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 Alps.
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 viaduct.
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.
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.
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 Ljubljana.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 experience.
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!
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