If you are a European based golfer then you tend to know which countries have a long-standing culture around the game of golf. The UK and Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany are all known to have a firmly established golf scene and indeed, many golfers take trips to these countries each year to sample their excellent courses.
Yet across Europe, golf is growing in popularity. In countries like Turkey and the Czech Republic, the game is undergoing a surge in popularity yet it is not just in terms of amateur players wanting to play that is driving up increasing numbers of golf courses. Many countries have realised that they can take advantage of their natural surroundings to give European golfers something different and that is certainly the case in Estonia.
Certainly, you would not describe Estonia as a hotbed of golf. The country, which has Finland, Latvia and Lithuania as neighbours, has a grand total of six golf courses, yet it has one of the top 100 courses in Europe based on its shores. Gorilla Golf’s Tommy Priest visited the country to play two of its courses this summer not knowing what to expect and came back enthusing about the quality of golf and the beautiful surroundings.
The first stop for Tommy on his whistle-stop golfing tour was the Estonian Golf and Country Club, which is home to two courses, the 17-hole Sea Course, one of the top 100 courses in Europe and the nine-hole Stone Course. Two very different courses contained within one fabulous golfing resort.
The Stone Course is very open, with juniper-lined fairways and hewn from the natural limestone base of the region. The course is located on a National Heritage Site and has considerately built the course to accentuate the positives many of its great features including burial mounds, ancient relics and ice-age rock formations. It’s open feel gives the course a very ‘British’ feel, akin to popular links courses especially those in Ireland.
It is the 18-hole Sea Course however that is the jewel of the crown. Situated on land adjacent to the Baltic Sea and the Jägala River, this Championship quality course has hosted a European Tour Qualifying event for the 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup and is a course that is sanctioned for use on the European Tour.
Tommy played his 18-holes in the summer and was delighted to find the weather was balmy, perfect for a round of golf by the sea. The course was in spectacular condition, with the holes running adjacent to the Baltic Sea a real treat.
The course proved a test too, over 7,000 yards from the back tees, and with cleverly constructed bunkering and abundant use of the local natural resources, such as pine forests, tracks, naturally formed ponds and the gently rolling landscape, it proved to be a superb test of golf. Indeed, golfers familiar with the rolling, undulating courses in Scotland’s Borders regions and around St. Andrews would not feel out of place here.
Having thoroughly enjoyed playing Estonian Golf and Country Club, Tommy then decided to try his luck at the very first golf course constructed in Estonia. Niitvälja Golf Course, which first opened in 1994, but was significantly redesigned in 2007.
Again, this is not an easy course. The course is a great one to enjoy walking as it is relatively flat with gently undulating fairways. The course measures 7011 yards from the back tees and once again, the course designers (Ake Persson and Peter Chamberline) took inspiration from the gentle hills and verdant lush countryside around them to create a course that is both sympathetic to the local environment, yet provides a real test for golfers of all abilities.
After a few enjoyable days in Estonia and two fabulous rounds of Golf, Tommy returned home with his bags and nothing but happy memories from his time in Estonia, vowing that he would like to go back there to explore a little more about this beautiful, emerging golfing nation.
Estonia Golf Factfile:
There are seven courses in Estonia, the furthest from Tallinn being a four-hour drive. The courses are:
- Niitvälja Golf Course (1994)– 18 Holes (30 minutes from Tallinn)
- Estonian Golf & Country Club (Stone Course opened in 2005, Sea Course opened in 2006,) – 27 Holes – (25 minutes from Tallinn)
- Saare Golf (2008) – 18 Holes (4 hours from Tallinn, located on the island of Kuressaare)
- White Beach Golf (2005) – 18 Holes (1 hour 30 minutes from Tallinn)
- Otepää Golf Centre (2008) – 18 Holes (3 Hours from Tallinn)
- Suuresta Golf (first nine Holes opened in 2004, second nine in 2008)– 18 Holes (20 minutes from Tallinn)
All courses listed operate the traditional rules regarding golf attire and have a wide range of facilities, practice areas, club shops etc as you would find in any other country.
Estonian golf is certainly an emerging market but it is a country that golfers seeking a new challenge should certainly look out for. With budget flights into Tallinn and great prices for golfing weekends, and as Tommy found out, you can find quality golf in spectacular surroundings at a fraction of the cost of other countries in Europe.
Images by EGCC