In this blogpost I’m going to take you on a trip to Austria, a trip I made earlier this year. Over four days, I drove nearly a 1000 kilometers through some of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see. I played on 4 terrific golf courses and enjoyed the wonderful Austrian hospitality. In this 1st part of the blog I will focus on golf in SalzburgerLand.
I think every golfer has had their fair share of travel problems, I know I have. Whether it’s a delay, missed flight or lost baggage, traveling can sometimes be a hassle. Well, this trip was more than just a hassle, my trip from Amsterdam to Innsbruck was literally the travel day from hell.
Why God, Why?!
It was an early 4.30 am wake up to catch my 7 am flight from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Innsbruck Airport in Austria. Luckily I live in Amsterdam and the bus connections to the airport are plentiful. The bus was on time and the ride towards the airport went smooth (what else would you expect at that time). But then… the trouble started!
About two kilometers from the airport our bus was stopped by a policeman on a motor bike who told us we couldn’t go any further. There had been a power outage at the airport earlier that morning forcing all check-in procedures to be done manually. At that point the airport had become so crowded with stranded travellers, they couldn’t handle any more visitors and had to close down all acces to the airport. Of course our bus driver didn’t know anything about this at that point and desperately tried to find a way to deliver his passengers to the airport. After being stopped by the police time after time, he made the executive decision to simply give up.
At that point it was getting close to 6.30 am and my flight was still only delayed by an hour. After 20 minutes of waiting at a random bus stop, the driver decided to take us to Amsterdam Central (train) Station. By that time the airport had finally opened up again so I grabbed my backpack, my suitcase and my golf travel bag and ran from the bus through central station to catch the next train. Try doing that without breaking a sweat. At least I was on my way to the airport and still had time to catch my flight. Things were brightening up! The second I stepped off of the train, I started running to the luggage drop-off. Fortunately the airport had gone mysteriously quiet and dropping off my bags and going through security went nice and smooth. At least I thought it did.
I was still in a big hurry when I went through security as I only had a couple of minutes before my flight was about to depart. Not paying attention to the security officer who told me to relax because the plane wasn’t going anywhere, I ran to my departure gate as fast as I could. When I got there I found out the flight hadn’t left yet and boarding was just starting. I was actually the very first one in line! As I walked on the plane I was feeling pretty good when the friendly flight attendants greeted me. I found my seat and decided to grab my laptop before putting my bag in the overhead cabin. But wait… my laptop… where was my laptop?? At that point I realised that in my hurry to catch my plane, I had left my laptop at security. Thankfully the purser and pilot let me run back to security to see if it was still there, which it was. I was so relieved that I didn’t even mind being the last one to board the plane after all.
After everything that happened, the flight went perfectly fine – apart from my soaked shirt. Flying into Innsbruck Airport was one of the most beautiful experiences ever. If you haven’t been there, you really need to go and see this mountain surrounded airport yourself, it’s amazing. Waiting for my luggage at the conveyor belt I wasn’t even surprised when none of it arrived. What else could I have expected on a day like this 😂. After filling out the missing luggage forms I made my way to the car rental company to pick up the car I had reserved, only to find out they didn’t have any cars left. Are you kidding me???!! All they had left was a big 9-person van which I really didn’t want to drive, but at that point I couldn’t care less. I would’ve been happy with a tricycle if they had one. Just give me the damn keys!
Finally playing golf in SalzburgerLand
So, 790 words into this blogpost things are finally starting to get better 😀. With the warmth of the sun shining down on me, my A-Team van and I were on our way to the first golf course. Golf & Country Club Gut Altentann in Henndorf was to be my first experience with golf in Austria and I was in for a treat. In 1989 Gut Altentann was the first golf course on the continent of Europe to be designed by the great Jack Nicklaus. According to Nicklaus it was “a pleasure to design and build this course due to its beautiful and optimal environment.” Although somewhat biased, designers are usually right and so was the Golden Bear. The first thing that I noticed when I arrived at Gut Altentann was it’s peacfulness. You’re not really in the Alps but your are surrounded by mountains. It’s extremely quiet. All you hear are the singing of birds and the occasional car coming by, but for the rest, not a peep.
In my newly scored golf trousers and polo (too small) – I had to buy them because my luggage never arrived, remember? – I made my way to the first tee. As I was going to stay in Sporthotel Alpin Zell am See later that night, I made use of the Golf Alpin Card that hotel guests can purchase for great discounst on golf in SalzburgerLand and the Tyrol area. Sweet!
The course starts with an easy opening par-4 with lots of room. As long as you land your drive on the right side of the fairway that slopes to the left, you will always have a good shot into the green. Make sure you aim your approach well to the right because otherwise you will find trouble on the left side of the hole.
Although I wasn’t the only player at the course, it felt very quiet. The course is a typical parkland, with trees and water hazards, but it never feels cramped, good old Jack had enough land to work with. After two rather uninspirational holes, the course really started to get going from the fourth which is a 164 meter (yellow tees) par-3, guarded by a gigantic bunker before the green and several on either side.
I don’t know whether it was because of the fact that I played well and had birdie or par putts on every hole (which I obviously didn’t all hole…) or because of the quietness but I really started to like this course. I thought holes 5, 6, 7 and 8 were all very interesting and nice holes, although not easy. The front nine doesn’t finish in front of the club house as you might expect, but you have to walk back in the same direction of the first tee to get to the par-3 ninth hole.
The par-3 ninth is a nice and challenging hole. For me the challenge was hitting the correct green. As you stand on the tee, all that lies between you and the green is water. But there are two greens that are more or less the same distance. Not even looking at the green on the right, I pulled my teeshot left of the green. Whilst walking up to the green I saw a gentleman walking towards the same green from the opposite direction. “that was quite a hook!”, he said in German. He even smiled with it. Trying to hide my frustration, I gave him a “friendly” nod and then saw that he walked onto my green. That’s when I realised that I had just missed the 18th green instead of the 9th. Doh! Luckily it was quiet enough to walk back and play the hole again.
Run Forrest, run!
After finishing that hole (with a bogey), I found out that it was already late in the afternoon and I still had nine holes to play, had to eat dinner and had to drive 1,5 hours to my hotel. I needed to quicken things up a bit and decided to speed golf the back nine.
Boy, was I in for a surprise. Little did I know that the back nine was the more undulated part of the course. The climb starts from the tee of the tenth hole and doesn’t stop until the tee of the 12th. But, what goes up must come down! So from there, I prayed that my knees would hold up and ran down the hill. At hole 14 the course levels out a bit and if your short on golfballs, you can buy some from the kids who live in the house in the corner of this dogleg par-4.
The finishing hole is an interesting short par-5 of 431 meters off the yellow tee. Don’t think hitting it on the green in two will be easy though, as you have to cross a stream to reach the green which is left of the fairway. Do yourself a favour and lay this last one up. You’d rather walk off this nice course with a par or birdie than a double bogey, right? I actually unintentionally had to lay up after hooking my drive in the bunker on the left side of the fairway. Even though I had already seen the green from this side, when I played the wrong green on the 9th, it didn’t do me any good: I three putted for bogey. It didn’t take anything away from the sheer pleasure I had playing this course in such perfect circumstances and in such good condition. And by good condition I meant the course, not me. I was absolutely knackered but the nice cold beer and the delicious meal, which the friendly staff at the club provided me with made every burnt calorie 100% worth it!
The next morning I anxiously grabbed my clothing from the balcony of my hotel room. My suitcases still weren’t there so I had to hand wash my clothes in the bathroom sink when I arrived late the night before. In my still a bit moist clothes I beheld the magnificent view on the Zeller See. The mountain peaks around me were still covered in snow as the winter season had just ended. Only a few weeks ago this hotel was occupied by dozens of skiers and snowboarders, but now the peace had returned and the lush surroundings were a feast for the golfers eye.
In the restaurant I met Elisabeth Schwaninger who is the manager of Sporthotel Alpin. She runs the hotel together with her mother Vroni and they do one hell of a job. Elisabeth, who I could soon call Lizzy, is a very upbeat person who was raised in this hotel and now also lives there on the top floor. She grew up learning everything about hospitality and you can tell that she paid attention to the things she was told. I didn’t have to tell her that I was playing Golfclub Zell am See – Kaprun later that morning, she already knew. She asked me if I was playing together with someone and when I told her no, she got a little twinkle in het eyes and grabbed her phone. 5 minutes later she told me that she had cleared her schedule for the morning and that she was going to join me for a round!
As troublesome as my journey to the golf course was the day before, this day was a different story. From the hotel it only took us 10 minutes to drive to the course. As the winter season had just ended, Golfclub Zell am See Kaprun had only opened for the summer season a couple of days ago. In wintertime when there is enough snow, they have a cross-country skiing circuit here!
Golf Club Zell am See is surrounded by the impressive mountain range of the Hohen Tauern and has an amazing view on the snow-capped glacier of the Kitzsteinhorn (3,203 m), and is also not far from Austria’s highest peak the Grossglockner (3,798 m). You can imagine how tiny I felt amongst these giants. The golf course however, is a walk in the park. There is no elevation at all and after the the first day, the was a welcome surprise for my calves.
There are 36 holes to choose from at Zell am See and as Lizzy was the local here, I let her choose which holes we would play. She told me about the cross country skiing and then decided that we would go for a little cross country golfing, playing holes of both the Schmittenhöhe course and the Kitzsteinhorn course.
We started on the 10th hole of the Kitzsteinhorn course, which actually is one of the signature holes. This 459 meter long par-5 (yellow tees) has a double dog leg to the left and ends at the peninsula green which surely is the most photographed spot of the whole course. The lake with a big fountain is impressive, but the view of the snow peaked Kitzsteinhorn really takes your breath away.
Although the course isn’t very difficult, there are challenges for players of every level. Tactically positioned bunkers, streams and other water hazards ensure that you have to stay on top of your game to score well on this course. I definitely wasn’t on top of my game, but the fresh mountain air, the quietness and the good company made up for that.
After eight holes off the back nine, Lizzy decided that it was time to switch to the Schmittenhöhe course, which we played from the first hole. The Schmittenhöhe course is the Championship Course of the two, but I found both courses equally good. The course starts with a 500 meter long par-5 which – apart from its length – is pretty straightforward. The 2nd is a very long par-3. Too long in my opinion. 212 meters from the yellow tees? Really? We’re not all Arnold Schwarzenegger!
The rest of the holes we played – a variation of the front- and back nine – were all very decent, although not many really stood out. The par-3 15th is a good hole with nice bunkering and I remember the par-4 16th quite well as it’s very possible to cut the corner and try to drive the green. The 17th and 18th are good closing holes. I can imagine that during a competition a lot of matches have been decided here.
After our round Lizzy and I enjoyed some delicious asparagus on the golf club’s panorama terrace. Still impressed by the mountains that surrounded me, I realized that this had been another very satisfying day. Golf in Austria is a lot of fun and it takes your breath away. Sometimes literally because of the variation in elevation, but always because of the beautiful environment surrounding the courses!