Go golfing in Austria

Go golfing in Austria

By Andrew Marshall

Published: Fri 21 Sep 2018, 7:32 PM

Last updated: Fri 21 Sep 2018, 9:14 PM

After picking up our hire car from Munich airport and successfully negotiating the German autobahn's frenetic traffic, we motored over the border into Austria - a land of world-class skiing, the birthplace of Mozart and quaint wooden chalets crouching in the foothills of soaring snow-capped peaks.

For golfers looking for something different from the well-tramped fairways of Spain and Portugal, two of the country's key golf areas, Zell am See in Salzburg and Kitzbühel in the Tyrol, both within a short drive of each other, have all the right ingredients: chic ski towns, top-class restaurants, friendly locals, spa and wellness treatments, a multitude of outdoor activities and invigorating stress-free golf.

From quirky nine-holers to championship-class designs, the golf courses are mostly quiet, the green fees affordable and, because of the altitude, well-struck shots can fly an extra 10 per cent of distance through the crisp clean air. But, the absolute essence of Alpine golf is the breathtaking scenery and the panoramic vistas that unfold as you play.

Our trip began with Golfclub Zell am See at Kaprun in the Salzach Valley - not only the largest golfing facility in the Austrian Alps (with two 18-hole courses, a well-stocked pro-shop, driving range and excellent teaching professionals), but with the snow-capped mountains of the National Park Hohe Tauern rising to 3,797 metres in the distance, it's one of the most picturesque in Europe, too.

It was a sunny June morning and local golfer Karl Bauer was joining us to tackle 36 holes (the Kitzsteinhorn and Schmittenhöhe courses). He got proceedings underway by expertly splitting the fairway on the 357-metre Par 41st of the Kitzsteinhorn course.

"On a beautiful day like today, I like to have breakfast, take the cable car to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier to ski, come back down, take a swim in Lake Zeller, then finish off with a round of golf in the afternoon. For me, it's a perfect day," Karl told us, as we strolled the vivid green fairways lined with wildflowers.

Designed by Donald Harradine, the two parkland-style courses are situated beside each other on the valley floor, and feature water on several holes, huge bunkers and distinctive old hay barns that dot the fairways. The Kitzsteinhorn course is worth playing just for the stunning views from the wooden bridge that leads across a lake from the 10th tee to the 11th green. We could have spent all day gazing at the reflected vista of the green and glacier-swathed mountain behind, set off by a towering fountain.

"The Schmittenhöhe is the most difficult of the two courses and requires more club management, especially with the final two greens being so well protected by water," said Karl, as we headed for lunch at the club's patio restaurant, having completed our first 18 holes. Karl's partner joined us after mountain biking in the surrounding hills. Glowing from her exercise, she's a typical example of the local commitment to an active life in this part of the world. Whether it's teeing off in the valleys, paragliding in the sky, snow-boarding the slopes or windsurfing on the lakes, it seems just about everyone we met was involved with some kind of outdoor activity. Only that very morning, the petrol attendant had told us he was off bushwalking after finishing work.
"This is a great area for outdoor sports and we host all kinds of events including the World Mountain Biking Championships and the 'Aqua Alpine Cup', which is a combination of skiing and water-skiing," said Karl, as we turned our attention to the varied menu offering a wide range of dishes. Many were typically Austrian ones, such as Wiener Schnitzel, black pudding with mashed potato and onions, and Entrecote (local beef) with mustard sauce, tomato, garlic vegetables and potatoes. "Of course, to finish, you'll have to try my apple strudel," said head chef and ex-judo champion Ludwig Karl, who reckoned he was better in the kitchen than on the golf course. The country's signature dessert certainly hit the spot before we tackled the Schmittenhöhe course in the afternoon.
Spa For The Course
Austria, more or less, invented the spa town, and indulgences by the rich and famous made these resorts hugely popular in Europe. In an attempt to cure his deafness, Beethoven was a regular visitor to Baden bei Wien, while Princess Sophie proclaimed that the waters of Bad Ischl were a boost to her fertility. The popularity of the treatments has led to the rise of over 100 wellness hotel complexes scattered throughout the country.
A comfortable and convenient base for golfers in Zell am See, near the shores of picturesque Lake Zeller, is the five-star Hotel Salzburger Hof, which, like many other wellness hotels, offers special golf and spa packages that include reduced green fees and a variety of therapeutic treatments.
Men are welcome to take the treatments too, but whether you go for 'La Stone' (where hot and cold stones are placed alternately onto your energy centre) or 'Agyptos' (where you are wrapped in bandages that have been steeped in a mixture of Egyptian vital earth and salt from the Dead Sea), there is no doubt that the stress-relieving qualities of a bubbling spa can work wonders for the mind, body and soul after 36 holes of Alpine golf.
Golfing Centre
About an hour's drive over a mountain pass to the north-west of Zell am See is the medieval town of Kitzbühel - a cosmopolitan ski resort in winter and another excellent base for Alpine golfers in the months of May to mid-October. In fact, Kitzbühel markets itself as the 'Golfing Centre of the Alps', offering four courses, while another 19 lie within an easy drive.
A few kilometres out of town is Golf Club Schwarzsee, where a British professional and his team operate a friendly service to all-comers. Opened in 1989 with an exhibition match between Bernard Langer and Payne Stewart, the first few holes of the par-72, 6,642-metre test are reasonably forgiving. One standout hole is the challenging 187-metre par-3 9th, which requires a solid and accurate strike over a lake from the elevated tee blocks. From here on, the course climbs the hillside through the pine trees and becomes more challenging. Golf Club Schwarzsee's 19th hole is a lovely sunny terrace with magnificent views of the Astberg, Rauherkopf and Wilder Kaiser Peaks.
For some casual golfing action closer to town, we headed for the quirky nine-holer attached to the Golf Hotel Rasmushof. The course has the distinction of being Austria's only rated par-3 course - such is the degree of difficulty. Situated above Kitzbühel town, not only does it offer stunning views (especially from the 7th, 8th and 9th tees), but it is also positioned at the bottom of the world-famous Hahnenkamm downhill racing trail. It takes an ace skier just under two minutes to negotiate the 2.5km of glittering ice cliff at close to 140km/h in the annual Hahnenkamm Downhill Race that is the skiing equivalent of the British Open.
Rasmushof Golf Club is also part of June Golf Week: six days of non-stop golfing action that sets the benchmark for the rest of Austria - offering pro-am competition, a 100-hole marathon (11 rounds at Rasmushof), Longest Drive on the Streif and a taste of its top courses, including Golf Club Schwarzsee and Golfplatz Eichenheim.
Designed by golf architect Kyle D Phillips (whose impressive portfolio of layouts includes Kingsbarns in Scotland and The Grove in England), championship-class Golfplatz Eichenheim is highly rated in the top courses in Austria and is a must-play. The 5,944-metre track presents a stern test for golfers of all standards, with superbly manicured greens, rollercoaster fairways, meandering water hazards and regular elevation changes, to produce a truly memorable experience. After playing our approach shots through a cut in the rocks, at the par-5 first, we looked at each other and knew it was going to be something special: the emerald green is on the same level as a snow-capped mountain range in the distance, creating one of the most photogenic vistas in Austrian golf.
Other golfing options in the region include the spacious 27-hole Wilder Kaiser course with its craggy backdrop, Mittersill Golf Club with its signature par-3 island green right in front of the sunny clubhouse terrace and the 9-hole Schloss Kaps course that boasts more single-figure handicap members than anywhere else in the country.
Packing away our clubs on our last day, we were already discussing a repeat journey - with images of the stunning scenery and well-struck drives soaring towards a backdrop of pine-tree clad mountain slopes. One famous Austrian who spent some time in spa-golf country sums it up the best: Arnold Schwarzenegger's entry in the Golf Hotel Rasmushof's guest book simply says - "I'll be back."

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