By John Dean
For most North American golfers, a trip over the ‘pond’ that is the Atlantic normally leads to Scotland, and rounds at St Andrews, Kingsbarns, and maybe a slice of Carnoustie.
But there is another way which I would like to champion, and that’s a golfing trip around Europe by train. OK, slip in a bit of Scotland if you must, and why wouldn’t you, but there is a great big golfing world to be savoured in what we Brits call Continental Europe.
As a Brit, and sometimes golf writer, I can be accused of being a bit UK centric, as between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, we are spoiled for choice – if not weather. But what with our recent political upheavals, and the environmental crisis, I have decided to step out and take the train to play golf around Europe.
So, what are my golf credentials for this trip? Well, back in the day, I helped launch a magazine called GolfPunk, which I believe did play some part in bringing golf kicking and screaming into the modern world. Sixteen long years on, and the brand is still going, but I am taking a break from it so I can focus on what I love doing most, which is travelling, playing golf, and writing about it.
I’ve therefore decided to travel through 9 different countries in Europe to play golf over the course of a whole month. And it will all be done by train, as I will use InterRail for my journey.
InterRail might not be familiar to most North Americans, but it is a simply brilliant concept, which has been in operation now for 48 years. It offers travellers a variety of passes that enable you to travel seamlessly around 33 countries of the European Union for set periods of time, from a week to a month, or even more.
For non-Europeans, which we will shortly become, there is the Eurail pass, which does the same thing. And in the course of my month on the permanent way, I meet lots of North Americans who were using Eurail passes, so the word is already out on the street, and it the way to go if you want to soak up Europe whilst the train takes the strain.
A month on the rails is a bit of daunting planning job, but there’s a fantastic App, which will help you seamlessly plot your way across Europe.
My travelling companion for the month will be a brand spanking new 100% waterproof Big Max Aqua golf bag, and golf bag holder, which is an all-in-one solution in so much as it can protect my treasured sticks, golf clobber, and clothing for my entire trip.
Golf shoes are also going to be mission critical, and I have a brand-new pair of box-fresh adidas spikeless shoes to try out. I think they are going to work well both on and off the course and provide comfort and style.
My first leg will take me from my hometown of Haywards Heath in West Sussex to Marseilles in one giant leap via London and Paris. If you’ve never been on a French TGV, then you are in for a treat, as it is superfast and will get you the 750 kilometres in just over 3 hours: OK, 3 hours and 24 minutes to be precise.
My publishing partner for this trip is leadingcourses.com, and you can read the first two parts of my journey here.
My mission for Day 2 of my trip is to get from Marseilles to Cannes, where I will be teeing it up at the legendary Royal Mougins. The two-hour train journey follows the coastline of the Cote D’Azure, so its blue skies and blue seas all the way.
Cannes is a stand-alone golf mecca in its own right. There’s Robert Jones JR’s Golf and Country Club de Saint-Donat, Robert Trent Jones SR’s Domaine de Barbossi, and the Old Course Cannes Mandelieu, which has an amazing ferry, which crosses the River Siagne from the third tee to the fourth.
There are 19 courses around Cannes according to Leadingcourses.com. And if you are a fan of Pete Dye, who recently died at the ripe old age of 94, there’s his course at Barbaroux, which is one of only three of his courses in Europe.
But back to the matter in hand and I am here to tee it up at Royal Mougins, which is a proper challenge, and you’ll need to bring you’re A Game for sure.
Here’s my take on this great course. https://www.leadingcourses.com/blog/interrail-golf-3-royal-mougins/
My next stop is Grosseto, and the Argentario Golf Resort & Spa on the Monte Argentario promontory in southwest Tuscany. This is a train journey of three parts, with changes on the French / Italian border at Ventimiglia, and then a change at the port city of Genoa.
Argentario has been in my travel sights for well over a year now, when I first starting following them on Instagram as they caught my eye with a stunning shot of the course, and I am excited to arrive as the sun begins to set over the distant Mediterranean Sea.
Here’s my take on this fantastic resort: https://www.leadingcourses.com/blog/interrail-golf-4-argentario/
I have now put 2,500 kilometers under my belt on the railways of the UK, France and Italy, and week one of my InterRail and golf adventure is now done.
Florence is just two hours by train from Grosseto and Argentario, so if you want to combine some golf with sightseeing, you’re in for a proper treat.
My nest destination is Switzerland, and the Engadine Valley, where I will be staying at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina, and playing at the home of Swiss Golf.
And to get there, I will be taking the unique Bernina Express, which is truly a ride of a lifetime.
Here’s my take on this fantastic part of the trip, which is a proper Worldie. https://www.leadingcourses.com/blog/interrail-golf-5-switzerland/
The next leg of my journey will take me through Austria, and my plan was to play what is widely regarded as the Number One Course in Austria, which is Adamstal. But in all honesty wires have been crossed, and I miss out on playing what is meant to be a legendary track. There’s a ton of golf to be played in Austria, with over 160 affiliated courses, and some 100,000 registered players, so you will be spoiled for choice.
With my missed appointment, I head onto Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, which was formerly part of Czechoslovakia, before the peaceful Velvet divorce way back now in 1993. Golf is still in its relative infancy in Slovakia, but there are twenty or so courses.
But then it’s time for more golf, and I am heading first to Hungary’s beautiful capital city of Budapest, before heading to Zala Springs in central Hungary, which is the work of Robert Trent Jones Junior no less.
Here’s my take on this great new resort. https://www.leadingcourses.com/blog/interrail-golf-6-austria-hungary/
The big news on the Czech golfing front is that Kyle Philips has just opened the first nine holes of the PGA National Course at the Oaks, and it’s just a 25 minute drive from the centre of Prague, which could add a new dimension to visiting this fabulous city.
Golf was first played in what is now the Czech Republic back in 1904, and there are upwards of a 100 courses to choose from, including the famous Royal Marianske Lazne, whose patron was King Edward IIV no less. It was also where Henry Cotton set the then course record of 68 back in the Thirties.
Here’s my take on the joys of golf in the Czech Republic. https://www.leadingcourses.com/blog/interrail-golf-7-czech-republic/
From the Czech Republic it is time to head through Germany, and onto Belgium. I am not playing golf in Germany, a country of 727 golf courses, as I don’t have a Platzreife licence, which you need to get onto a course in Germany. OK, so you can probably get on with a registered handicap certificate, but I am not carrying one, and therefore not risking it.
So, I am heading right through the heart of Germany to reach Belgium and Brussels, for the final leg of my journey. Belgium has come to new prominence as a golf destination, not least because it has started producing its own cohort of golfing stars, including Thomas Pieters, Thomas Detry, and Nicolas Colsearts, who won the 2019 French Open. Throw in fantastic Belgium beer, and great cuisine, and you have yourself one great golfing destination. Enjoy! https://www.leadingcourses.com/blog/interrail-golf-belgium/