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Ringhoffer Golf Club: A shortcut through the woods at Stirin Chateau near Prague, Czech Republic

Alan CrosbyBy Alan Crosby,
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Ringhoffer Golf Club - Stirin - 9th
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Ringhoffer G.C., often called simply "Stirin," is a half hour's drive from Prague. (Alan Crosby/TravelGolf)

STIRIN, Czech Republic -- For seven centuries people strolled the forests of Stirin to relax or maybe hunt deer or wild boar. Two decades ago, golfers in search of birdies and eagles were added to the mix when the nine-hole Ringhoffer Golf Club was woven into the gardens, ponds and woods that fan out from the chateau.

At 2,328 meters (2,546 yards) in length, the par-35 course -- known to local golfers simply as "Stirin" -- is more of an executive track than a tournament test of a golfer's skills. Intermediate players and better can even leave the big dog (driver, in case that's too kitschy) in the car since only the ninth hole breaks the 300-meter mark.

Having passed through the hands of princes and barons over the years, the current owner, the Czech Foreign Ministry, has tried to stick to the spirit of Stirin by making the golf club as much about culture as it is about sport.

Recent renovations include conference facilities, a wellness center, a Gaudi-inspired hotel/restaurant and regular concerts to fill out the day for those who steal away for a weekend of golf and outdoor activities. The Baron Frantisek Ringhoffer, one of the former owners of the chateau and a golf enthusiast, would surely approve of the changes.

"Our course is for golfers who want to relax when they play, since our course is more like a park," Course Director Libor Sticha said. "We also get a lot of players who don't want to spend all day on the course, but instead get in a quick nine holes before work."

At Stririn, accuracy's the name of the game

Instead of bringing out a golfer's brute strength, Stirin forces a reliance on short-iron accuracy. Six of the nine holes mingle with water hazards.

On the first -- with the Baroque palace and its lovely terraces in the background -- trees, a pond and a green located several meters below the fairway will keep you searching your bag for high irons to keep out of trouble.

A couple sharp-angle doglegs follow from there as you build up to the sixth hole, the second-longest on the golf course at 296 meters. With water surrounding three-quarters of the green, any thoughts of driving the putting area will probably be put to rest before you choose which club you’ll tee off with.

Trees smack dab in the middle of the fairways of holes 7 and 8 accomplish the same before the first real test of length comes into play on the par-5, 516-meter ninth hole. A narrow fairway and pond mean an accurate drive carrying at least 280 meters or so is needed to have a realistic chance of reaching the green -- set up on the hill just in front of the palace -- in two.

"I never get tired of walking this hole," said Josef Zahradnik. The 68-year-old, who took up the game after retiring as an engineer five years ago, says only one thing beats seeing the scenery of water, trees, the palace and forests on both sides of the fairway.

"I've only seen a couple of people drive over the water, but it's a beautiful thing to see when it happens!"

Ringhoffer Golf Club: The verdict

Stirin isn't the most challenging test of the golf clubs in and around Prague. But it's one of the nicer settings given its old-growth forests, ponds and historic edifices. While newer tracks cropping up all over the Czech Republic boasting a full 18 holes, it will take decades for most of them to reach anywhere near Stirin's lush grounds.

The club's laid-back atmosphere is in keeping with the chateau's centuries of tradition as a place for relaxation, and makes this short and slightly quirky course worth considering for an afternoon round.

Golf instruction at Stirin

Given its proximity to the center of Prague, Stirin caters to foreigners, as well as locals, with multilingual staff in all its facilities, including a driving range, indoor golf center and spa.

For those just starting out, the club offers a selection of individual and group lessons.

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Alan Crosby is a journalist who grew up in Toronto, Canada shagging golf balls for his father until he got a job during high school at The Weston Golf & Country Club, home of Arnold Palmer's first professional win. He has lived in Europe since 1990, writing about almost anything, including the European Tour's first visit to the Czech Republic in 1994. His love of golf has infected his wife Eva and two children, Sebastien and Adaelie, who can also be found taking divots on courses in and around Prague.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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