much nicer places to see and visit.

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So we decided to change plans and put down these four courses as the ones to play:

  • Real Club de Golf Sevilla, José Maria Olazábal design
  • Montecastillo Golf Club, Jerez, Jack Nicklaus design
  • Novo Sancti Petri Golf, Severiano Ballesteros design
  • Real Club de Golf Guadalmina, Marbella, Javier Arana design

One thing I can tell you now as we already arrived back home, we didn’t fully make it through this list unfortunately. But the other thing I’d like to report; golfing in the south of Spain is pretty amazing! And the whole region of Andalusia is so rich in culture, history and lifestyle that golf became a fairly peripheral matter quickly.

Do yourself a favour, book a trip and find out for yourself what an amazing piece of land this is.

Keep checking back at golficiency.com for the course reviews of the Andalusia trip.

Photo credits: Westin La Quinta Resort, Marbella

Worthy end to the NRW2016 Tour: Golf Club Hubbelrath

Another day, another round of golf. And as you do, we had a really nice course reserved for the end. On a very cold April morning Carsten and I met up with a friend of his to play the famous East Course at Golf Club Hubbelrath. For some strange reason they sometimes are also called Golf und Land Club Düsseldorf (Golf & Country Club) but nobody could give me a proper answer to why that’s the case. Nevermind.

Hubbelrath is really close to the other Düsseldorf course we played the day before and it’s famous in a way that the venue hosted the German Open multiple times, hosts the Ladies European Open, Junior Championships, is home to one of most successful golf teams in Germany (current German Champion) and in general is a really nice and challenging course.

Early morning sunshine at GC Hubbelrath (East). Weather got worse later unfortunately.

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Hubbelrath is again another Bernhard von Limburger course and features a very hilly parkland setup. The weather got worse and worse but we were in good mood, chatted along and enjoyed every minute.

The East Course starts right at the clubhouse from an elevated tee. However, there is a funny tweak to it as the first tee box for yellow is on one side of the club building, whereas the white tee box is situated behind the building with quite a different angle to get to the fairway. That was a first for me.

As mentioned, Hubbelrath is quite hilly as well. You find yourself walking up and down, and up and down. Due to all the rain of the previous days, the course presented itself quite soggy and played wet and soft – that was the case for both the fairways and the greens as well.

Walking the East course you realise this course is over 50 years old. Tree lines are big and mature, there is very little disturbance from outside the course or from the adjacent holes – it’s just a very pleasant course that you can enjoy. Maybe that’s the reason Martin Kaymer is checking in from time to time when he’s in Germany. His parents’ place is just a couple of minutes away.

Crazy long par 3s at Hubbelrath… Driver, seriously?!

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I was told their par-3 hole 7 was awarded “Most Beautiful Golf Hole in Germany” once. I couldn’t find proof online but it looks fantastic indeed, at least for German standards.

All in all a very nice finish to our NRW Tour 2016 trip. It has been a pleasure to play all these great courses in West Germany. I will absolutely be back some time to play them again, and I will make sure I’ll play in beautiful sunshine then, because the weather during the four days was absolutely horrible!

I think it’s a challenge and really tricky to achieve to play in horrendous and difficult condition and still enjoy the day to the fullest. For me that’s an issue of comfort in specific temperatures, comfort of different clothing and pleasure to the eye, because while golfing I absolutely prefer lush green and clear blue skies over 50 shades of grey.

But we all know golf is a sport executed outside – with all positives and negatives to it. So I guess I have to accept that not every round can be played in stellar condition.

We had good fun anyway, enjoyed ourselves on the course and stayed in the clubhouse for a while. Interestingly the club hosted a funeral reception that day so we tried not to cheer up too much about the golf.

To get a better feeling for how the course and the amenities actually look like you should watch this video:

Out of breath at Düsseldorfer Golf Club

After Carsten and I played Refrath and Lärchenhof (both near Cologne) we made our way more to the Düsseldorf area. Next on the list was Düsseldorfer Golf Club, another treat in Germany’s west, situated on an old knight’s estate. The weather turned out to be really OK that day, so we found ourselves peeling off one insulating layer after the other with every sun ray that we caught.

We were set to play a round with local member and internationally renowned golf course architect Christian Althaus. Unfortunately it turned out he didn’t have much time for golf that day (not surprising as it was a mid-week morning), but he was kind enough to show us around a little and gave us a peek into the life of a course architect – a pretty adorable job if you ask me. Christian is responsible for some great new courses and re-designs and is in the business for more than 20 years. So he knows his stuff, plays off a +1 handicap and loves his home course Düsseldorfer Golf Club. So if this wasn’t promising a great day, what would!

As the club decided to aerate and sand the fairways and greens we had to start on the 10th hole and made our way along the hilly course. I was really surprised how steep some parts of the course have been because I had no idea that this part of the Düsseldorf region was so close to the foothills of the so-called Bergisches Land. Apparently it is. After the first 9 holes I was pretty wrecked and seriously appreciated that we had to wait for our second nine, starting at the first hole.

But to give you some more flavour what it’s like on the course:
Hole 10, straight par 5 downhill
Hole 11, dogleg par 5 uphill
Hole 12, par 3 downhill
Hole 13, dogleg par 4, first downhill then uphill
Hole 14, straight par 4, a little uphill towards the green
Hole 15, par 3 from an extremely elevated tee, which you have to climb up to, make you shot with your heart pumping, then walk steeply down

Nice par-3s at Düsseldorfer Golf Club. This one from an elevated tee! #GolfNRW16

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By then I was totally out of breath, and I always considered myself as fairly fit. Apparently I was wrong. If my ball had found the water hazard in front of the 15th, I guess I would have jumped right in to refresh.

Anyway, we finished our first 9 holes eventually, had a short break and then continued onto the front-nine which are equally nice but less hilly – a little less. The sun kept shining, we were playing decent golf, the course presented itself challenging, we weren’t really bothered by those holes which have been sanded that day, so we finished our 18 holes and rewarded ourselves with a long rest on the sun terrace.

After two days of rain during our rounds, today has been really lovely front to back. #GolfNRW16

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Golficiency Rating: 6/10

A course doesn’t need to be old to be great: Jack Nicklaus’ Gut Lärchenhof Golf Club

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Second day of the NRW Tour 2016, second stellar course we played. Carsten and I went for Gut Lärchenhof, one of the poshest clubs in the region. It’s a Nicklaus Design and features a fantastic US-design golf course which really lacks nothing. Some will argue there’s very little atmosphere, but truth be told this club is the ultimate package: from the Titleist golf pyramids on the range to the tranquility on the course and the quality of all facilities – Lärchenhof is a modern classic and belongs to one of the top 50 courses in Europe.

Once you get passed the huge gates which secure the property in front of the beautiful club house, you enter a golf-dedicated society. Everything on the property smells quality, everything is very much cared for, everything tries to be perfect.

The only thing which wasn’t perfect was the weather – to be precise, it was the opposite of perfect. We arrived in the morning in drizzle and the forecast was horrendous. We paid the not-so-small green fee knowing there wouldn’t be any refund if we’d need to abort. We were lucky on the front nine, although the rain seemed to intensify. There was no other person on the course playing in these conditions! During the back nine the rain became torrential and we had to take shelter for at least 30 minutes. This was when we met the other two crazy people on the course that day – two pensioneers fighting out a matchplay event. We were impressed… and let them play through.

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So in short, we were extremely unlucky with the weather. It’s a fantastic venue and I love to come back in beautiful sunshine to really enjoy the course to the fullest some day. Because it deserves it! It’s a Jack Nicklaus design, features rolling fairways and an interesting architecture without being overly tricky, narrow or hilly. Lärchenhof hosted several German Masters, several Mercedes-Benz Championships and still is the alternating venue for the BMW International Open on the European Tour. If you ask me, that speaks for itself.

The quality of the course is without a doubt one of the best I’ve seen – and this must have been overly complicated given the fact that rain was omnipresent for the last months. I visited the club once before to attend the BMW International Open as a spectator and I would be surprised if the quality of the greens, fairways and tees had been much different back then. It’s just that we used other tee boxes…

From what we heard, to become a member of the club you have to pay an incredible amount of money but those who can afford, find themselves in golfer’s heaven: on a beautiful and quiet course, with incredible practice facilities, a spacious and luxurious club house and so many little things that make your day on the course as pleasant as possible. Oh, and they have a Porsche Panamera as airport shuttle, just in case you fancy to hop over for a quick round.

It doesn’t do justice to the holes to pick some which really stand out, because they are all stunning, but without a doubt the home stretch 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th is one of the best you can find. Just see for yourself!

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I think this video gives you a very good impression of what to expect for your money. Definitely worth it!

Golficiency Rating: 8/10

Photo credits: golf.de, gutlaerchenhof.de