Go Golfing: Costa Navarino, Greece
One of the more difficult things in life for the golfing traveller with a non golfing partner is where to go on holiday. Unless one has found a latter-day Mother Theresa crossed with the less combative elements of St Joan of Arc, the chances of disappearing off to the links for a five-hour sojourn on a regular basis during the family holiday generally provides two chances, and invariably slim has just left town.
Which is just one of the reasons that Costa Navarino on the south west side of the Greek Peloponnese makes such sound sense, and do forget all those horror stories you will have read in the press about the Greek economy and being unable to get your hands on any cash.
Tourist numbers may be down at the two glorious hotels available overlooking Navarino Bay, but your charge card is welcome everywhere so you do not need to take suitcases full of euros with you. And there are two glorious golf courses to enjoy that, provided you get an early start or else play later in the day, will comfortably see you round in four hours while admiring some of the most sublime coastal views to be found anywhere in Europe.
And during the time that you are away, your partner can either enjoy some fantastic spa treatments, or a game of tennis or take a cab down into one of the nearby villages of Gialova or Pylos to explore. A trip around the crescent shaped Navarino Bay, embarking from Pylos, is a delightful way to spend an afternoon, as is a trip to the historic fort perched up on the hillside.
And for us golfers, we must decide which of the two lush and beautifully manicured courses we should play first, as we must play them both. It is probably best to start with the Dunes course, designed by Bernhard Langer fronting a team with European Golf Design’s Ross McMurray behind him.
The development of the 18-hole course involved the movement of hundreds of tons of earth and the import of some 16,000 mature olive trees — some over 1,000 years old. Now, as one walks the undulating fairways between clumps of coarse sea grasses, orange groves and those gnarled old olives on a gently sloping hillside, the Dunes looks as if it has been here for years.
It is the perfect holiday resort course at 6,600 yards off the tips and lots of forward tee positions with generously wide fairways to allow the high handicapper to get round without losing dozens of balls, yet with the prevailing sea breeze, enough cavernous, well-placed sand bunkers and large raised greens with fiendish undulations to keep even the most demanding single figure handicappers happy too.
Certainly the front nine on the Dunes offers the toughest stretch of golf on either course, although there are sufficient bailout areas not to depress the less talented player. The only downside is that the two luxurious Starwood-owned hotels dominate the surroundings.
This is certainly not the case at the Bay course, designed by Robert Trent Jones junior and Bruce Charlton, which is the shorter of the two, at 6,400 yards, although the more breathtaking, not only for the views but also some precipitous climbs that take us up to the 10th and 11th holes.
Despite opening in 2011, there is still only a temporary clubhouse with what will be the opening hole, a long downhill par 4 to the bay currently playing as the 13th. This leads to a tough opening hole where we have to tee off across a large and intimidating lake.
Trent Jones took the course through three different landscapes: seaside, canyon — where we can be teeing off from rocky outcrops — and grove, where we are back among the centuries-old olive trees that were first domesticated in this part of Greece.
What is most remarkable about such a young course is how remarkably well-bedded in the greens and fairways are. The latter are blemish free with not a divot mark to be seen, while the greens are firm and true yet still providing some subtle, even waspish, breaks as we found on the Dunes course.
And standing on the elevated tee of the par-3, 123- yard 11th, with a gentle sea breeze blowing in off the bay, there are few better views in golf, unless of course you happen to hole your tee shot. And that dear reader is just what I did; making an already perfect morning just that little bit better.