John Dean has been one of the driving forces behind the very popular GolfPunk Magazine. Now he’s taking a break to do what he likes best: traveling and playing golf . John goes on an Interrail trip through 9 European countries, playing golf in every country he visits. This is his story!
It’s time to leave the fantastic resort of Zala Springs in Hungary, and head north again on the permanent way to the Czech Republic and Prague. It’s a six and half hour journey from Budapest, which adds another 441 kilometres to my running, or rather railing, total of over 4,000 kilometres, so I am getting tremendous use of my month-long InterRail pass.
I have never been to either the Czech Republic or Prague, so I am going to tick both boxes, and tee it up as well.
Golfing it up in the Czech Republic
Golf has a long history in the Czech Republic, or Czechoslovakia as it was known until 1993, when the Velvet Divorce with Slovakia happened. The first course was created in 1904 at Karlovy Vary, and there are now 100 courses across the country, and over 60,000 affiliated golfers, so golf is alive and kicking in the Czech Republic.
There’s also an exciting new development, as the legend that is Kyle Phillips has just opened the first nine holes of the PGA National course at the Oaks. Kyle Phillips reputation is built on great courses such as Kingsbarns, Dundonald Links, The Grove and Yas Links to name but four of his courses. His new course is just a twenty-five minute drive from the centre of Prague, so what a weekend that could be!
Outside of the new Kyle Phillips course, the most famous course is at Mariánské Lázně, which was granted Royal status by Queen Elizabeth ll in 2003, to become one of the 64 golf courses across the UK, Europe and the Commonwealth to enjoy royal patronage. The club was a favourite holiday destination of King Edward VII who visited the course on ten occasions, and performed the opening ceremony on August 21, 1905.
Royal Patronage is not an immediate sign of quality, but it’s not a bad start given that Royal St Andrews, Royal Durban, Royal Portrush, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham and Royal Liverpool (AKA Hoylake), are all part of this exclusive club.
The City of 100 Towers
Prague should need no introduction, but if you’ve not been, it’s time to sort that out. And now it is definitely worth bringing your clubs. That’s not to be negative about existing golf courses in the Czech Republic, as there are some real gems and great history, but a Kyle Phillips course does strike me as a bit of a game changer, and cranks it all up a notch.
I have a couple of chill out days in Prague, and do the sights, which are many and splendid. And the beer is stupendous – the unpasteurised Staropramen is to die for, and a pint will only cost you €2, so this is a beer and golf lovers paradise. Beer is actually cheaper than water here, which is a bit of an eye-watering, or perhaps mouth-watering, fact.
There’s fantastic food as well, with one of the richest stew and dumplings I have ever had, and wonderful roasted pigs trotter.
Teeing it up at Kynžvart
I take the train out to Mariánské Lázně, but decide to play a different course at Kynžvart. And I quickly find out that it is a tough track, especially if played off the tips. Both the opening and closing holes will confront you with water carries, that are unsettling to say the least. The water carry at the 18th is a particular challenge, and you really need to hold your nerve here as it has to be a 150 yard carry to keep dry.
The Czech Republic has had a very hot summer this year, and I am afraid to say this course has suffered as a result, and the condition is not quite where it should be. But, hey, the Pilsner Urquell is good, the locals friendly, and the view on the 18th to what could potentially be one of the greatest club houses in the world –the restored 18th century Castle Kynžvart- is spectacular.
Leadingcourses.com rates this as the 10th best course in the Czech Republic out of 92, and that feels about right for me. I stayed in the comfortable Hotel Metternich which is on the doorstep, where I bumped into a brilliant group of Czech golfers.
It was looking to be a quiet evening, but these guys challenged me to a game of crazy indoor golf, fuelled by a local herb liqueur called Becherovka, and Black Bottle Blended Scotch whisky.
Was there a winner? Well, golf of course.