IF you have never considered making Austria the focal point for a golfing holiday then you are definitely missing out.
This is a country where you will find a generosity of spirit coupled with a particular hospitality which is very special.
Regional gastronomy is of an exceptionally high standard, as are most locally-produced wines, and bear in mind that an enviable percentage of Europe’s top chefs come from, or have trained in, Austria.
Skiing, walking and cycling are national pastimes in Austria, and golf is fast gaining ground after being initially slow to shake off an elitist mantle, back when many clubs did not welcome visitors.
Over the past 10 years, a number of golf courses have quickly sprung up as an adjunct to winter alpine resorts, effectively extending the tourism season, and tour operators and hoteliers alike have become keen to promote combined golf and wellbeing packages linked to a stay at any one of the large number of excellent spa and wellness hotels – an enviable combination during late spring, summer or early autumn.
Without doubt, the beautiful city of Salzburg should feature when combining sightseeing with golf in Austria.
Having easy access from the nearby airport, and being well-served by both international and charter airlines, should encourage spending a few days in Mozart’s birthplace.
Make sure you allow sufficient time to wander around this enchanting baroque city, which straddles both banks of the river Salzach from which it takes its name.
And, of course, moving south there is Salzerburgerland – a golf paradise where there are 16 courses ranging between training academies, relaxed nine-hole facilities and challenging 18-hole courses. In fact, something to suit every golfer, but with one thing very much in common – the privilege of playing golf against a matchless backdrop of the lakes and mountains of the region in a national park, at the foot of a glacier and in a protected nature area.
If you were to follow the course of the river Salzach south from Salzburg, you would automatically come to the pretty town of Zell, situated on a peninsula in the lake, which is famous and extremely popular as both a summer and winter sports resort.
This has to be one of the most beautiful holiday regions in Austria and makes an attractive centre from which to play two championship courses just 10 minutes away. In Kitzsteinhorn there is a par 73, and there is Schmittenhohe, a par 72, course at Zell’s Golf Club.
The former takes its name from the clearly-visible glacier and the latter from the nearby mountain, said to be the alpine peak with the best views and well-worth the time it takes to visit by suspension railway.
Both courses are flat parkland crisscrossed by water features and surrounded by the breathtaking panorama of the High Tauern mountain range.
A welcoming clubhouse incorporates all the usual changing and catering facilities, and somewhere to enjoy a tasty snack. And the club hosts several tournament and social events during the course of the year and – space permitting – green fee players are more than welcome.
The town is peppered with a wide variety of excellent hotels and guest houses, among which you will find MaVida Balance Hotel and Spa, with 47 specially-designed rooms and suites.
About an hour away to the west you come to the town of Kitzbuhel. Golfers may not realize that, not only are there some 30 golf clubs within a 100k radius of this world-famous ski resort, but there are four right on the doorstep.
Two are 18-hole – Kitzbuhel-Swarsee-Reith and Eichenheim – and two are nine – Golf-und Landclub Rasmushof and GC Kitzbuhel.
Kitzbuhel Swarsee-Reith is a par 72 18-hole layout tucked away among soft, rolling hills between Hahnenkamm, Schwarzsee and the mountain range of Wilde Kaiser.
The first nine holes are more or less flat, with groups of bushes, trees, lakes and ditches providing natural hazards. The back nine (on the other side of the river) are hillier.
There is breathtaking scenery all around and the inevitable attraction provided from extremely fashionable Kitzbuhel, nearby.
The Hotel Cordial Golf and Wellness in Reith provides an enviable alternative to staying in town. The hotel is comfortable, well-run and friendly, and there is an apparently endless range of outdoor activities available nearby, quite apart from golf, which reception are only too happy to schedule.
Accommodation ranges from the main building to a group of attractive chalets within the gardens.
Eichenheim is a par 71 layout and is considered one of Austria’s most outstanding courses.
Designed by American course designer Kyle Philipps and set in idyllic surroundings, the aesthetic variety in the lay-out is what sets it apart and makes this a tremendous and unforgettable test of golfing skill.
The course is not overly long off the championship tees, but nature herself conspires to provide a degree of difficulty which demands accurate club selection and shot making.
A light, airy and extensive clubhouse is designed to complement its scenic situation and connects by a passageway with the adjacent and magnificent Grand Tirolia Golf and Ski Resort, which opened in late 2009 and provides a new dimension in discreet hotel luxury.
A comprehensive range of information on Austria is provided throughout by both national and regional tourist boards and the various entities themselves, and a variety of golf packages are widely available, as are golf passes.