Prague attracts millions of tourists every year, lured to the city by its stunning architecture ranging from Gothic and Baroque to Renaissance and Art Nouveau.
Sprawling narrow streets in the ‘City of a Thousand Spires’ meander like tributaries before bursting open onto squares bordered by medieval-looking homes and historical buildings.
The city’s allure is obvious, but it is likely that many golfers have visited without realising that they were at the centre of an area that includes 18 courses, some old and some new, within a 40-mile radius and a further two within 50.
Indeed, it is probable that a high proportion of them are not even aware that the Czech Republic has any golf courses, as following my first visit there 12 years ago I was greeted with a surprised: ‘You’ve been on a golfing trip to where?”
Then there were 70 courses, the first built at the start of the 20th century, and there has been a 50 per cent growth in numbers since 2006. The Czech Republic offers itself as a diverting alternative to Spain and Portugal, usually regarded as the twin peaks for European golfers wishing for a change of scenery and climate.
A three-day visit afforded time to visit five of the 20 layouts within Central Bohemia, a large enough sample to reinforce the view that as good as golf is on the Algarve and throughout Spain, they need not always be the go-to targets.
Golfers with an interest in tournament golf will probably be aware of one of the Czech Republic’s prominent courses, Albatross Golf Resort, which since 2014 has hosted the European Tour’s Czech Masters. It is always a bonus to walk in the footsteps of elite players and Albatross, just 30 minutes from Prague and 20 minutes from Prague Airport, is enhanced by this aspect.
A relatively flat track, it was voted No 1 course in the Czech Republic by Golf Digest in 2012 and presents a lengthy challenge punctuated with some large bunkers and water hazards. The severely undulating greens are a test in themselves, but they are true and immaculate and the competent putter will enjoy their challenge.
Beroun Golf Club, under 20 miles from Prague, was our first golfing port of call where, it should be noted, prior reservation of a tee-time is required. It provides two disparate outward and inward nines.
The front nine, very open, is like a boxer who throws their arms wide open and asks you to take your best shot, you can be spectacularly wild off the tee on some holes, but care is required because many holes feature water hazards. Beroun’s back nine is tree-lined and more akin to a boxer who is inclined to clinch their opponent in an attempt to prevent a fusillade of blows. Only the most accurate will be taking a driver regularly off the tee.
Loreta Golf Club Pysely, situated just over 20 miles from Prague, was designed by Keith Preston, the man responsible for Albatross. Here he was dealing with hilly terrain and the result is a course on which you should take time between shots to admire the picturesque setting.
Unlike Albatross, you will not be required to be at your best distance-wise off the tee, but many holes will test your ability at contending with sidehill, uphill and downhill lies.
There are some lengthy walks between tees and the provision of a buggy was welcomed, but plenty of people were to be found walking the course, exercising their bodies as well as their minds when confronted by some blind tee shots and severe dog-leg holes that place a premium on strategy.
Golf Resort Konopiste is a further 10 miles from Prague than Loreta, and offers three courses – two 18-hole tracks and a nine-hole course useful for practice. We played the D’Este course, an undulating layout that is particularly memorable for the closing hole on each half. The ninth is a short par-4 at 336 yards and all downhill with the second shot hit to an island green, not dissimilar in looks to Sawgrass’s famous 17th hole although on a much smaller scale. To avoid the water and find the green with your approach shot is deeply satisfying.
The 18th is a risk and reward hole, again downhill but requiring an arrow-straight drive that – if long enough – will find its way between narrowing rows of trees to be thrown down a chute of fairway and end up somewhere close to the green. The more timorous will eschew use of the driver and plump for placement off the tee.
Panorama Golf Resort, 40 miles away from Prague, gives you a clue as to what to expect in its name, so too the titles of its three nine-hole layouts: Forest, River and Meadow. We played the first two.
The Forest, after a sedate start, climbs high into the hills and then steers the golfer back down to clubhouse level through a series of holes where you can be held hostage to capricious bounces off fairways that appear, in parts, to have been used to bury elephants with the use of a very small shovel, producing shallow graves.
It is a golfing equivalent of a roller-coaster ride and is particularly spectacular at the par-3 7th, which offers a stunning view and a green some 30 yards below the white tee, making the choice of club from any of its tees part mathematical equation, part luck.
The River nine starts with a steeply plunging par-4 hole and leads to a set of holes through which a river meanders, making placement of tee shots and the fairway a test of skill and nerve.
If the Czech Republic is not currently on your list of possible golfing destinations, it should be added.
Chris Stratford is a member of the International Golf Travel Writers’ Association.
He stayed at the Lindner Hotel Prague Castle, Golf & Spa Resort Konopiště and Spa Hotel Felicitas at Poděbrady.