PODEBRADY, Czech Republic - In the 15 years since the downfall of communism, a growing number of upper and upper-middle class Czechs have taken to golf like ducks to water.
And for those who tee off at Golf Club Podebrady, that's a lucky thing. The par-72 layout runs near the Labe river and a number of streams and ponds come into play on 11 different holes. If you're a high-handicapper wild with your long irons, you might spend as much time in the water as the ducks.
"You better not be afraid of the water to play at Podebrady," laughs Czech businessman Vladimir Drizhal, who took up the game three years ago. Two years ago his wife, Renata, began playing and now they hit the courses around Prague most every weekend, weather permitting.
Golf Club Podebrady sits some 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of the capital city, on the outskirts of a picturesque spa town. More and more wealthy Praguers are moving to the area and commuting to work back in the big city. With a laid-back pace of life, charming town square and wide paths following the lazy Labe, it's easy to see why.
Of course, the area's other benefit is its proximity to Golf Club Podebrady. Established in 1961, Golf Club Podebrady is among the oldest courses in the Czech Republic. Given who was in power here in 1961, that's not necessarily a good thing -- rest assured, though. Today's 18-hole layout was completed in 2000 and last year the club leased even more of the surrounding land with an eye on expansion.
After winding through the woods and farmland on the way to the club and then rolling into the parking lot, you're struck by the sight of two mammoth radio towers on the property, but even more so by the cavernous gray clubhouse. Utterly out of place in the bucolic setting, the building that now serves as clubhouse and hotel is an architectural marvel in the rondo-cubist style, a uniquely Czech motif that alternates sharp edges with spheres and cylinders. It dates back to 1922 when it served as a communications center for the fledgling radio industry.
Ironically, after the communist takeover in 1948, the authorities switched gears and used the equipment here to jam broadcasts from the West. The Cold War-era jamming equipment is long gone and now the stately building houses a golf shop and eight-tee indoor driving range, in addition to a restaurant, bar and some 36 hotel beds and conference rooms.
Given the imposing, almost cold exterior of the building, the interior has a surprisingly warm feel, having benefited from a renovation project five years ago. Imagine lighting up that post-game Cuban cigar and sipping on a local brew in a locale straight out of a movie set in the Jazz Age.
The accommodations upstairs are clean and neat, though not tremendously luxurious. One visitor remarked that once the sun's gone down, guests staying out here in the countryside would have little to do, except think about tomorrow's game and maybe play cards. It's probably better to hang your hat in Prague and just make your golf game a day trip.
English-speaking visitors will be pleased to know that all staff speak English -- if, in some cases, just enough of the language to take your fee and point you towards the first tee. And all course signage is in both Czech and English.
Upon paying your fee and securing a loaner pull-cart (everyone walks here), you head back across the parking lot to the first tee. No. 1 is a par 4 with a severe dogleg left. You can use a driver and be in prime position with your second shot to approach the green, which is guarded by a small bunker in front. There's no water in play here, making it a rarity.
No. 2 is another par-4 dogleg, this time to the right, with the added challenge of a stream bisecting the fairway less than 100 yards from the green.
The entire Golf Club Podebrady facility covers some 247 acres and you'll not pass one residence during your round. While this area of the Czech Republic has it's share of hills, the 6,566-yard course is quite flat, making is an easy walk.
The level of course maintenance is not going to match up to what you'll find at a premium course in, say, Scotland or Florida, but the fairways are lush and the greens trimmed and firm.
Mike Scollon, an American journalist who works in Prague, likens the course, in both setting and playability, to a high-quality muni in his home state of Michigan.
"There are courses closer to Prague, particularly some nine-holers," he said. "But this is an easy drive and the course is head and shoulders above what's in the city."
Beyond holes 1 and 2, the front nine is a pleasant mix of deceptive challenges and rewards. Rounding the turn, you might think you're in for more of the same.
But as the Club Vice President Jiri Kral says, once you tee up on no. 12, a double dogleg par 5, your "walk in the pink garden" is over! From here on out, holes 15 and 16 (back-to-back par 3s) are your only break from challenging doglegs and water carries.
By the time you come up the wide-open approach to the 18th green, you may feel a bit battered and water logged, wishing you'd remembered to buy an extra sleeve of balls.
Relax though, there's still time to kick back inside that incongruous gray block where you began the day, enjoy a beer and let this sink in: You've just had a hell of a fun day of golf in the heart of Europe.
While the golf course may not be world class, for visitors to Prague, a side trip to Golf Club Podebrady is a great way to work off the beer and rich food you've inhaled and break up the "monotony" of castles, museums and cathedrals. Golf Club Podebrady offers a solid, affordable golf experience in a uniquely central European setting.
Fees for 2005 vary from $38 on weekdays, to $50 on the weekend. Be sure to call ahead, as Golf Club Podebrady maintains a steady flow of tournaments and corporate events.
Golf Club Podebrady has a range of accommodations, from standard rooms to suites and apartments. Many visitors opt to stay in Prague, less than an hour away.
Pobrezni 1, Prague 8.
Phone: (420) 224 841 111.
On the web: www.hilton.com.
Kongresova 1, Prague 4.
Phone (420) 261 161 111.
On the web: www.corinthia.cz.
Diplomat Hotel Praha
Evropska 15, Prague 6.
Phone: (420) 224 394 111.
On the web: www.diplomat-hotel.cz.
November 17, 2004
Mark Nessmith directs the TravelGolf Network's team from the company's European office in the Czech capital of Prague. Prior to taking the reins as editor in March 2005, he was a communications program manager with The PGA of America in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He also has served as managing editor for The Prague Post, the leading English-language newspaper of the Czech Republic.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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