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

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.

Golficiency Rating: 6/10

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

laerchenhof_loch07_735x338.jpg.resource.1335798769089.jpg

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.

laerchenhof_loch12_735x338.jpg.resource.1335798945643.jpg

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

A majestic and delightful parkland spot: Golf- und Land-Club Köln

It’s actually been a while now that I played the NRW Tour 2016 with Carsten, with whom I originally wanted to play in St Andrews. And although the trip to Cologne and Düsseldorf was absolutely worth it, the weather had been utterly horrible. But it seems 2016 is the year of rain here in Europe, so I guess it’s fair to say we played in “fairly normal” conditions.

St Andrews has been on our list for longer and was anchored in our calendars. When we finally got the information that we cannot get a tee time during that week, we were pretty smashed – quite obvious for serious golf fans I reckon. But instead of getting depressed we found ourselves a very good alternative. We thought we have some very good courses here on our own. Maybe not as nice and historical as the home of golf, but still more than decent clubs to visit.

A word and a blow, we penciled out an itinerary that included four of the very best courses Germany has to offer. And we couldn’t wait to start the week.

First on the list was Golf- und Land-Club Köln, or translated, Golf & Country Club Cologne. This venue is beautifully placed in the neighbourhood of Refrath outside of Cologne. It’s a classic parkland course, designed by Berhand von Limburger. “Refrath”, as many call the club, is one of the oldest in the whole of Germany.

At 8am I entered the property through the huge automatic gates with the embedded club logo. I’ve seen these kind of entrances in English clubs, but that was the first time I saw that on the continent. So the welcoming couldn’t be better for that day. I was the first guest and waited for my three playing partners Carsten (my golf buddy for the week), Zoltan (a member of the club) and Moritz (playing tour pro) to arrive.

Refrath is a classic members club. It’s impossible to get a tee time on the weekend if you’re a guest and on the course there are no signs where to go to the next hole or how to play from the tee. It’s just assumed that you are either a member who know the course inside out or you are accompanied by a member who could help out here and there.

The course itself is beautiful. The weather was cold and windy on the first 9 and on the second we also had rain showers, so obviously the overall atmosphere could have been better, but generally the club is an absolute stunner. The condition was impeccable, even after long periods of rain, the layout is classic Limburger-style and extremely eye-pleasing. We really enjoyed playing. For the most part the routing meanders through a forest, only on very few holes you had the tee box or the fairway in proximity to a public road.

The course has been venue to the German Open quite a number of times. Local hero Bernhard Langer won here, Severiano Ballesteros held the course record and the European Seniors Tour comes by from time to time as well. So you see, it’s one of the nicer venues you can think of.

The club house sits right by a small lake, offering nice views for those golfers who want to have a rest on the terrace after a round. We were soaked and chilled, so we went inside and enjoyed the atmosphere in the “Berenberg Lounge”. All in all a very nice start to a full golfing week.

Golficiency Rating: 7/10

Kingsbarns Golf Links soars to chart success

01-Kingsbarns-Golf
Photo: linksgolfstandrews.com

Kingsbarns Golf Links has recorded an unprecedented leap in one of golf’s most respected course rankings. The significant move, which resulted in the renowned European Tour venue jumping 10 places and entering Golf World’s top 10, firmly establishes the North East Fife course as one of the UK’s must-play golfing venues.

Continue reading Kingsbarns Golf Links soars to chart success

Stoke Park Clubhouse is Fifth Most Iconic in the World

Definition of iconic:
1) …of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon
2) a: widely recognised and well-established
b: widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence

Goldfinger owned it. Daniel Craig was shot on its steps. And now, the golf clubhouse at Stoke Park Country Club, Spa & Hotel, in Buckinghamshire, has been named the fifth most iconic clubhouse in world golf.

Continue reading Stoke Park Clubhouse is Fifth Most Iconic in the World

Walking in the footsteps of golf’s greats—in Germany

Last year, in August, a fellow blogger and I tried to get a tee time at the famous Old Course in St. Andrews. We enrolled as we were told, waited – and received a negative answer. You might have read the story.

Of course we were extremely disappointed as our dream was so radically ending in smoke. Of course there are other ways to play the Old Course but none of them guaranteed a round for us two – at least not in an affordable way.

What to do now, we started thinking. Fly anyway and play the other courses? We could have done that, but honestly, when you are travelling to St. Andrews, the Home of Golf, you definitely want to play the mother of all courses. So we decided to skip completely.

But what else?

In the end we planned a golf trip in front of our doorsteps. We both live in Germany which offers quite some treasures if you just dig deep enough. A word and a blow, we decided on 4 prestigious clubs in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), all very close to each other (Cologne and Düsseldorf area) and all with their own history (one of which to be honest has a quite young history).

These are the ones that we finally went for:

  1. Golf und Land-Club Köln, Refrath
  2. Golf Club Gut Lärchenhof, Pulheim
  3. Düsseldorfer Golf Club
  4. Land und Golf Club Düsseldorf, Hubbelrath

All of these courses have a rich history and hosted uncounted professional events. Even Gut Lärchenhof with its rather short history stands out as this is the venue for the European Tour event ‘BMW International Open’, at least every second year.

I’m writing these words sitting in a hotel during the stay. Earlier today we finished round 3 and now it’s only one course still missing. Please check back with this blog to read all the course reviews.

Generally it’s an interesting experience to take some days off at work, don’t travel long but concentrate on some seriously magnificent golf courses in the middle of our home country.

Sandy golf at Saadiyat Beach

We know Dubai quite well, been there multiple times, played various courses and figured we should see Abu Dhabi as well. It’s just one hour from Dubai and worth a visit.

Abu Dhabi is definitely not as spectacular as Dubai but that’s mainly on purpose. They don’t feel the need to put their country into that stress of becoming world’s best, biggest, tallest, etc. The largest of the seven Emirates by landmass however offers some interesting tourist attractions itself: the mosque, the Emirates Palace, the Corniche, various architectural highlights, some big malls, the F1 circuit, the Ferrari World, just to name a few.

View this post on Instagram

This is why it's called Saadiyat Beach! #GolfUAE16

A post shared by Golficiency (@golficiency) on

We decided to stay for three days and spoiled ourselves with two nights at the magnificent St. Regis Saadiyat Island. The island is situated north of downtown Abu Dhabi but not more than a 10 minutes drive from the Corniche. So it was close enough to easily discover the city and remote enough to enjoy the beautiful beach and tranquility of the hotel compound.

The St. Regis is a fantastic hotel and there is another feature I was interested in: the Gary Player beach-side championship golf course.

Abu Dhabi offers at least three great golf courses, Abu Dhabi GC, Yas Links GC and Saadiyat Beach GC. We all know Abu Dhabi GC from the famous European Tour event. It’s a fantastic course which without a doubt is on my bucket list for quite some time. The same is true for Yas and Saadiyat. So I had the choice but as we were staying at the St. Regis, it was pretty obvious we would go for the home course, not only because I was offered a special rate as hotel guest and Starwood Friend.

Through the booking process and some additional points on golf, I was introduced to a young man named Clinton, acting as the Abu Dhabi Starwood Sales Manager for golf. Coincidentally he had planned to play a round with his dad the very same day, so we played alongside in one group and enjoyed the course, the weather and the company.

What’s needed at Saadiyat Beach is pure target golf. It’s not always the driver you should choose for your tee shot, it’s more a spot you need to decide to put your ball and then make the club selection accordingly. Sometimes it’s a mid or long iron which brings you closer to a par at this course than the big stick.

The course offers lots of sand (who would have thought…), numerous water hazards, interesting architectural features, a very good condition in general and many endemic gazelles. What I didn’t know was that ‘Abu Dhabi’ actually means ‘Father of the Gazelle’ and hence there is a long heritage for this animal in the region.

As a course in the UAE you can imagine, the one resource they have plenty is sand. And yes there are a lot of bunkers on this course. All bunkers are slightly bigger than normal, fairway bunkers seemed all in play and there are some green side bunkers you really want to avoid. Also, the sand itself was very hard so it was a bit tricky to operate out of the bunkers.

View this post on Instagram

Difficult to concentrate on golf! Great views.

A post shared by Golficiency (@golficiency) on

Most impressive holes:

  • 2: Split fairways with the choice to either go left or right
  • 5: Par 4 with water to the left, playing towards the beach
  • 6: Par 3, literally ‘on’ the beach with the hole by the St. Regis beach/pool area
  • 14: Interrupted fairway
  • 15: Again an interrupted fairway, with an approach over water
  • 16: Beautiful par 4 towards the beach
  • 17: Picturesque par 3 on the beach
  • 18: Worthy finishing hole, dogleg right with water all the way on the right

The reason why I can’t rate the course with an eight or better, is mainly because of the construction work next to it going on right now. There are some hotels and villas being put up and that’s a bit annoying. Nothing too bad, and gone in mid-term but a factor why I only rate the course: 7/10

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club – a nice course in the heart of Dubai

If you’ve read my last post, you might have realised that I started to struggle to find good and affordable courses in Dubai for our trip in April. This is mainly because of four things:

  1. Dubai courses are in general a bit more expensive than everything you know from back home. That’s possibly explainable by the quality and luxury you usually find at these clubs.
  2. Dubai courses are artificial areas in an environment which doesn’t actually fit. Purely from a biological and agricultural perspective, so much green grass does not belong in the desert, and maintaining it to the highest standards is difficult and expensive.
  3. The Euro/Dirham FX rate has been plummeting in recent months. No good news for European travellers!
  4. I have to admit I only checked the expensive courses because those are still missing on my list! In other words, when you are trying to play the Majlis, the Earth and Abu Dhabi, you can’t complain about cost, because it’s basically the creme de la creme of UAE courses which comes at a price. 

Looking around Dubai and Abu Dhabi there are certainly nice other alternatives to play, one of which is definitely the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. This course is located a bit more away from all the others but in contrast to them, more or less in the heart of the old part of Dubai. This has some pros and cons which I will discuss in a minute.

What attracted me was a couple of things: it’s quite famous because it’s one of the first ones ever opened here, it has an iconic club house and features one of the most famous tee boxes in golf world-wide!

But one thing after the other. I got a taxi to the course, checked in and was quite happy that my booking via Golfscape the night before, worked quite nicely. And I got it at a price which the official website did not offer – which was a bonus.

In mid-day heat I started to hit some balls on the range, which was indeed necessary as I haven’t had touched a golf club for a couple of months; this was my first round in 2016! After two pyramids of golf balls and some first thoughts around how to cope with and stay out of the sun, I started my round.

I got my own cart and played on my own. Not much traffic at all. The two-ball in front of me I had overtaken at the second hole already. From that point onwards I had nobody in front and behind me until maybe the third last hole. So one could say the course was pretty empty!

The course quality I would rate with a ‘good’. There were some yellow-ish and brown areas here and there but after all you can see that those people are trying to keep it in the best possible shape. This is apparently tricky around April as someone told me later, because this is the time when the winter-grass disappears and makes room for the summer-grass. That was supposed to be the reasoning behind the various grass colours on the course.

But I didn’t bother too much and tried to get the nicest round possible in the books, i.e. scorecard. I wasn’t doing that badly, lost some balls but at the same time hammered some nice tee shots (…unusual…) and played some great pars and even a birdie. Not bad for the first round of the year, however in 35°C much more likely than with the common winter golf attire you need in Central Europe in that season.

Some comments on the setting of the course: as mentioned earlier, it’s a city course. Which is good for the accessibility of the property but at the same time comes with all negative side effects. Some holes are routed along congested highways and the metro. Unfortunately this is not only the case for one or two but for several holes.

The course has four faces I would say: the highway, the residences, the inner course and the creek side. The highway is bad, that’s pretty obvious. The residential area is very common in the UAE as the golf holes meander through town houses and villas, so that’s a normal thing to experience. The inner course is a part of the course where multiple holes are next to each other without any structures or obstacles in between. This area was very nice and was followed by some holes along the creek shore line.

The latter is indeed nice to look at, you see boats, seaplanes and the Dubai skyline in the background.

But let me go back a bit. Hole 6 stands out, no doubt about it. As shown above, the tee box is a concrete island structure which you reach via a small bridge. So you walk onto the little grassy island, tee up your ball and play back to the mainland. I’m not sure about some official rankings but for me this belongs to the Top 5 tee boxes world-wide.

After the round I relaxed on the sun terrace of the iconic club house (which resembles the sails of an Arab dhow) and made plans for the next round.

Holes that really stood out:

  • 2: Par 4, over water, unfortunately next to the highway
  • 6: Impressive tee box, water and a great setting
  • 8: Par 3 over water
  • 10: Par 5 along water
  • 13: Par 5 with an island green
  • 16: Nice par 3 towards the Dubai Creek
  • 17,18: Beautiful home stretch along the creek, over water on the 18th, towards the club house

Golficiency Rating: 6/10

When did UAE golf courses get THAT expensive?!

Is it just me or did actually the UAE golf courses become more expensive over the last 12 months?! Last time we went down to Dubai we played

  • Jumeirah Golf Estates, Fire Course
  • The Address Montgomerie
  • The Els Club

…and it has been absolutely amazing! More expensive than the clubs I know around the corner here but still quite affordable, but then we figured we could go to Dubai AND Abu Dhabi this year. So as you do as a golf maniac you check out courses we could play this time.

On the list for this year:

  • Jumeirah Golf Estates, Earth Course
  • Emirates Golf Club, Majlis Course
  • Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
  • Yas Links Golf Club

But then I checked prices and I have to tell you guys, I’m pretty astonished by the green fees they are charging! “Cheapest” is Yas Links with 650 AED/157 EUR which is rather fair I’d say. But then next would be Saadiyat with 945 AED/228 EUR which already is pretty steep. Jumeirah Earth with 995 AED/ 240 EUR is in the same ballpark but the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club won’t let you play for less than 1,200 AED/290 EUR…! Well I’d call that a bit out of the league.

No question, all of these courses are absolutely fantastic venues but seriously if they continue with such pricing, in 5 years there won’t be any golfers left to be interested playing, I bet. Even last time at The Els Club I was pretty much alone on the course in the middle of the day—and that wasn’t because of the heat!

The cape, the wine, the golf: Pearl Valley Golf and Country Estate

IMG_9418

So far this journey had been fantastic throughout! We experienced wild animals, beautiful landscapes, amazing beaches and great golf. And this was before we even went to Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

And taking Stellenbosch as an example, for those of you who have been there and love wine, we know that this place is pretty awesome. It’s a picturesque place of earth, peaceful, relaxed and full of rich history of wine making. You basically can’t drive for one minute without passing another astonishingly beautiful vineyard, or wine estates as they tend to call it.

Putting the difficult history of the country aside, there were many settlers coming from Germany, France and the Netherlands, staying and producing one bottle of finest Pinotage, Chardonnay or Shiraz after the other. What’s left is a huge industry, world-renowned wine from across the winelands in and around Stellenbosch and with it absolute mind-blowing wine and country estates, beautifully restored and kept in good shape.

So in short, you can have a pretty good time in Stellenbosch, no doubt about it.

But one thing we had in mind as well was golf – as you do, naturally. One treat you might think about is get a good night’s sleep, play 18 holes of golf, get a shower, relax on the clubhouse terrace, eat some great food and then head off to a wine farm for a tasting or a normal dinner with a bottle of red, or two. Done. Perfect day!

There are actually several choices in terms of great courses in and around Stellenbosch: Erinvale, De Zalze, Devonvale and the one we were going for, Pearl Valley.

Pearl Valley is situated in a valley not far from the city of Paarl, which forms the wine triangle Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl. The posh estate features another Jack Nicklaus course (the third we saw on our journey) and is venue to several tour events and national championship tournaments.

The course has quite a usual resort or estate feeling with beautiful holes meandering through areas with huge villas along the fairways and around greens. The contour of the course is rather flat but not boring at all. Contrary, Nicklaus again managed to come up with very interesting holes.

We actually played with a Frankfurt-based golf buddy of mine, who chose to spend some months in the Cape Town region. As you do. But seriously, if you can, money and time is available and you happen to love golf, in that case the Garden Route and everything west of it is golfer’s dream. We met in the car park, entered the lobby, paid the (quite expensive, for South Africa standards) green fee and headed to the driving range. That was actually the first time during our trip we were able to spend more than 2 minutes on the practice grounds to be honest.

One thing that I most likely will never forget, there was a guy standing in the middle of the driving range, I’d say 160 metres from our position to water the lawn. He hardly moved and just tried not to miss a spot of the ground. First I thought, when is this guy done and leaves. It turns out it takes some time to water the drinving range by hand, so he stayed. Then I figured, wow, that’s dangerous, I should use a club with which I can’t reach the distance where he was working, but apparently all the others around me were pretty relaxed about the situation. Apart from the guy next to me who at some point whispered “shit” just after a shot. He must have felt that his shot pretty much was dead straight towards the 160 metres mark. I looked up, saw the ball coming down 2 metres next to the suicidal lawn waterer, who couldn’t care less. No reaction whatsoever!

But anyway, after we got some practice shots and putts in, we went to the first tee and started our round. The starter was nice and friendly, although he didn’t want my buddy play from the championship tees. He wasn’t very convincing though. There are five tee boxes available and I went for the middle ones – it turned out it was a good choice because although the course doesn’t look overly complicated and demanding, it has its specialities and I was relieved that at least distance was no issue.

I struck the ball well, had some good, some very good and clearly some very poor shots. After a couple of holes we were joined by another player, an English bloke who was on sabbatical too and coincidently worked in London in an office building right next to the one I was working in. So we must have met before, at least in a queue waiting for the Wasabi sushi lunch one day.

Some words on the course: it’s an interesting setting, has large bunkers and although some holes look pretty standard from a course architecture perspective, you won’t get bored to play the course at all.

Most impressive holes:

  • 2: Dogleg par-4 right with water all the way to the right
  • 4: Split par-5 fairway with a creek meandering through. You have to cross it three times.
  • 5: Two-level fairway
  • 7: Straight hole with water to the right just before the green
  • 8: Par-4 gain water all the way to the right, but this also in front of the green, creating sort of an island green
  • 13: Par-3 with (take a guess) water all the way to the right.

The course in general is well maintained, although from time to time I thought the greens could have been in a better shape. Which is strange because on no course on earth I experienced so many ground workers and green keepers (ok maybe in Mauritius) at the same time. Most of them weren’t working all the time, but when they did, they were standing in the middle of the fairway in driving distance or mowing the green.

The setting of the estate in the valley between all these beautiful mountains is somewhat special. You don’t have a spectacular view like at Pinnacle Point but you sense that this place has its own unique feeling. At least I mesmerised on every hole that Jack Nicklaus designed this course, that he had something in mind which really works and is a great course in between a posh residential country estate.

One last thing to service and equipment. The service, the friendliness and hospitality was very good, best example as always: you go inside for the halfway snack, come out, the carts are parked in front in the right order and your clubs have been cleaned—ready to go for the back nine. It’s always the little things that matter and which stay as positive memory. One thing that I definitely kept as a fairly negative memory is the quality of the carts and the on-board GPS systems. It’s a first world problem, I do see that, but they don’t have touch screen devices, so there is no measuring possible to possible obstacles such as bunkers, trees, water, etc. You have the information how far you have to hit for the green, that’s all you got.

All in all a great round, playing with friends and nice people in sunshine in mid December. What else can you ask for?

Golficiency Rating: 7/10