I have to bid a very sad farewell to the Grand Hotel Kronenhof and
the beautiful Engadine Valley, which has been my home for three
wonderful days, as I now head for Austria.
I re-join the Bernina Line at Pontresina and board the train for
Chur, which is the terminus for my amazing 144-kilometre journey across
The magnificent Bernina Line
My trip across the whole Bernina Line has seen me cross 196 different
bridges, and go through 55 different tunnels. It’s an incredible piece
of engineering, which dates back to 1910. The highlights have to be the
spectacular, curved Landswaar Viaduct, and the magnificent Brusio
The journey from Pontresina to Chur also takes me through the 5,864
meter Albula tunnel, which is another incredible feat of engineering
prowess in this challenging landscape. They are building a new tunnel at
the moment, which will replace the existing tunnel, and will then
become a safety tunnel, with the project due to open in 2021.
The beautiful Bernina Express (photo credits, Daniel Steger - Openphoto)
Golf in Austria and Slovakia
At Chur it’s on to an Express train which will blast me through
Austria and onto my next destination, which is Bratislava. It’s a
full-on day on the permanent way, as I cover 587 kilometres in one go,
on an eight and a half train journey.
My plan was to play what is widely regarded as the Number One Course in Austria, which is Adamstal
, but in all honesty wires have been crossed, and I miss out on playing what is meant to be a legendary track.
Instead I have to cool my heels in Slovakia’s capital city,
Bratislava for a couple of days, which is no hardship as it is great
city to hang out in, and just enjoy the relaxed vibe.
It’s very much a trending destination at the moment, and there’s
quality golf on offer near there as well. The two best courses are at Penati
which has the Heritage, and the Legends course, which is a Nicklaus
design. It’s an hour’s drive from Bratislava, so within in easy reach.
There’s also the Gray Bear
which is a two hour and a half-hour drive from the capital, and was the
first golf course to open 10 years after the country’s Velvet Divorce
from what was then Czechoslovakia in 1993.
I also have good friends just up the road, or rather rail, at the Black Stork Resort
which is a fantastic 27 hole layout in the foothills of the Tatra
Mountains, but this time it’s a course too far in my hectic schedule.
You can fly from the UK direct to Poprad, and it makes for a great
weekend away to somewhere really different and is excellent value as
well. Your card has been marked.
Golfing it up in Hungary
Well manicured tee boxes, great level of maintenance at Zala Springs (Photo credits, member Leonard)
It’s time for some more golf, so I am heading to Zala Springs
in Hungary, with a quick stop off in Budapest.
Zala Springs is a proper piece of work; well the work of Robert Trent
Jones Junior actually. It’s a two-hour drive from Budapest, and in the
middle of nowhere if you look at it one way, and right in the heart of
central Europe if you look at it another way, as it can be readily
reached from not only Budapest but Vienna, Bratislava, Zagreb and
There is talk of potential direct flights from the UK; at the moment
you have to fly into Budapest, and then get a transfer. But if you make
the effort, you will be very well rewarded.
At the moment it seems to be mostly Germans and Austrians who are
taking advantage of this fantastic track and facilities, but I make
great new friends with the charming Ulla and Hannu who are over from
Finland, so word about this great course is starting to get out there. I
also learn that the British Soap Opera, Emmerdale is a big hit in
Finland, and that Ulla is a massive fan. I struggle to get my head
around this one!
Stay and play in luxury
There are ultra- modern luxury studio apartments on site which you can
stay in. Everything is built and designed to a very high standard;
nobody’s been taking any short cuts here, and the spec is spot on.
There’s no spa here yet, but two minutes down the road is Batthany
Castle and Mansion, which is also owned by Zala Springs, and has a
serious spa, including an indoor thermal pool.
Spring time in Hungary
Hungary is a nation of thermal springs and four-fifths of the country
sits on them, putting it on a par with Iceland and Japan. In all there
are over 1,500 thermal springs in the country, so you should include a
visit to one of them in your trip.
Hévíz, near Lake Balaton, is one of the world’s largest thermal
lakes, and its thermal springs are rich with radon and sulphur. And even
better, it is only 10 minutes down the road from the golf club.
If you are coming from Budapest, you will also pass by Central
Europe’s largest inland lake, Lake Balatan, which is 77 kilometres long,
with a shoreline of 197 kilometres. It is also where landlocked
Hungarians take their summer holidays. In my ignorance, I have never
heard of it, and feel slightly ashamed.
And did I mention the wine?
The region is also renowned for its fine wines -there are twenty-two different wine regions in the country. Tokaj, the sweet dessert wine is probably their most famous export,
but close to Zala Springs is one of the oldest wine-growing regions of
the country, Badacsony, where Cistercian monks first planted vines way
back in 1375! It just gets better and better.
Hungary’s varying micro-climates, hot summers, and long Indian
summers make for great grape growing, so pack up our old prejudices
about Bulls Blood, which is actually a fine wine but one nearly ruined
by the communists, and make sure you get tasting the local wines.
Vineyards near Lake Balaton (photo credits, holdosi
The work of Robert Trent Jones Jr at Zala Springs
The course offers all the signatures of a classic Robert Trent Jones
Junior design. There are classic risk and reward holes, like the 13th,
which is a great Par 3. You can fully take it on across the water and go
for the pin, or bite off just how much you want to chew, and hope that
you can chip it close to make your par.
The bunkering has also got RTJJ written all over, and there’s plenty
of it. But it is essentially a really fair course and one that you will
want to play again and again to try and master it. At 6,351 metres
(6,945 yards) off the tips, it has got length, but there are multiple
tee boxes, so it is a course that will suit absolutely everyone.
The golf course only opened in 2015, and rounds played are on the up and
up. This is a course to keep your eye on, and well worth a trip, even if
it is not right on your doorstep. You’ll be hard pushed to find a
course in such great condition, and I promise you it’s a real find. It is ranked as the Number One golf course in Hungary out of the
country’s 18 courses, which come as no surprise, as it is an outstanding
Add the fantastic wines, and the thermal springs, and you’ve got
yourself a great golfing trip with a real difference. Hungary, and Zala Springs
, I salute you.
Follow me on my journey: next stop Czech Republic!