New European golf getaways
The golfing world’s collective gaze will be fixed on the heart of Western Europe in September when the 44th Ryder Cup is contested at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club (golfmarcosimone.com). This year’s tournament marks only the third time that the prestigious event will be held in continental Europe. The destination is an effectively brand-new course set on the outskirts of Rome with a championship layout comprehensively redesigned and rebuilt in 2021 specifically for the Ryder Cup.
When Marco Simone enjoys its forthcoming 15 minutes of fame, the sport’s enthusiasts may realize (or remember) that great European courses aren’t limited to the British Isles. In fact, a handful of noteworthy courses have recently opened for play across Europe, most of which are easily accessible and all worthy of a visit.
The Dunas Course in Portugal
Later this summer, The Dunas Course (comporta.com) at Terras da Comporta opens for play, which means golfers can finally tee up on the links-like layout that was initially conceived 15-plus years ago. The course, positioned just off the southwestern coast of Portugal and designed by David McLay Kidd, was routed and shaped about a decade ago; however, the site’s former owners ran into fatal financial problems that mothballed the development until new owners resuscitated it in 2020.
In many respects, the opening of The Dunas Course is a return to the origins of a new era. The par-71, 7,168-yard layout represents McLay Kidd’s first creation in mainland Europe and showcases a design philosophy of fun, playable courses for all skill levels. The wide and inviting fairways ramble over a landscape that “tumbles and spills,” according to McLay Kidd. “If you’re an 18-handicap, you can play an entire round and not lose a golf ball. But if you’re a good, single-digit-handicap player, you’ll be seeing tight lines against native sandscapes that will give you the best angles into the greens.”
Located a half-mile east from the high-tide mark, the course meanders through rolling hills of soft sand and, says McLay Kidd, “it’s as close as you can get to the beach in Portugal these days [when building a golf course].” In fact, golfers can hear the surf crashing along the beach while putting on the 12th green. Yet the most compelling aspect of The Dunas Course is what’s underfoot. All playing areas (except the bentgrass greens) have been planted with fescue, which means the holes play firm and fast like a traditional links course. As McLay Kidd explains, The Dunas Course is the only layout in southern Europe to feature fescue-grassed terrain, and that’s the byproduct of the Portuguese coastline’s temperate climate. “The golf course becomes multidimensional because the ball bounces and rolls,” he says. “[On The Dunas Course], golf is no longer a game played only through the air.”
Costa Navarino in Greece
How and where you play shots through the air is at the core of the strategy for two new courses at Costa Navarino (costanavarino.com), a sprawling resort on the southern Grecian coast. The destination offers golfers the choice of four 18-hole signature courses with a maximum distance of 13 kilometers, including the Masters Champion José María Olazábal–designed layouts at Navarino Hills, which opened in February 2022. Overlooking the historic Bay of Navarino, the layouts cover 341 acres. “The International Olympic Academy Golf Course has the sea views with the ‘wow’ effect,” Olazábal says. “The Hills Course plays through the valley and inspires with the beauty of nature.”
Playing as long as 6,945 yards, the Olympic course is one that rewards accuracy more than distance. Although created with aspirations of one day hosting a Tour event, the course provides average players with plenty of room to miss, while the bunkers—although formidable in their appearance and placement throughout the course—are relatively shallow. Sea breezes can elevate the course’s difficulty, especially on the back nine, which plays along the edge of a cliff.
Golfers who implement sound strategy and are disciplined in their course management will be rewarded on The Hills Course, which maxes out at 6,836 yards. Positioned on the eastern side of the property, The Hills brings golfers past landscape features synonymous with the countryside—old olive trees, ancient rock walls, and steep-sided ravines that venture deep into the Kinigou Hills.
Bernardus Golf in the Netherlands
A drive through the Dutch village of Cromvoirt in southern Netherlands reveals a network of cobblestone streets connecting the commune’s various neighborhoods, still lit at night by gas-powered lanterns. Down the narrow lane of Deutersestraat is Bernardus Golf (bernardusgolf.com), a sophisticated and modern golf club that will host the KLM Open at the end of May.
Home to a heathland-style course designed by Kyle Phillips (the architect most famous for his work at Kingsbarns Golf Links in Scotland), the club developed three tracts of land previously utilized for farming. Scattered with rugged-edge bunkers and lined with native fescue grasses that grow tall and wispy during the summertime, the course’s natural aesthetic belies its youthfulness. In particular, Phillips made use of many fairway bunkers to broaden the playability of the course, while the site’s natural sandy characteristics allowed him to subtly manipulate the land, creating visually captivating rumples, texture, and contours. As much as the modern course shines for its timeless character, Bernardus Golf truly succeeds in its overall guest experience. From a chic lodge with a tennis court and swimming pool to a Michelin-starred restaurant and state-of-the-art golf and practice facilities, the property brings a cutting-edge style to a conventional region of the Old World. “It’s one of the best-kept secrets,” says Phillips, who explains that the Netherlands is home to several traditional golf clubs that are more rustic in their appearance. “That’s what makes Bernardus really different.”
Les Bordes Golf Club in France
Differences are at the core of the latest offering at Les Bordes Golf Club (lesbordesgolfclub.com), an exclusive French club located about a 2-hour drive south of Paris. There, on a site positioned about a half-mile west of the original clubhouse, Gil Hanse has created a 7,391-yard marvel, a course whose name seemingly contradicts each of its design characteristics. There’s nothing contemporary about the New Course’s aesthetic or the playing experience that the layout provides—Hanse intentionally tried to route and build fairways and greens into the sandy terrain, which reflects how today’s classic courses were created to replicate the way courses were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It’s a stark contrast to how Robert von Hagge designed and built the club’s Old Course during the 1980s, which was routed across a bog-like parcel of land that required fairways and green complexes to be built up. “The vegetation, sandy soils, pine trees—it’s just the total opposite character to what we have with the Old Course,” explains Jack Laws, the director of golf at Les Bordes. “[On the Old Course], it’s very much target golf, shots are really played through the air. The New Course is a different kettle of fish. The ball will bounce and release and skid across the fescue grass. So, we get these two strikingly different golf courses that are both great.”
Although exclusively private, Les Bordes is actively accepting new members. As Laws explains, the club is selective in who it accepts, but that’s only to say that Les Bordes is focused on adding members whom are experienced players and have a proficiency in the etiquette of the game. (This doesn’t mean you need to be a single-digit handicap to gain entry.) Prospective members who already possess a membership at a similar private club are ideal candidates.
Castiglion del Bosco in Italy
Up until recently, an exclusive membership was the only way you could tee it up at Castiglion del Bosco (golf.castigliondelbosco.com), Italy’s only private golf club, which is set in the Tuscan hills about 50 miles south of Florence. Although the course opened for play more than a decade ago, a recent arrangement with the prestigious Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco now allows guests staying in one of the resort’s 42 suites or 11 villas—the latter of which are restored 17th- or 18th-century farmhouses—to make advanced tee times during their stays.
Designed by the late Tom Weiskopf, the collection of golf holes blends into the gentle contours of the estate’s rolling hills and valleys, which makes the course look much older than it is. As Weiskopf once acknowledged, the conception of the course was an intimidating venture given that the sprawling property had remained untouched for at least 500 years. But the course architect quickly focused his attention on the landscape and let the beauty of the Italian countryside serve as his inspiration. “The best ingredients that we have here were around the golf course—these long-distance vistas,” Weiskopf once said. “We had to play down certain valleys; we had to play on ridges; we had great green locations, great changes of elevation here; and we tried to utilize those features into the golf course to make some of the holes pretty dramatic.” The upcoming Ryder Cup at Marco Simone will no doubt become a stage for a compelling golf drama—and golf travelers will assuredly get a thrill playing the Ryder Cup course for themselves. Within a three-hour drive from there, however, an enchanting encore at Castiglion del Bosco can be had for a round of golf and an overnight stay that are unparalleled across the Italian countryside. “You look forward to every moment here because it’s so peaceful,” Weiskopf said. “It’s one of the prettiest places—without a doubt, one of the most unique places—I’ve ever been.”