Golf Escapes: From Austria and Bulgaria to Norway and Sweden, these are our 13 unsung stars of mainland Europe
Almost three long years after the nation decided to divorce mainland Europe, we still wait to see what shape Brexit is delivered in and how it will affect our relationship with our near neighbours. What is not uncertain is that the British golfer's appetite for travel will not suddenly diminish.
Lured often (but not always) by the sunshine, great value, stunning landscapes and many of the world's greatest golf courses, we will continue to travel across Europe in great numbers regardless of Brexit's outcome. And because of that, here we give a nod to several of the nations all too often overlooked but very definitely worthy of your time.
A winter wonderland during the colder months, when the sun shines down on Austria it transforms into a golfer's paradise, the courses making the most of the varied landscape. Jack Nicklaus' mountainous Gut Altentann and Kyle Phillips' Eichenheim are two superb tests, the latter complemented by the luxurious Hotel Grand Tirolia. For a sublime concentration of courses, however, head to Austria's southernmost province and Carinthia, home to 12 challenging courses surrounded by the magnificent mountains and lakes Austria is celebrated for.
If pedigree courses are your top priority on a golf trip, there are few countries on the continent that can match Belgium. Lots of them are at private clubs (basically, like our Troon and Sandwich) so you need to plan and arrange in advance. But there are some tremendous and varied options here, ranging from the woodland-heathland of Royal Limburg to the seaside tracks of Royal Zoute and Royal Ostend, the latter with stretches as close to a GB&I links as you'll find on the continent.
Ravenstein is a classic short parkland and Royal Antwerp a delight for architecture buffs. For the best concentration, head to the Waterloo region, just south of the capital Brussels and home to a dozen courses, including Royal Waterloo. Take the overnight P&O ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge and you've got all your gear with you, with the driving all very easy.
A land of adventure and five-star luxury, where dramatic mountain ranges and white-sandy beaches vie for your attention, and where historic towns and villages transport you back to a beautifully by-gone era. Golf in Bulgaria may be in its infancy in terms of the quantity of options, but it is certainly not short when it comes to the quality available. The game gained a foothold with the first courses in Ihtiman, Ravno Pole and Sliven, but for any travelling golfer in 2019, all roads lead to the Black Sea Coast.
Head north of Varna and you'll end up at Cape Kaliakra, Bulgaria's golf coast and a contender for best value area in Europe. This stretch is home to three exceptional options: Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, BlackSeaRama Golf & Villas and The Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort, each perched on the cliffs and with some of Europe's most awe-inspiring views. Gary Player created the courses at the BlackSeaRama Golf & Villas and Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, while Ian Woosnam has signed off a brilliant design at the burgeoning Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort nearby. Each lies within five minutes' drive of each other, offering 50-plus thrilling holes right on the doorstep of whichever resort you opt to check in with.
Of the three, Thracian Cliffs is the headline act, its pedigree reflected in its hosting of the European Tour's Volvo World Matchplay Championship in 2013. Player was helped by the 164-hectare site being truly inspirational playground for golfers of all standard, with sea views on every hole on the 18-hole course. Opened in 2011 and described by Player as the "Pebble Beach of Europe", Thracian Cliffs stretches along the coast for 4.5 kilometres. Deserving of its place in GW's Continental Top 100, the experience only elevated by equally impressive on-site accommodation.
Black Sea Ramen and The Lighthouse are excellent supporting venues, both stretching out along the rugged cliffs and looking out across the Black Sea. The proximity of the three means the Cape Kaliakra area can offer a week-long holiday where you can play every day and only tackle the same holes twice... yet not have to short haul travel more than a few hundred yards to get to the 1st tee of all of them.
Throw in great weather and all the amenities and activities you'd expect of a luxury golf resort, and it is easy to see why this destination is proving so alluring to so many. The value for money is also outstanding, offering a level of service and quality that is on a par with Belek, and for similarly outstanding prices.
Hardly a newcomer or unheralded choice here, but the appeal of Cyprus only continues to grow with recent developments across the island. What began with Tsada (now Minthis Hills) in 1994 gathered significant pace with the development of the five-star Aphrodite Hills resort, the standard bearer for years now.
However, with the revamped and aforementioned Minthis Hills and Secret Valley, plus the Nick Faldodesigned Elea all dotted around Paphos on the west of the island, Cyprus offers multiple options within a very easy drive of each other. The fact it enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, long hot summers and mild winters – only adds to its appeal.
Since the fall of communism in 1989, the Czech Republic has evolved into one of Europe's most popular travel destinations. From the historic and hedonistic capital Prague to the regions within an easy drive of it, the country is full of unmissable landmarks, some of the continent's finest cuisine and the world's best beer. Not to mention, of course, the golf.
Despite the fact the Czech Republic has more than 100 golf courses, the number of Czech golfers remains relatively low, which makes it a heaven for golf tourists, who can test themselves at the best PGA courses around the country. The capital city attracts most visitors, the 'City of Hundred Spires' one of Europe's most characterful and ideal for a long weekend.
Beyond the culture, the fact that there are more than 10 courses located within an hour's drive of the city centre add an extra allure. The Loreta Golf Resort, Panorama Golf Resort and the two strong 18-hole options at Konopiste Golf Resort are all worth your time. But the pick is the Albatross Golf Resort, an elegant, visually striking test stern enough to have hosted the D+D Real Czech Masters on the European Tour every year since 2014.
Another famous region beside Prague is West Bohemia, extending west from Prague to the south-west German border. The region is famous for its beautiful countryside, the healing hot springs and wellness and spa treatments perfect for soothing aching muscles. The region caters for golfers with more than five striking courses, among them the country's oldest in Marianske Lazne (also known as Marienbad) and Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), dating back to 1905 and 1904 respectively.
If you stay in Karlovy Vary, book into the Cihelny Golf Resort, 10 minutes outside the town and in the heart of the countryside, where 18 holes by Gary Player offer a fine alternative to the pure relaxation. Combining Prague and West Bohemia, with the region's spas and the country's oldest courses has become very popular for short golf breaks or week-long holidays, both for the variety of cityscapes you can enjoy as well as great golf in both areas.
However, other regions worth considering include North and South Moravia, well known for its wine production and local traditions. With exceptional value for money and just a 90-minute flight from the UK, this all makes the Czech Republic a great destination for a long weekend or week-long holiday full of culture, sightseeing and golf.
To play the best of Denmark requires time, patience and determination. If you want a single-base golf break with little travel, this isn't for you. But if you like the adventure of careering round a beautiful country ticking off its best courses, you'll love it. The Scandinavian Old and New are exceptional and easily accessible via Copenhagen, along with Royal Copenhagen. But it's just as good to fly into Billund and tackle Esbjerg, Holstebro and Lubker from there. And for serious one-upmanship hipster kudos, add on Budersand (which is actually German) on the island of Sylt.
Estonia Golf and Country Club has long been a fixture in Golf World's Top 100 in Continental Europe, but in recent years you've had another very compelling reason to consider this newly popular Baltic state.
Parnu Bay opened in 2015 and is a visually stunning woodland-seaside affair worth building your itinerary around. Add in Estonia's natural beauty and the very well documented attractions of the capital Tallinn, and you have a very attractive golf break for those not obsessed with chasing the sun.
In what is a vast nation full of so many options, it makes most sense to focus your attention on Munich. There are loads of great courses, of various character, from classic parkland to mountainous scenes, and the golf is predictably excellent. Of the many, add Golf Valley Munchen, Golfclub Olching, Golfclub Munchen Eichenried, Golfclub Schloss Egmating and Golfpark Munchen Aschheim to the top of your playlist.
But there is also a chance to explore a fantastic city; from gastronomy and sightseeing to watching Bayern Munich or swilling steins at the annual Oktoberfest.
Hardly an obscure option, but one all too often overlooked by British golf travelers. That could change in the run up to the 2022 Ryder Cup, with the Italy Golf & More group working hard to expose more golfers to the idea of Italy as a golfing destination. Sicily through Verdura and Donnafugata are increasingly popular options, so too Sardinia with Is Arenas and Is Molas both exceptional options.
Tuscany too is attracting more and more Brits to its golf courses, notably the superbly stylish Argentario Resort, Castelfalfi and La Bagnaia. Down towards Italy's heel, trendy Puglia has two exceptional resort options in Acaya and San Domenico and the two northern powerhouses of Piedmont and Lombardy (around the cities of Turin and Milan respectively) are especially impressive. Keep Royal Park I Roveri and Biella in Piedmont and Bogogno, Castelconturbia and Villa d'Este in Lombardy front of mind.
While the first inhabitants discovered Norway in around 10,000 BC, golf travellers have been a little slower to embrace this vast playground of adventure. That is slowly changing thanks in no small part to the growing reputation of a single golf resort: Lofoten Links. Located above the Arctic Circle, it's a bucket list experience in every sense.
Here, the breathtaking landscapes of myth and legend are in place, the mountainous terrain complemented by white sandy beaches, tiny fishing villages and glorious golfing opportunity. There are no bright lights to entertain you into the night, yet darkness never descends.
Between late May 23 and July, the Midnight Sun makes it possible – and highly advisable – to play golf day and night. Two hours further on from Oslo, Lofoten isn't easy to get to, but it's well worth every moment it takes.
Another nation highly recommended on account of a single resort, and the fact that Penati's quality and value for money remains very hard to beat.
Boasting one Continental Top 100 course (the Jack Nicklaus-designed Legend) and another in the Next 100, plus on-site villas, quantity and quality go hand in hand and are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. In a land of castles and mountains, Slovakia should not be overlooked.
Slovenia's credentials can be summed up in two words: Royal Bled. Laid out on the slopes of the Slovenian Alps and amid immense natural beauty, Royal Bled boasts the exceptional King's Course, very ably complemented by the nine-hole Lake's in what is one of the most spectacular locations on earth.
Stay on site in the luxuriously renovated King's House and you'll see why the place received the royal seal of approval.
Combining contemporary design with ageold traditions, it's little wonder Sweden's stock as a golf tourist destination is rising. A nation of this size – around twice the size of the UK and with some 450 clubs to choose from – can be boiled down to two high-quality chunks: the south and the centre.
The star attraction in the south are the glorious links of Falsterbo, very ably complemented by Ljunghusens and the Kyle Phillips-designed Links and Lakes courses at PGA National. If you have the time, drive up the west coast to play Vasatorps plus two Solheim Cup venues; Barseback – a woodlandseaside hybrid – and Halmstad.
Further north, and west a little, Bro Hof Slott sits within easy reach of Stockholm and is worth the journey alone, stopping off at Sand GC en route to break up the drive. Annika Sorenstam's home course of Bro- Balsta, the watery Ullna and the two options at Kungsangen Golf Club are all close enough by to factor in.