Finally sampling the golf in the Czech Republic
BENESOV, Czech Republic - I lived in the Czech Republic for more than two years, and I never managed to play one of its courses. Not that this central European country is known for its golf - when we think of European golf, we’re usually dreaming of the named courses of Britain and Ireland, or the sunny coastal courses of Spain.
But still, the Czech Republic has some solid courses. Happy to end my ignorance, I recently found myself in this small town about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles, for all you of the non-metric persuasion) outside the capital, Prague.
Tourists come here, but not often for the golf. Konopiste Castle, the former home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, is here, nestled on top of a hill amid dense wood, its yellow walls and spires visible from many directions from the surrounding farmland.
Through this farmland, designers have cut a 45-hole resort, called Golf Resort Konopiste, complete with a massively impressive clubhouse that looks more like a palace than something at your nearby country club. The resort boasts its original 9-hole public course, the 18-hole Radecky course, opened in 2002, and the 18-hole d’Este course, opened in 2005.
I played the d’Este. In many ways, it played like a newbie. It was a wide open run, with very little in the way of trees. Club pro Tomas Zahradnik later told me that when the course first opened two years ago workers planted 7,000 trees. And that’s what you see: Hole after hole lined with small saplings. Now, come back in 10, 15 years and obviously things will be much different.
Radecky has the reputation of being the resort’s signature course, and several times during my round, when d’Este butted up against Radecky, I found myself with golf envy: There was the course I would rather be playing. Not to say that d’Este was terrible. But it was just not very imaginative. Holes were as straight forward as it is possible to be. We’re talking one, maybe two doglegs in 18 holes, and maybe three or four holes when water is in play.
There are some stand-outs: No. 9 is a pretty par-4 that winds downhill to an island green. The backside is significantly longer than the front, so while many of those homeward-bound holes are boring, you still need a few hefty pokes before you’re putting.
Golf Resort Konopiste seemed to me the perfect two-day play, say a weekend’s diversion from the throngs of tourists that are now descending on Prague (it seems every year brings more). Here, you can play d’Este on Day 1, sort of a warm-up round, then circle back on Day 2 for the Radecky course.
Check back soon at WorldGolf.com for my full review of d’Este.
(Interesting aside: Konopiste Castle is currently the subject of a bitter restitution claim. When Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914 - the event that touched off World War I - their orphaned children retained ownership of the castle, and lived there until 1921. Then, the Czechoslovak government confiscated it and the property belonging to it. Last November, Sophie von Hohenburg, Ferdinand’s great-granddaughter, filed a lawsuit in district court here to have the castle returned to her family.)
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