The Czech Republic is reached in just one and a half hours from the UK; I have spent more time just trying to get out of London! As the rest of Europe is one hour ahead, we touch down at around 9 am in a hot and muggy Prague. It's been raining hard here for days and now the sun is out creating the sensation of being in a steam bath, just what you need after only a few hours sleep. Well, no rest for us, we pick up the hire car and it's straight on to our first golf course, Prague City Golf Club.
Prague City Golf - Prague City Golf is surprisingly easy to find, being off the ring road but as the name suggest still within the city. The clubhouse, a renovated building from the Victorian era is plush and has the feeling of luxury. I quickly change and prepare to do battle.
The rain has left the ground saturated, particularly here at City Golf Prague, which is on a plain located between hills. Because of the soaked fairways, the buggies are not available and I end up hurrying to the 1st tee which is a good 5 minutes walk. The fairways are very wide, no chance of losing a ball on this course unless I do something spectacularly stupid, especially on the first hole which is a par-4 and straight as a road.
Electrifying - As I walk down the fairway I realise just how saturated the course really is. Big puddles of water are now hazards to be avoided. A buzzing noise causes me to look up and I realise that the course is criss-crossed with electricity pylons and cables. A thought immediately pops into my head; electricity and water really are a bad combination. I instantly have a vision of a cable falling to the ground and myself and several other golfers being turned into something dark and very crispy, best to keep going and not look up.
As I progress around the course, I cannot but help noticing that many of the holes are very much the same, wide fairways and large raised greens. As I move on the electricity cables above me continue to buzz!
I finish the 18th and head for the 19th which I assume will be the clubhouse, but no, there really is a 19th, it must be played! This par-3 turns out to be my best hole and I complete my round content with my birdie finish. Time for one of those excellent Czech beers on the terrace!
Le Palais - We leave City Golf Prague and head for our hotel, Le Palais, which is located in the city-centre. The hotel is a five star establishment, part of the Vienna International Group, and a listed building as are most in the heart of Prague. Originally built in 1897, it was the grand private residence for a rich businessman. In 2002 it was converted into a luxury hotel with 72 bedrooms and suites as well as spa and health club.
The hotel has been beautifully restored along with frescoes that were originally painted by the famous Czech painter Ludek Marold. The suites are elegant, some boasting grand fireplaces that are lit for the guests in the winter.
Below ground you'll find the Spa centre and the Health Club. With spa treatments starting at ?53 and on up to ?326, there really is something here for everyone.
That evening we are joined by Jan Makarius from ABANTE Golf Tours. ABANTE arranges golf trips to the Czech Republic and Jan has been kind enough to book some of the Golf clubs for us. He's also our guide for the night and we set off to discover the old city of Prague.
Prague by Night. -Jan is a native of Prague and we find ourselves being driven through backstreets to the heart of the old capital. First stop is Wenceslas Square, not so much a square as an avenue. This has been the focal point for demonstrations and celebrations throughout the city's history.
I always find old cities to really show their beauty at night and Prague is no exception. The historical monuments and buildings are lit up and the city is buzzing. Gone are the days when the streets seemed to be filled with noisy Brits over for a stag weekend, now the streets hum with many languages and the cafes, bars and restaurants are brimming with people.
Prague was established in 1348 by King Charles IV and he put his name to many landmarks and buildings here, Charles Bridge being one of the most obvious. At one time, this was the only bridge over the Vltava River that divides the city and was an important connection between the castle and the old town. The castle lit up at night is truly something to behold, and the view of the city below is well worth the long walk up. From here we can see Charles Bridge which even at 10 pm is alive with people.
Albatross Golf Club - Albatross Golf Club is situated about fifteen minutes outside the city of Prague. This is a very new course and a lot of money has been spent by the owner to fulfil his dream of making it the best in the Czech Republic. It's situated in rolling landscape and surrounded by forests and farmland.
I am instantly aware of the attention to detail at the clubhouse; everything is modern and well thought out. The locker rooms are luxurious and equipped with towels for the golfers return. There is a competition taking place and so as not to cause complications, I decide to play the back nine, well ahead of any competing golfers.
Again I am met by wide sweeping fairways as I tee off at the 10th hole. This is a reasonably straight forward Par-5 with a slight dogleg right. Its 510 metres from the white tee to the green, my editor is already grumbling about the lack of buggies (again due to the rain) but I am personally looking forward to the walk. As long as you favour the left on your tee off, the only real obstacle to be aware of here is a hidden bunker 64 metres shy of the green which could trap the unwary.
As we work our way around the course, I am aware of the care that is put into maintenance and upkeep. It's clear that the club really is set on creating the perfect environment for all levels of golfer. Obviously it will be a while before the 10,000 trees that have been planted grow to size and add some maturity, still, this is already a great course.
Playing safe - My favourite holes were the 15th and 16th. The 15th is a Par-4 with a dogleg left. If you are brave, you can tiger line over the rough and land past the bunkers in the middle of the fairway. I play safe and aim straight along the fairway in front of me and I'm rewarded with a ball well placed about 20 metres short of the bunkers. From here the top of the flag is in view although I have no idea what is between me and the green as the ground rises to a small hillock and I can see nothing past it. Ah well, he who dares!
I watch my ball disappear somewhere close to the green not knowing if there is a pond or bunkers lurking on the other side. When I get to the top of the hillock, I see that there are bunkers protecting the green but I have managed to avoid them and my ball is waiting patiently for me just short of the green. I end the 15th with a bogey but happy with the fact that I avoided the bunkers, more through luck than anything else but it's nice to live dangerously.
The 16th is a Par-3 with a lake to your left and following the fairway which curves around it. Easy I tell myself, I'll go over the edge of the lake and land the ball in the middle of the green. I tee off and watch as my ball falls short and disappears into the water. Not deterred, I decide to try again and am rewarded by my ball sailing over the lake and landing perfectly on the green. If only I could do that every time!
Konopiste - We leave Albatross and head directly for Konopiste Golf Course, roughly 20 minutes from the city and half an hour from Albatross. There are two 18-hole courses, D'este and Radecky and I choose to play the first. A buggy is available so our editor is a happy man, especially when he sees that it's straight up the hill to the green. This is going to be hard work. I arrive at the first green for this par-4 slightly out of breath but still able to enjoy the view. The second hole is more to my liking, another par-4 and still slightly uphill, but across a dip and following the line of a beautiful pine forest. There is definitely an alpine feel to Konopiste and you really get the sensation of being surrounded by nature.
Both the 6th and 7th holes are across the same lake. From the 6th it's directly in front of the tee, from the 7th it lies forbiddingly in front of the green. I remember the words of David Carter the golf pro at Albatross, "aim for where you don't want the ball to go and you should be OK", like the words of some golf master Yoda! My fears are realised as my ball disappears below the surface, never to be seen again.
Embarrassing moment - The 9th hole is downhill towards the clubhouse and running parallel to the first. The green is on an island surrounded by a moat, and I start to mentally check exactly how many balls I have with me. Success! I manage to land my ball roughly ten metres from the water, and now a shot with a nine iron should take me to the green. In my determination not to land in the water, I overshoot and land on the road on the other side of the island. Luckily there's no-one to either be hit or see my embarrassing moment.
This is a nice course and one that I am glad to have played. For the less athletic players, I would recommend a buggy as you will put those leg muscles to the test. We head back to the hotel for a good night's rest in preparation for more golf tomorrow.
Golf Resort Karlstejn - The next day after a hearty breakfast, we check out and head off to Karlstejn Golf Resort with its famous castle. The journey takes us South West of Prague and into rolling farmland and peaceful villages. After about 35 minutes we reach the village of Karlstejn and the castle reveals itself. It really is a stunning sight, and as with Charles Bridge in Prague, it was built by Charles IV and completed in 1365. We find out that the golf course is located on the other side of the valley which is confusing as in all the photographs; the castle is in the background. But when we arrive at the club, the castle is directly opposite on the next hill across the valley and is plainly in view.
I cannot wait to get on the course and quickly change and head for the first tee. This is a par-4 with a slight dog leg left. Even here on the side of a hill there are problems with water due to the torrential rain that has hit the country in the past week. The first hole is quickly overcome and we move on to the second which turns out to be quite a surprise. From the tee you are literally aiming for the fairway far below and down a steep incline. From there it's a shot to a ridge that sets you up for your third, down again and onto a green which is on an island. I am pleased with my bogey and move on to the third, a lovely par-3 onto a raised green and surrounded by trees. One thing I quickly realise is that if I run out of balls, it should be easy to find a few more by digging around in the bushes, because this is a tough course.This is a beautiful 27 hole course and the setting is perfect, being situated on top of a hill with views in all directions. The castle makes an impressive backdrop and is in sight for most of the front nine.
Gathering of the storm - As the saying goes "what goes down must come up (or vice versa), and sure enough after some more impressive holes, from the 8th we start to head up towards the clubhouse. The sun is shining and I seem to be doing rather well.
We take a buggy for the back nine which are located on the other side of the hill. Even though the castle is not in view here, the scenery is fantastic with far reaching views out over the Czech countryside.
This is a lovely course, the only shame is that there is very limited accommodation even though it's called a resort. Karlstejn is no more than 30 kilometres from Prague and so can be visited as a day trip, but the surroundings make it a perfect location at which you would want to stay.
Pilsen - Golf & Beer - You cannot come to the Czech Republic and not visit one of the famous breweries, and what brewery could be more famous than Pilsner Urquell which is still exclusively brewed in the town of Pilsen, or Plzen in Czech. Pilsner Urquell was the first "Pilsen" type beer in the world and the town has given its name to a whole style of similarly brewed beers. Add to this the fact that there is a great golf course at Plzen, and you have an irresistible combination.
We arrive at 10 o'clock in the morning for our tour of the famous brewery, probably not the best time for tasting beer but still not an opportunity to be missed. The brewery covers a large area and is still the only location in the world where Pilsner Urquell is brewed.
We are given the tour of the modern facilities and then on to the old site complete with a film explaining how the famous beer is made. This is followed by a guided tour of the very extensive tunnels where beer still is kept cool, and we are invited to try some straight from the barrel. To drink the famous beer in the tunnels under the brewery is a great experience and I am only saddened by the fact that I am the designated driver and so can only have a small taste, not so for our editor who has delegated all driving to me for this trip. How could I have fallen for that...
Golf Park Plzen - We leave the Pilsner Urquell brewery clutching our free bottles of beer and head off to Golf Park Plzen where we are met by Tereza Blazkov?, the Marketing manager. She shows us to our rooms and arranges my tee time booking. The resort which is a renovated and extended farm, has 16 double rooms and 2 suites in two separate buildings, and if all the rooms are as good as ours; this is an excellent place to stay. Within half an hour of arriving, I am out on the first tee and ready to go.
Now in hindsight I can look back at this moment and realise just how important it is to stretch before taking that first shot. As I took that opening swing, something in my back decided that it had had enough. Even in my crippled state, I was determined to get around the course as I already knew that this one had to be played. The first hole was a par-4, downhill, and over a stream onto the fairway. Luckily the ball was already in flight when my back decided to go into contortions, and so my ball landed safely on the green.
Wayward balls - As I worked my way around, with a stifled yelp on every shot and the ball going in every direction except forwards, I knew that it would be a long and painful round. But we were on a fantastic course and we had a buggy in which to retire, so, on we went despite other golfers having to dive for cover in fear of being knocked unconscious by my wayward and pain induced shots.
The 4th hole was a lovely par-3 with a river running to the right. Even in my discomfort, it was hard not to notice the beauty of this course with the first five holes running either near a river or next to a lake.
The 7th is a real eye opener, you walk through a gap between trees uphill to the tee, and find that the green is high up on top of a steep bank. Misjudge your shot and you will either be back at the bottom, half way up and requiring climbing equipment, or over the green and into the woods on the other side. To my relief I land the ball on the green, a simple putt finishes the job.
Diving for balls - The 11th hole is a par-3 onto an island, not one of your little puddles of water in front of the green, but possibly 60 plus metres of lake with a fair few metres from the tee to the water as well. I had been informed by Tereza that local gypsies dive for lost balls here in the summer to sell back to golfers. This must be pretty profitable, I think to myself as my ball duly sinks to the bottom.
We arrived back at the club house and even though I had suffered, I felt that here was a course worth any pain. I made a note to have a walk around it that evening when all the golfers had gone. The surrounding nature, variation of the holes and the quality of the course made this a great day. All that was to be done now was to retire to the excellent clubhouse, order a Pilsner Urquell and some delicious Czech goulash, and take some time to let all the impressions of the last few days sink in.
As we leave Prague the next morning heading back to the UK, I'm left with the memories of some wonderful golf courses, and despite the fact that I didn't play my best, I'm happy in the knowledge that one day I'll be back to have another shot at it.