With two of only seven golf courses in the whole of Greece, the spectacular Costa Navarino Resort is a beacon of hope in the unfolding Greek tragedy.
My morning flight from Heathrow to Athens was due to depart at 9 am. I arrived full of enthusiasm with bags and clubs in hand, only to find out that due to strikes in Greece, our flight was delayed by two hours. These things do happen, and nothing can be taken away from Aegean Airways who were the airline of choice for this latest jaunt. They include golf clubs in the price by the way, which instantly makes them a big hit for us golfers.
After a smooth flight, I was found guilty of assuming I had got away relatively unscathed by my journey! Little did I know that the hotel had only sent one small eight-seat minibus for eight journalists and six sets of clubs, a somewhat painful experience, needless to say, I would suggest taking the direct flight with Aegean Airlines to Kalamata international airport which is a mere thirty minutes from the resort.
Historical sites. The Costa Navarino Golf Resort is located in the Messinia region, which is to be found in the lesser known South Western part of Greece. This area is mentioned in one of the oldest pieces of European literature - the Iliad, and the area is overflowing with archaeological sites. It was here the famous naval battle of Navarino took place near present Pylos in 1827.
Nowadays, rather than the sound of battle, this area resonates to the sound of golf balls and the cry of wayward shots. This land of breathtaking beauty is now the location of one of the most exciting new golf developments to be found anywhere.
Fittingly, this resort lies just two hours away from Olympia, the birth place of competitive sports. Of course they didn't play golf at the original Games, and although it appeared briefly in 1900 and 1904, it won't be until the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 that golf finally will be on the agenda.
The hotels. Located on a gently sloping hillside which descends down to a sandy beach and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, the Costa Navarino resort comprises of two hotels; The Romanos, a 320 room member of The Luxury Collection, and The Westin which is a 445 room family oriented hotel.
The warm welcome from the staff at the Westin Resort soothed my frayed nerves and the cramped journey is all but forgotten. I debunk to my very spacious hotel room to recover and prepare for the next day's golf.
From my balcony I am treated to views over this vast Greek coastline. I soon discover that this is the perfect place to sit and sip a glass of wine while the sun sinks into the sea.
Perhaps this is what inspired the late Captain Vassillis Constantakopoulos, who made his fortune in shipping, to buy vast tracts of land in the area and so fulfil his dream of creating a high end sustainable resort which will feature a total of four 18 hole golf courses, a number of hotels, villas, spas and swimming pools when the second phase of the development is finished. Because despite the economic turmoil the owning company is not worried: "We're in it for the long run", says Captain Vassillis' son, Achilleas. (Let's hope it won't become his Achilles' heel)
Facilities. It's not only golf that can be enjoyed here; the resort is also home to the Navarino Racquet Academy for those looking to hone their tennis skills. For those looking for a bit of culture, perhaps a visit to watch a play in the open air amphitheatre, or maybe a day on the beach to enjoy one of the many water sports available.
After all this, it may be worth a trip to the Anazoe Spa to sooth those weary muscles with an authentic Greek treatment. But no, I am here to play golf, and Costa Navarino has two courses to test my mettle.
The Bay Course. The Bay Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Junior, offers some testing holes but more noteworthy, some absolutely breathtaking sights. The 4th & 5th holes run parallel to the bay, with the edge of the fairways literally a few metres from the water.
As you stand on the tee of the par-4 4th hole, you are aware of the feeling of both fear and awe as the sea breeze hits your face. Anything right of the fairway and your ball is lost to Poseidon, that Greek god of the depths. However after hitting a straight drive, you can soak in the views of the stunning coastline. Playing up the long 6th hole, it's easy to forget just how close you are to the biggest water hazard imaginable; however once on the green you overlook the gorgeous landscape that contrasts with the crystal clear water of this Mediterranean bay. For most of the holes, emphasis is on positional play for those looking to shoot low scores - this is the more accessible of the two courses, for all handicaps.
The Dunes Course. This first signature golf course in Greece is certainly a severe test at times. Designed by Bernhard Langer, this Par 72 plays just under 6,800 yards from the back tees. With some tricky holes on the back nine, it's easy to forget that this course has only been around for some 18 months. The front nine plays relatively easy in comparison to the back - with reachable par-4s for big hitters on the second & sixth holes. For those hitting a straight ball, the front nine should be a time to appreciate those immaculate fairways and perhaps a time to play more aggressively.
The back nine however is much more testing, with Langer's bunkers strategically placed to catch any stray tee shots. Notably holes such as the 12th boast eight bunkers, meaning those more wayward golfers better have packed a bucket & spade in their golf bag. Having said this, the larger than normal greens found on so many of the holes offer many a chance to save par.
Tricky and beautiful. The last two holes of the course are truly spectacular ,with the 200+ yard par-3 17th offering many salvation with its large undulating green. However, it can be as tricky as it is beautiful. The 18th hole offers a truly stunning par-5 to finish; with 530+ yards of fairway to play with, it is still very difficult to reach in two shots with seven bunkers and the green being significantly elevated from the tee. No matter what you score on this hole, it really is a beauty for all to behold, as are so many of the holes on the Dunes Course.
After this, what better way to end the day than to enjoy a traditional Greek meal at Morias Restaurant, and perhaps try the ancient art of tea service and vodka infusions with marjoram and lavender from the hotels own garden served at the 1827 Lounge & Bar.
The return home. My golf soirée is sadly soon over and it's time to leave the comfort of the hotel and head for home. The return journey to the airport is, I am glad to report, in the comfort of a luxurious 12 seat minibus. It pours down for the whole journey back to the airport. Better to rain now than while doing battle on the golf course.
October, with its changeable weather might not be the best time to visit the land of Plato, but those Greek gods were, on the whole kind to us. Will I be back? Absolutely, this course is going to get better and better, but next time I may bring my swimming shorts, just in case.
Good to know
Aegean Airlines have daily flights from London Heathrow via Athens
to Kalamata Airport (KLX). Also there are seasonal direct flights to Kalamata from Gatwick and Manchester with Thomas Cook and Thompson www.aegeanair.com
Pay and play
Seven nights pay and play at Costa Navarino starts from £1,189 pp with Elegant Golf Resorts (www.elegantgolfresorts.com)
This price is based on two sharing de luxe garden view double roomin the Westin Resort on a bed and breakfast basis. It includes two rounds on the Bay Course & two rounds on the Dunes Course, private luxury airport transfers from Athens and flights with Aegean from London Heathrow to Athens.This offer is for travel from 1 May - 14 June & 16 September - 31 October 2012.
As well as playing Costa Navarino's two signature golf courses, the region's excellent climate is ideal for those wanting to participate in other sports, outdoor activities and explore Messinia's rich heritage, culture and traditions. Activities at the 'Navarino Outdoors Academy' include mountain biking, bike trekking, hiking, and depending on the season, guests can get involved with the local grape and olive Harvests
A few KM drive from Costa Navarino is Voidokilia beach, a spectacular stretch of sand which is frequently recognised among the world's best beaches. See attached image (it's amazing!).
Costa Navarino runs a series of 'philosophical walks', which take their inspiration from the ancient Greek philosophers that taught even during a leisurely walk. Professors lead walks in the countryside while covering topics relevant to current issues, through Ancient Greek writings. The walks offer an insight into the impact of ancient Greek philosophical thought on the world.
The destination operates a Messinian Authenticity Programme which gives guests the opportunity to experience various local traditions and customs of the region. This includes the aforementioned olive harvesting. In the nearby picturesque town of Pylos, guests can take part in home-cooking in the houses of local women. Together, they prepare and learn about traditional recipes that have been part of the locals' daily lives for many generations, and they all enjoy a meal.
Starting rates for 2012
The Westin Resort Costa Navarino - Deluxe Garden View Room: ?140
The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort - Deluxe Garden View Room: ?200
Green Fees for guests across the two courses are ?95 (18 holes) and ?60 (9 holes).http://www.costanavarino.com