Is this Europe's best value golf destination?

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If you want to combine a golf trip with a culturally enriching city break, then Prague takes some beating.

Alongside Ireland’s fair city of Dublin, the Czech capital offers a great nightlife bordering on legendary status – its stag and hen-do party heaven - with a selection of local ales to satisfy even the most demanding beer connoisseur.

And if you think the trade-off for staying in this fine city are unremarkable local golf courses – then think again.

It’s true that less than 20 years back there were few courses to speak of in the Czech Republic – let alone recommend.  But that has all dramatically changed – a great deal of money has been invested since and it shows. Within an hour’s drive of Prague you’ll discover an array of ‘must-play’ courses.

Opened in 2009, Albatross once again hosted the Czech Masters in 2019 (Belgian former Ryder Cupper Thomas Pieters triumphed) and if you play off the back tees (at 7,500 yards) this is a real brute of a course.  Even if you play from the forward tees, it plays long. True the fairways are on the generous side but the greens are lightning fast and not easy to read. A good score here is certainly something to brag about.

albatros-golf-course

The Panorama course in Kacov which only opened in 2017, is an entirely different test for golfers. Significantly tighter than Albatross, Panorama offers three nines which are distinctly different in character.

panorama-golf-course

The River is generally considered the easier nine and is more about placement than booming drives.  The Meadow and Forest nines are significantly more challenging. Unless you have the climbing prowess of a mountain goat, take a buggy on The Forest. Hilly is an understatement but it is worth the effort – there are some wonderful holes and the views are breathtaking. The uphill 3rd is just one of several stand-out holes – a dogleg to the right to a subtly contoured two-tiered green.  Hitting the green in regulation is only half the challenge here and you sense three putts are not exactly a rarity!   

Karlstejn, which has served as a European PGA Tour venue, will not disappoint either.  As with Panorama and Albatross, the fairways and greens are immaculately presented and the setting of Karlstejn is unforgettable with a medieval castle and surrounding forests in view from most tees.

It opened in the early 1990s so relatively speaking in the Czech Republic, this is one of the ‘older’ courses. It certainly set a good standard for others to follow.  The natural woodland landscape, with hills, ravines and a couple of lakes help make this an attractive and demanding course.   The 2nd hole – a 350-yard dog leg par-4 from an elevated tee is a real belter. The green is tucked away on the right with a pond on the left, a ditch in front and a large bunker on the right. 

The two 18- hole layouts at Konopiste (Radecky and d’Este) should also figure on your must-play list.  Konopiste is deceptive as the mature parkland and manor house clubhouse gives the impression of a centuries-old club when in fact both par-72 par championship tracks only opened in 2002. Radecky is probably the pick of the two and is certainly more challenging with narrow fairways while d’Este might be a breeze for those who consistently hit long and straight.

You’ll find Black Bridge, a maturing nine-years-old gently undulating parkland layout, conveniently located just 15mins from downtown Prague. Among its many admirers is tennis legend Ivan Lendl and Ladies European Tour player Klára Spilková who claims Black Bridge is ‘’the best course in the Prague region.’’ With plenty of water hazards and trees to negotiate, it’s a good year-round test and backed-up by excellent practice facilities.

black-bridge-golf

No wonder then that the Czech Republic capital is already so popular with golfers from all across Europe – in July it annually hosts one of the biggest amateur golf festivals around (see ‘Try it Yourself’ in the panel opposite?) – and that popularity is only set to grow bearing in mind the eagerly-awaited summer opening of the full PGA National layout at Oaks Prague. The proud handiwork of top US architect Kyle Phillips will be expertly managed by Troon International and is guaranteed to provide a major attraction and another significant feather in Prague’s golfing ‘cap’…

There are now over 100 courses in the Czech Republic. And while using Prague as a base might be the preferred option – those looking for a quieter break might consider West Bohemia. Staying in the beautiful spa city of Marianske Lazne, you can play a number of great courses nearby including Greensgate, Cihelny and the Royal Golf Club Marianske Lazne. 

Money appears to be no object at Greensgate. Opened in 2004, the owner has spent lavishly on both the facilities and the course. It is hard to fault. The opening couple of holes lull you into a false sense of security but then suddenly things get harder.  The 3rd and 5th with blind shots and water on both sides, require an attentive study of the course planner. The par-3 11thwith an island green surrounded by a large lake, is unforgettable and even more so if that 7-iron you thought would see you safely over has left you in the ‘drink.’      

The Royal Golf Club and Cihelny are not as tough a test as Greensgate. The Royal, dates back to the early 1900s when King Edward VII was a frequent visitor (hence the name). Not surprisingly it has an English parkland feel to it. It is not punishing but if you need to boost your golfing ego after testing rounds elsewhere, it could be what the doctor ordered.

Designed by Gary Player, Cihelny opened in 2001. Given time to mature, this course could be much tougher as the young trees grow and define the layout more. Not in the same bracket as Greengate or the Prague courses in terms of condition and level of challenge, Cihelny nevertheless provides decent value and is well worth playing.   

IT'S WORTH KNOWING...

*It’s less than a two-hour flight from the UK to Prague. British Airways offers flights from Heathrow while easyJet fly from Gatwick, Luton, Edinburgh, Manchester and Bristol. 

*From end of April until early October – most courses in the Czech Republic close for the winter. High season is May until August.

*Pentahotel, a quirky modern hotel where the bar is also the reception, was an ideal centrally-located base for our stay in Prague. www.pentahotels.com/hotels-destinations/czech-republic/prague.

*For courses in West Bohemia, the Grand Hotel in Marianske Lazne is a comfortable mid-price option.  www.falkensteiner.com/en/hotel-grand-medspa-marienbad. Or if your budget is more generous the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary (featured in Casino Royale) might take your fancy. 

*Prague is renowned for its fine bars and beer.  Beer Geek and Zly Casy are just two bars that serve excellent craft beers on draft. Food-wise be brave and sample local delicacies like pork knee and sauerkraut or goulash and potato dumplings.

*Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square with its Astronomical Clock are all essential must- see attractions. Walk around the old part of the city at night when it is lit up – it is stunning to look at.  

*Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) offers a wide range of parking at all major UK airports. One week of Meet & Greet parking costs from £50.99. To book, call 01342 859442 or visit www.aph.com

*General info: Visit www.czechtourism.com

TRY IT YOURSELF…

* You have a chance to line-up in the 10th edition of the Czech Golf Festival 2020 being held in Prague from July 10: five nights’ B&B  at 4 star hotel and 3 rounds (Albatross, Karlstejn and Panorama) - seven nights and four rounds also available -  including welcome and prize presentation dinner, private sightseeing tour of Prague with English speaking guide, all golf transfers as well as all local taxes costs from £675.

Plus if you book before March 21 you will exclusively receive free return airport transfers in Prague with 1 golfer in 16 going free of charge (terms and conditions apply). For more details visit www.czech-golf-festival.com

*For tailor-made packages to Prague and around the Czech Republic call UK golf tour operator Golf Escapes at 01342 811 777 or visit www.golf-escapes.com