Greece: Costa Navarino, Messinia
After you’ve spent the morning sorting out the Greek debt crisis, hop on a private jet and take the short trip down to Kalamata, on Greece’s south-west coast, where the impressive five-star resort at Costa Navarino awaits. A holiday playground created by the late shipping magnate Vassilis Konstantakopoulos, the resort boasts not one, but two luxurious five-star hotels operated by Starwood – The Westin and The Romanos – both of which occupy prime beach-front locations.
They are flanked by two championship layouts, the Bernhard Langer-designed Dunes and the Robert Trent Jones II-designed Bay. Both are managed by Troon Golf, whose reputation for producing finely-manicured courses is well deserved.
The 6,780-yard Dunes offers spectacular sea views, and is characterised by the dunes that separate the holes that run alongside the beach, as well as steep-faced pot bunkers that surround the greens and border the fairways, while the Bay course is a shorter, fun-filled design that hugs the shoreline and features green complexes that draw the ball back towards the pin, rather than deflecting it away.
The impressive clubhouse has a lovely bar and restaurant, the Flame, which overlooks the 18th green and has mountain and valley views, while the facilities of the hotels are just a short walk away, including the Anazoe spa, a private beach, five swimming pools, tennis courts, and a choice of 14 restaurants and bars.
Green Fees: €110, costanavarino.com
Italy: Milano Golf Club, Milan
Located 12 miles north of Milan, in the Parco di Monza, and within earshot of the famous F1 track, Milano is one of Italy’s most prestigious clubs. Built in 1928, it features 27 holes on largely flat parkland, making for easy walking, with the emphasis on accuracy off the tee, especially on the third nine, which features more doglegs than you’ll find at Crufts.
The greens are notoriously small, while tree-lined fairways ensure every hole is played in virtual isolation, resulting in a peaceful round, except on those rare race days when the roar of F1 engines can be heard in the distance. The Italian Open returned here after a 25-year gap in September, and the course received plenty of favourable reports from the pros, most of whom found it a refreshing change from the usual wide open tour venues.
Green Fees: €110, golfclubmilano.it
Spain: Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, Madrid
Positioned on the western bank of the Manzanares river, in one of Madrid’s leafier suburbs, Campo Villa is one of Europe’s largest sports clubs and offers every activity under the Spanish sun, including two golf courses, the Black and the Yellow (or Negro and Amarillo, if we’re using the native lingo).
The former, a challenging tree-lined parkland layout, has hosted the Spanish Open many times, and was the scene of Seve’s last professional victory in 1995. Laid out on the side of a hill, the course enjoys wonderful views over Madrid, and requires players to navigate some severe inclines, with few flat lies and plenty of unsubtle borrows on the greens. The clubhouse sits serenely on top of the hill, and is a fine 19th hole from which to sip a chilled San Miguel and watch the sunset.
Green Fees: €107/€140, ccvm.es
Belgium: Royal Waterloo Golf Club, Brussels
Located just 25 minutes from the centre of Brussels, Royal Waterloo boasts 45 holes of golf, comprising two 18-hole courses – La Marache and Le Lion – and the nine-hole Bois-Héro, all of which are built on the edges of the historic battlefield. The former, which was designed by Fred Hawtree, and recently reworked by his son Martin, is a delightful woodland design that has hosted the Belgian Open on several occasions. It has some serious hills to climb, especially on the back nine, and although the fairways are generous, many of the greens are closely guarded by rings of bunkers, and require particularly precise approaches to score well.
Green Fees: €105/€125, rwgc.be
Sweden: Ullna Golf Club, Stockholm
Conveniently located just 12 miles from Stockholm’s business district, making it ideal for a quick golfing fix, Ullna’s impressive 18-hole championship course is set hard by the shores of Lake Ullna, which doubles up as a skating rink in the winter. Water is, not surprisingly, a key feature of the design of the course, which is compact to the point of tight, given the constraints of the local typography.
Extensively redesigned by Jack Nicklaus two years ago, Ullna offers what’s generally termed as American target-style golf. Despite its flatness, the layout husa as some pretty breathtaking holes, especially those adjacent to the lake, with the par-five fourth, which doglegs around the water, inviting some brave cornering to cut off a few vital yards. The 11th is a heart-in-mouth par three played to a semi-island green, while the short par-four sixth is also another watery teaser.
The only advice is to make sure you take enough balls with you, as there are plenty of holes where you will want to reload, even if you haven’t hit it in the drink with your first effort. After your round, head to Ullna’s award-winning restaurant.
Green Fees: £100/£150, ullnagolf.se
Germany: Frankfurter Golf Club, Frankfurt
Worth playing on account of the name alone, Frankfurter is so close to the city limits that you’ll have to live with the sound of BMWs and Audis tearing down nearby autobahns, and the aeroplanes that fly close overhead as you negotiate your way around the course. The flipside is that you’ll be lining up your shot on the first tee just minutes after you’ve left Frankfurt’s stock exchange.
Although a regular host of the German Open back in the day – Tony Jacklin and Seve Ballesteros both won here – this tree-lined Harry Colt creation features a string of straight par fours that do little to raise the pulses, although the back nine perks up considerably, with some interesting shorter holes and doglegs. Talking of dogs, the hot variety, with lashings of mustard, feature prominently on the clubhouse menu.
Green Fees: €80/€100, fgc.de
France: Le Golf National, Paris
Host venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup, as well as the home of the French Open for the past few years, the challenging Albatros course is a must-play for all serious golfers.
Located in the suburbs of Versailles, following a decision to create a stadium course close to the centre of Paris that would be capable of hosting big tournaments, the links-style course is entirely man made, requiring millions of tons of earth to be removed to create the series of lakes and banks that run parallel to many of the fairways.
Consequently each hole is virtually self-contained, offering the feeling of splendid isolation. However, problems arise when you miss the fairway, as the rough on this 6,850-yard brute can be punishing to the point of sadistic at times, with a machete of more practical use than a lob wedge. The closing four holes, all of which feature water, will decide the fate of many a point come the Ryder Cup, so bring plenty of balls.
The course is currently undergoing major renovations in readiness for 2018, with a scheduled re-opening next summer.
Green Fees: €150, golf-national.com
Switzerland: Evian Resort, Lake Geneva
Although the eponymous bottled spring water is world renowned, so too is the golf course, which took on major championship status three years ago after the Evian Championship was made the official fifth major on the women’s professional circuit.
Only a few minutes’ walk from the stylish Royal and Ermitage hotels, the course is certainly one of the most beautiful in Europe, offering magnificent views over Lake Geneva and the surrounding mountains. Although no slouch of a layout beforehand, 2013 saw the completion of a major renovation project that ramped up the challenge, with bigger, more undulating greens now guarded by deeper bunkers and several new and enlarged lakes. The run-in from 15 to 18 was given the biggest makeover, with the introduction of water to sort out the girls from the women, while the signature hole of the new-look layout is the par-three fifth, which has a green surrounded by deep bunkers, and is fronted by a tricky 100-yard long water hazard.
Evian’s five-star Hotel Royal has also enjoyed a freshen up, with all of its 150 rooms and suites having been refurbished, along with all the restaurants, bars and private suites.
Green Fees: €65-€115, evianresort.com
USA Bethpage Black, New York
While the likes of Trump Golf Links, Shinnecock Hills, Sebonack and Friars Head are on many golfers’ bucket lists on any visit to NYC, they are also extraordinarily exclusive, so unless you are meeting ‘The Don’, getting a tee time could prove to be problematic. So you’re better off heading over to Bethpage State Park, where not one but four publicly-owned courses await your attention. The headline act is, of course, the Black course, host of two US Opens (2002 and 2009).
Some truly dedicated golfers are willing to camp out overnight to get a tee time here, and it’s not that hard to see why. The sign at the gate says it all, ‘The Black course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.’ Needless to say, playing a round on the Black course is a golfing experience like no other, with a succession of mind-bogglingly long holes – it measures 7,366 yards from the back tees and involves eight miles of walking – knee-length rough, and some huge, raised greens protected on all sides by vast, dazzling white bunkers. It’s always presented in US Open-ready condition and although rounds can take up to six hours at weekends, it’s definitely time well spent immersing yourself in the whole Bethpage experience.
Green Fees: $130/$150, nysparks.com