It might be regarded as the No. 2 course at Greek resort Costa Navarino, but Chris Bertram believes it is one of Continental Europe's most scenic venues
To those of a certain age, the name Costa Navarino recalls one of the great but under-rated Second World War films. ‘The Guns of Navarone’ is not revered to the same heights as The Great Escape, but with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven, a fine narrative and a majestic setting, it has much merit.
Adapted from Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel, the essence of the tale – for any unfortunate readers who haven’t seen the film – is that a pair of huge German guns set into cliffs on the island of Kheros are preventing Allied ships from passing through a narrow stretch of water in the Aegean Sea.
The film was actually shot on the island of Rhodes, which is nowhere near the southern Peloponnese beauty spot of Navarino Bay, where the aforementioned eponymous golf resort is located.
But as you play the short 4th hole on Costa Navarino’s Bay course, your mind can’t help but picture Peck and his small team causing mayhem for the hundreds of German soldiers on Kheros, for there is a slim finger of water between the town of Pylos and a rocky island that echoes the one in the film.
When I played the 4th there was even a boat sitting by the green that was identical to the one Quinn escapes in (or does he…?) after the raid.
Anyway, if this long-winded introduction has done nothing else, I hope the retro talk of a glistening bay, desirable boats, rocky cliffs and breathtakingly beautiful islands has given a sense of the picture-postcard nature of the setting.
Because its location is patently the outstanding aspect of the Bay course. Whereas some courses have one awe-inspiring hole that is photographed and reproduced so widely that you think the whole course is like that, Costa Navarino’s Bay course could have as many as 15 of them.
That is not an exaggeration. There are only three holes that have no proper view at all of the Bay, and several that play alongside it or directly to the edge of it. It is essentially hole after hole of ‘hero shots’.
So while its sister course the Dunes – which has a couple of breathtaking holes of its own – has gained much of the plaudits since they opened a year apart at the start of the decade, the Bay might well live longer in the memory of most golfers.
One of Europe’s most spectacular
It deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Pevero on Sardinia, Sperone on Corsica, Bro Hof Slott in Sweden, Lykia Links in Turkey and West Cliffs in Portugal. Only somewhere like Lofoten in Norway is definitely more spectacular in Continental Europe.
Setting is clearly not everything in the appeal of a golf course, but to many it is the most important factor and thus the Bay’s enormous allure is a key attraction for resort as a whole.
Costa Navarino was created by Vassilis Constantakapoulos, whose working life began as a deck hand and ended with him owning a shipping company as well as extensive property development interests.
Known simply as ‘The Captain’, Constantakapoulos resolved to build a high-calibre dream resort above the golden sands of Navarino Bay, yet without ruining the breathtaking beauty of the Messinia area.
Dream became multi-million pound reality in 2010, with the two golf courses but one attraction of a resort that has two hotels of spectacular luxury – the Westin and Romanos – a myriad restaurants, a water park, several pools, its own section of gorgeous beach, a superb spa, and extensive leisure activities. The characterful village of Gialova and the aforementioned historic port of Pylos are also on your doorstep waiting to be explored, but most will feel there is enough within the resort to never leave it until it is time to fly home.
While the Dunes course, by Bernhard Langer and European Golf Design’s Ross McMurray, is located 100 yards from the Westin hotel, the Bay course is 15 minutes’ drive along the coast.
It was designed by the famous American architect Robert Trent Jones Jnr and opened in 2011, so has perhaps always been playing catch-up with its sister. But as impressive as the Dunes is, it’s not hard to imagine a time when it overtakes the slightly older sibling in popularity and prestige.
The Bay is a distinctly more forgiving course – with notably wider playing corridors – than the Dunes, and that friendliness starts with the opening par 4. It plays around the corner of lake but there is plenty of room to thump it up the left and the approach a green that you think it quite funky…until you see the one that follows.
The picture-perfect par 3
The 2nd is played towards the bay so the backdrop can take away some of the pain if you make a mess of things on and around this really sporty green with steep run-offs.
Then comes an archetypal picture-perfect par 3 towards the bay before quite a lengthy buggy ride (even for a confirmed walker like me, the Bay needs a buggy) to get to the aforementioned 4th. Your time on the buggy is however spent driving right along the along beach, so it’s hardly tedious. The second of the back-to-back par 3s, where boats bob metronomically on the slither of water between Pylos and the Navarone-esque rock, offers a lovely view of town as it plays parallel to the bay. You can easily slip into water here, yet bailing out to the left will leave you in a deep hollow from which chipping, towards the water, is a nervy affair.
The uphill 5th is, relatively speaking, a bit of a slog but permits a tremendous view from the shelf green back down to the bay. The slope is so steep that fairway is tiered so that if you don’t get onto green you will tumble way down onto one of these ‘steps’ rather than right back where you started.
Now you turn round and play back down the hill but any feeling of tedious monotony is soothed by the view towards the bay, plus the weather and the playability that will likely see you putting together a nice score.
It’s soon back to all-world par 3s anyway, this one alongside the bay, and with one of the smallest and funkiest greens on the course.
The next three head up and downhill, with the view from the top of the 10th spectacular. A largely inland par 3 at 11 is still immensely pretty and even though it is one of the less awe-inspiring holes it also occurs where that there is no housing to spoil any of this uncommon aesthetic appeal.
The 13th is the fifth short hole in the collection of seven – and believe me, you never think you’ve played too many par 3s here – and is notable for offering not even a glimpse of the coast…yet this drop par 3 of no more than 123 yards is wonderful fun anyway.
Consecutive threes come on the card at 15 and 16 too, the latter like the 13th offering no bay view but being a super one-shot hole in any case. The penultimate hole is also inland yet is one of the best holes on the course, a sporty, well-bunkered short par 4 to a small, undulating green.
The climax appropriately has a majestic bay panorama as you feel able to open your shoulders from the elevated tee. A decent drive will open up the chance of a closing birdie on this relatively short par 5, which although only offers a small gap through which to see the coast, it’s unlikely you will have felt short-changed about the views here.
Instead, it’s much more likely you’ve been totally seduced by the setting of one of Continental Europe’s most scenic courses.