The Eastern Alps are a natural border between three countries, each with its own culture and traditions. This range of mountains also creates the opportunity to play golf in all of them in one day…
It’s going to hit 30 degrees in the UK today and for a change I am looking forward to going somewhere a little cooler -- not by much, though, as the forecast for Carinthia and Tarvisio is in the high 20’s.
So, the first question you are going to ask yourself is, “where are Carinthia and Tarvisio?” Well, Carinthia is the southern area of Austria and Tarvisio is a town to be found just across the border in northern Italy. With Slovenia nearby as well, you have three locations and a wealth of opportunities for the British golfer. Strangely though, there are no other golfers from our green and pleasant land to be found here!
My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to find out what we are missing and why. I have a feeling that I am about to find something very special.
CARINTHIA. There are many choices of course within the Carinthia region so I have to prioritise which I visit. This is golf in an Alpine environment and my first impressions indicate a wealth of stunning scenery. I’m going to be travelling through some beautiful Alpine towns and villages and must apologise now for the fact that it’s just not possible to fit everything from this region into one article. For example, Venice is only one and a half hours away -- easily reachable but, sadly, outside my scope for now.
I arrive at Ljubljana airport in Slovenia and am soon heading for the Austrian border, my trusty satellite navigation guiding me through the breath-taking scenery of the eastern Alps. About 20 kilometres from my destination, that trusty navigation packs up. Why, oh why, did I not bring a good old-fashioned map?
Luckily for me, I ran off some rather sparse pages from the internet. I know that the resort I will be staying at is conveniently situated on the southern shore of the Drava River, just south of the town of Klagenfurt. So as I figure it, all I have to do is keep heading for the town and, when I see a river, turn left. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens. I make a mental note to purchase a proper map first thing in the morning.
WAHAHA RESORT. This really should be a family-oriented article and I should have my wife and kids in tow. But it hasn’t worked out that way and it’s just me on my lonesome. The Wahaha Sports & Family Resort might have a strange name, but this is a great choice for any golfer in need of a holiday location where all members of the family are going to have a good time.
There are a plethora of golf courses within a short distance, all with enough alpine views to make you take up yodelling. And while you are spoiling yourself sinking some golf balls, your family are taking part in countless other activities.
Where to begin? Well, there is the natural setting, which is outstanding. The resort sits on the southern bank of the Drava River, surrounded by forests and with mountain peaks on all sides. Boats are moored ready for use. Nature trails lead off in all directions, tempting walkers and bike riders alike. Swimming, in either a regular or organic pool, is available. Tennis courts, football pitches, sports halls, you name it, it’s here.
My room overlooks the large swimming pool and restaurant with views to the far bank of the river. Boats are making their way lazily along and families are relaxing by the pool.
After a meal in the restaurant, I decide to make use of the gym and finish off with a trip to the spa to try the sauna. A perfect end to the day.
GOLFCLUB SCHLOSS FINKENSTEIN. The following morning, I reacquaint myself with the old art of map reading. My first destination is just a shortdrive on exactly the same road as the resort.
Golfclub Schloss Finkenstein is easy to find. I am driving through a valley and it’s obvious that the course will be where the valley opens out -- unless it's uphill golf, that is. This picturesque course sits in beautiful surroundings with mountains on both sides, and its wide, open fairways make it comfortable to play at all levels -- a nice course just to relax and enjoy. Being a sucker for par-3’s, it's hole number sixteen that comes out as my favourite, with a narrow fairway to a green with a lake behind.
GAILTALGOLF KÄRNTEN. About a twenty-minute drive north-west of Finkenstein is Gailtalgolf Kärnten Golf Club. It is located in the town of Waidegg, which lies on the sunny side of the picturesque Gail Valley. This course does not profess to offer a taxing game, but what it does have in abundance is the opportunity to play a round in a great setting.
It would be worth staying in one of the excellent, authentic alpine hotels in town to really enjoy a round and then relax, drink some Austrian beer and taste some of the delicacies.
GOLF SENZA TARVISIO. Time for another border, not that you really notice as they are all open and require you only to slow down as you cross. Within a few minutes, I have entered Italy and am heading a mere five kilometres into the country to the town of Tarvisio and the Senza Golf Club.
My first thought as I drive into this picturesque town is, where are they going to have a golf course? It seems like the mountains come down to the town, making eighteen holes of golf seem impossible.
It all becomes apparent as I take the road towards the course and the mountains open out into another valley. I am met by Stefan Sulzbacher, the golf director, and after a chat we are off to view the course.
The initial holes are in the valley, but from the eighth onwards you are heading into the forested foothills, the sort of terrain that creates some tricky but impressive holes. The eighth is a lovely par-4 which Stefan tells me is actually not owned by the golf course at all, but in fact is the property of the Vatican! The Catholic Church owns vast swathes of land throughout Italy, including this very hole. Obviously, it’s advisable to say a few Hail Marys before you tee off and ask for divine intervention. To this date, no one has seen anyone from the Vatican play this hole, but you never know.
The course then continues into the mountains, providing a chance for some fantastic shots while enjoying the stunning scenery.
GOLF SENZA RESTAURANT. Afterwards, we head off to the clubhouse and the Golf Senza Restaurant, which is owned and managed by head chef Ilija. People come from far and wide to taste Ilija’s food and I soon find out why. With mouth-watering dishes a plenty, it’s no wonder the food is as big a crowd puller as the golf. When you see how affordable the prices are, it’s enough to make you jump for joy.
Ilija is, so I am told, a pretty good golfer too and has a habit of wearing a pair of golfing trousers in the kitchen, just in case he gets a chance to play a few holes in between services.
An overnight stay in the ancient town of Tarvisio -- or even longer -- would be well worth it to truly soak up that northern Italian vibe and explore the area, as well as play some more golf. Just a little further south, many more courses are to be found that are well worth a visit.
KLAGENFURT. I bid farewell to Stefan and head back to Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, to use its correct title. Wörthersee is the name of the large lake on the shores of which the town sits. Klagenfurt has a long history dating back to the twelfth century, and its position next to the lake makes it a fantastic place to visit.
It’s a hot day and the sandy beaches around the lake are full of people lounging in the sun. But, unfortunately, I don’t have the time to work on my tan; I am on a tight schedule as I have another course to visit.
KÄRNTNER GOLF CLUB. The Kärntner Golf Club is located on the southern shore, in the village of Dellach, on the opposite side of the Wörthersee to Klagenfurt. This gives you the option of arriving with your clubs by boat (tempting) or taking the equally spectacular route by road around the lake and past beautiful houses with gardens that stretch down to the water.
Like Golf Senza, this course meanders up into the hills and through a rich and ancient forest. The surroundings are just spectacular. To stay in Klagenfurt and not play this course would really be to miss out. Streams make their way down towards the lake and the surrounding landscape is truly breathtaking.
The front nine works its way into the forest while the back nine guides you back down towards the lake, giving you wonderful views over the water on holes thirteen and fourteen. There are other golfers on the course but it’s by no means crowded. Everyone is content to take their time and enjoy the immense pleasure of being lucky enough to be out playing a round on such a perfect day.
WORTH THE VISIT. The region of Carinthia has so much to offer it begs the question, why are no British golfers coming here? It really comes down to having almost zero exposure in the UK. It’s easier for a British tour operator to entice us off to somewhere in Spain or Portugal. But do you really want yet another holiday in a location that’s going to be packed and will cost you an arm and a leg?
The Carinthian region gives you an opportunity to play truly wonderful courses for a fraction of the price that you would pay at more well-known locations.
During my brief stay, I have travelled though magnificent Alpine mountains, followed the shores of lakes and rivers and travelled to golf courses in three separate countries, all less than an hour from each other. Given another day or two I could have driven down to Venice or made my way to a Mediterranean beach. It’s all here, the question is, when will you be?