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

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

Ball Showcase: NRW Tour 2016

For those who don’t know, NRW is short for North Rhine-Westphalia, a part in Western Germany and it’s the most populated one. It has however some of the finest golf courses in Germany to offer.

No question that this has been on my bucket list for quite a while and in late April 2016 it was time to tackle each of these great venues one by one, one day after the next. The weather was horrible but the week in total has been an absolute treat!

Playoff thriller at the 2014 BMW International Open

Top day at Gut Lärchenhof in Cologne, Germany. OK, the weather could have been much better but in general it was a very good decision to make my way from Frankfurt to Cologne – at 6am on that Sunday morning last week.

The BMW International Open is the only European Tour event left on German soil. It usually took place in Munich, the home turf of BMW, but was recently changed to an alternating structure in which Munich and Cologne are the two venues. GC München Nord-Eichenried for the former, GC Gut Lärchenhof for the latter.

Gut Lärchenhof is situated on the west-side of Cologne, so pretty much in the centre of the Rhine- and Ruhr area. The course is a Jack Nicklaus design, undoubtly presenting itself in greatest shape. From a vegetation perspective, I’d say it’s something in between a parkland and a links course. There are a lot of trees which however are not in play really. Instead the heavy rough is made of links-dunes-like long grass which sucks in balls without regret. From an aesthetical fauna standpoint you might want to compare this course with south-west London heather courses like Sunningdale, Wentworth, Berkshire and alike.

Due to the expected weather conditions including heavy thunderstorms, the playing mode of that final day was changed to a starting time of 7am, teeing off on the 1 and 10 simultaneously, plus they had three players in a group rather than two – all to speed up the play and make sure the tourney is over before the dark clouds arrive. I had to use my umbrella most of the time, but in the end it was not as bad as expected, there was even sunshine from time to time.

When I reached the grounds I realised that there were way less people than anticipated. Another consequence of the weather I believe. After a quick look at the range I got right into it and followed some players round the course. I stayed with Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Emiliano Grillo, Pablo Larrazabal, Alexander Levy, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Robert Karlsson and others. The only one I really haven’t seen at all was the winner in the end, Fabrizio Zanotti.

In the end I unfortunately could not manage to get a seat on the grand stand, which was really a shame because due to a multi-hole playoff, the grand stand would have been the perfect place to see the last 1 hour of the tournament. As a compensation I managed to get some nice autographs on Golficiency balls: Danny Willet, Paul Casey and Marcel Siem. All in all a very nice day with impressive golf. Cologne is just not around the corner from Frankfurt, so I drove for 5 hours in total – and was pretty exhausted respectively. And I missed Martin Kaymer, as he missed the cut, which is a bit unfortunate, but I guess the crowd following him on the Sunday would have been really over the moon… so glad I came so close to all the other mortal golf professionals.

Please check out these pictures I took (totally illegally…)

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