The world of golf travel is not what it used to be. In times past, you booked your golf holiday to Spain or Portugal and that was it. Well, I for one welcome change and get excited about locations not generally on the European golf radar. And one such location is Kitzbühel, Austria.
Anyone who is keen on skiing will have heard of Kitzbühel. The Hahnenkamm, a mountain close to the town is the location of the Hahnenkamm Streif attack, known the world over as one of the hardest and most dangerous downhill skiing events.
Basically, crazy guys throw themselves off an almost vertical slope with little more than a bit of plastic strapped to their feet. This is a ski slope of jaw-dropping complexity and risk. Now imagine playing golf down this same slope, as happens once a year (I will cover this event in a future article).
There are three choices of airport through which you can reach Kitzbühel: Salzburg, Innsbruck or Munich. Due to my proximity to Gatwick, I choose Munich, as it’s about one hour’s drive north of my destination.
After a short flight I find myself cruising down the autobahn. The drive could not be easier, but remember to look out for exactly where you leave Germany and enter Austria as the speed limit changes from crazy warp drive to a sedate 110kph. The lyrics from a Kraftwerk song keep buzzing around in my head, ‘Wir fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der autobahn’ (We’re driving, driving, driving on the freeway’) as I take in the pretty landscape.
SCENIC ROUTE. I have satellite navigation in my hire car, which is great, apart from the fact that it’s in German. Now this is not a problem as I happily hurtle down the autobahn, but when I turn off the motorway and begin to drive on the more sedate country roads, I suddenly find myself quite literally traversing on single track. I can only assume that the nice Germanic speaking people who had the car before me have programed in ‘Scenic Route’.
Don’t get me wrong, the scenery as I reach the Tyrolian Alps is stunning, but I am on a schedule. As I reverse to let yet another car pass and the passengers smile and wave nicely to me, I am inwardly starting to worry as to what else has been programed into the navigation, possibly a tour of interesting mountain peaks?
I need not have worried, for I am soon in the historic town of Kitzbühel and looking for my hotel, this time relying on good old road signs.
ROSSA RESSORT. I arrive at the A-Rossa Resort exactly on time, which amazes me after my rather interesting drive. This is a luxury hotel with 115 rooms and 36 suites, located just outside Kitzbühel and positioned to look directly toward the famous Hahnenkamm mountain and infamous Streif run. My luxurious suite is at the front and overlooking the Kitzbühel golf course and clubhouse. There are various levels of accommodation here, from Executive Room on up to Imperial Suite, but all are of a very high standard.
Among countless amenities available on-site, the hotel has a large spa covering an area of 3,000 m2 with many treatments available, as well as a pool and sauna area.
GOLF CLUB KITZBÜHEL Attached to the hotel is the Kitzbühel Golf Club. I have already viewed the final holes from my window and am keen to play. This nine-hole course is one of the most famous in Austria and if the view from my window is anything to go by, it is going to be a lot of fun.
Hole number one is a par-5 with a slight dogleg left, a nice hole on which to begin, with not too many dangers as long as you avoid the bunkers on the right and the water on the left. In other words, land on the fairway or else!
Every hole is a pleasure to play, but always being a sucker for drama, it’s the eighth and ninth that have piqued my interest. From my hotel window I have been watching golfer’s successes and failures on these two interesting holes.
The eighth is a par-5 dogleg left, with a shot across water to an island green. The ninth is a par-3 across that same water. I land in the water on the eighth, but after a round of many bogeys, I am finally rewarded with a Par on the ninth.
Time to meet my guide for this trip, Daniel from the Kitzbühel tourist office. I retire to the main hotel lounge where we discuss our plan of action for my all too short time here. First up, I am visiting one of the most beautiful courses anywhere; Eichenheim Golf Club, located just the other side of the town. And later that day Daniel has plans to take me to see the fearsome Streif run for myself. Should I bring my clubs?
EICHENHEIM. It’s no more than a few minutes’ drive to Eichenheim. I am keen to see the course for myself as I have read rave reviews. It all seems rather unassuming as I make my way up to the clubhouse, but once I’m on the course its beauty is revealed. With a backdrop of the Wilder Kaiser and Hohe Tauern mountains, the scenery is simply breathtaking.
The first hole is a tricky shot through a narrow gap between trees to the fairway. This is a par-5 with a handicap of three, just to get your juices going. Following on is a nice par-3, then back to a par-5 on the third. With a shot from an elevated position down to the fairway below, this may be the signature hole, but every hole has a jaw-dropping view of the mountains.
HANENKAMM STREIF. That afternoon we begin our assent to the top of the mountain. The cable car starts at a sedate climb but it’s not long before we are rising at quite a steep angle. Gradually, Kitzbühel, the valley and surrounding mountains are revealed to us in all their glory.
There are no words to describe looking down a ski run like this, but when there is no snow you see obstacles that would normally be buried during the winter – making it look even more terrifying. I see a right angle bend by what seems to be a vertical drop that awaits the intrepid skier, only a few hundred metres from the start. If you miss it, I imagine you would be in danger of participating in some serious tree hugging.
As I mentioned already, once a year in early summer an event takes place here known as the Golf Streif. Rather than skiing, players take on the mighty slope with clubs and golf ball. Sports stars and amateur golfers alike pit their wits against this legendary run. Former skiers, such as downhill Olympic champions Fritz Strobl and Leonhard Stock, Hahnenkamm winners Marco Büchel and Didier Cuche experience the Streif from a different perspective as they make their way down to the valley armed with driver, iron and wedge to the cheers of the spectators.
Time is ticking and I still have more two more courses to visit. I must point out that I have not actually left the immediate vicinity of Kitzbühel – this area is rich with golfing opportunities. A short drive from here opens up even more possibilities to the intrepid golfer.
GOLF CLUB SCHWARZSEE. Schwarzsee is next on my list. It is located on the other side of the town to Eichenheim and about the same distance from the city centre. Again, as with all the courses I have visited, there is that stunning background of alpine mountains. From Schwarzsee it’s the Wilder Kaiser mountain range that loams large.
The course begins on the relatively flat area by the clubhouse before steadily progressing into the surrounding foothills. With a good mixture of hard and intriguing holes combined with some more forgiving ones, this is a good test for anyone.
At all points you are witness to those amazing views of the surrounding mountain peaks. Beware, you could feel the urge to break into song, ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’. For those of an aquatic nature, water comes into play on several holes while not scaring others who prefer not to risk too many watery graves.
RASMUSHOF GOLF & HOTEL. My final golf course, on the last day, is the Rasmushof Golf Hotel, with its attached nine-hole offering, conveniently located right at the bottom to the Streif run. Needless to say, the course provides the finishing hole for the intrepid Streif golfers.
During the winter ski season, it’s home to large numbers of spectators as well as film crews who set up camp during the ski events. It’s a small miracle that only a few weeks after the end of the ski season, the course is open and ready for play.
The hotel is the quintessential alpine residence, authentic and charming and having the course onsite is perfect for those who want to be able to play directly from the hotel.
KITZBÜHEL GOLF. I have visited four golf courses, two 18-hole and two nine-hole, a total of 54 holes without really leaving the town. And there are at least 30 other courses within a manageable distance.
I cannot for the life of me understand why there are no British golfers here. Are we so fixated with the usual suspects that we are unaware of other options? Possibly it’s because the likes of Spain and Portugal are easy sells for the golf tour operators and they can book large numbers. But then, that leaves the more interesting locations to the adventurer looking for something new.
The courses are stunning and the scenery is to die for. It may not be the Mediterranean, but on a sunny day, you will be glad for the shade of alpine trees and a cooling breeze coming off the mountains. You cannot guarantee sunshine 24/7 but you sure of good courses, wonderful hospitality and a holiday that you will remember for a long time.
History, culture, tradition and landscape all conjoin to create a fantastic location for golfing holidaymakers, whether with family of friends. Want to go somewhere different? Go to Kitzbühel.