So you fancy yourself a golfer, do you? Whether you´re an amateur or a seasoned pro, if you have not found your way onto a golf course in the beautiful Czech Republic, you’re missing quite an experience. With the golf boom in this country at its peak, and breathtaking landscape all around, more beautiful courses are being built all the time and there has never been a better time to discover these gems, unless you have something against strolling by a 16th century castle while looking for your ball. As a recent winner of the undiscovered golf destination of the year award from IAGTO, the Czech Republic may not have worldwide recognition yet, but clearly the experts have seen its growth and potential. So let us help you discover all you need to know to start playing golf in this country.
Before you go out to play your first round of golf, you will need to be registered with the Czech Golf Federation. The completion of an application (found on their website) with your handicap and a fee of 3000 CZK will gain you a registration card for the current calendar year and place you in the CMR (central mimoklubové registration). The CMR is an online database of registered golfers used to keep track of relevant statistics such as your handicap or tournament results, as well as assist in the collection of registration fees. With this application you will need to provide documentation of your handicap in the form of a previous golf test record or foreign membership card. If you lack this documentation, or a handicap altogether, don´t worry. All you have to do is take a practical 9-hole test (formerly called the ‘green card test’ and now known as Handicap 54) with a qualified instructor followed by a short written test on the rules and etiquette of the game. The price for this will vary depending on the experience level of your instructor, but should come in around 1000 CZK. In the past, this test has been much more difficult to pass, but new rules aimed towards streamlining the instructors as well as raising the required handicap from 36 to 54 have enabled many more newcomers to this great game to flourish while playing here.
That completes your registration if you do not wish to become a member of a particular golf club. However, it is recommended to find a club to join, as not only can they assist with your registration, but this will also open the door for better rates at many of the other beautiful courses around the country. Many clubs have very reasonable annual membership fees starting as low as 3000 CZK. If a more prestigious membership is what you´re looking for, they can be had for around 100,000 CZK.
Now that you´re a registered golfer here, you need to make sure and look the part. The dress code for golf in the Czech Republic is very similar to what you would expect at any private club. You should always wear a collared shirt and golf shorts or slacks. Keep away from denim and metal spikes. It may be a little more conservative than what you would find at public courses elsewhere, but it stems only from a proper respect for the game.
Now you´re dressed for success and registered, so let´s give you some ideas about where to play. As recently as 1989 there were only 5 courses available to choose from, but following the huge political changes of that year and the arrival of foreign investors, major developments in golf courses began and continue to this day: from 5 courses in ´89 to 35 in 2000 to 90+ available now. Quite a golf boom indeed.
Let´s start with Karlštejn Golf Resort (Běleč 272), which is a short 30-minute drive outside Prague. Widely accepted as one of the most beautiful courses in Bohemia, the resort spreads over a wooded and hilly countryside and provides the awe-inspiring backdrop of Karlštejn Castle, the majestic castle of the Czech kings. This 27-hole course has a unique terrain including a natural gully, and provides a stern physical test for those walking the course. If you want a true Czech golf experience, leave the cart behind. In a country that has the highest percentage of players carrying their bags you will be treating the sport as the physical challenge it was intended to be (don´t worry, carts are available). Due to its quality, green fees are on the pricier side at 3000 CZK on a weekend, but deals are available at only 1200 CZK on a Monday-Wednesday morning tee time.
Karlštejn is also the setting for the prestigious Pilsner Urquell Golf Cup, which takes place this year on May 21st. This fabulous event put on by Pilsner is for amateurs and provides the winner with a trip to The Open Championship at Royal St. George (July 16 – 18, 2011). It also includes accommodation at the luxurious 5-star Hotel Savoy, VIP access to the tournament, and a Pilsner Urquell welcome dinner. Among the other prizes are golf equipment and attire from names like Titlelist and Callaway, as well as kegs of the world-famous Pilsner Urquell beer which should help you get over missing out on the trip to the British Open. Entry to the tournament is only 2900CZK and must be completed by May 5th. To find out more log on to the Pilsner Urquell website.
If you´re looking for golfing opportunities in Prague, there are five courses with which to challenge yourself. Black Bridge (Národních hrdinů 891) is the newest course in Prague with the first five holes opening in November 2010. Starting in May 2011 seven holes will be available with the back nine completed in mid-July 2011. It provides a great opportunity to see the golf boom in the flesh as well as an option early in the season if you don´t have time for a full round. The five holes can be played for a very reasonable 250 – 350 CZK.
If you´re looking for a full 18 holes within the city limits, you should go to Zbraslav at Prague City Golf Club (K Radotínu 15). The course was designed by Alex Čejka, a top Czech golf pro and 3-time winner on the PGA tour and opened in 2009. The red sand areas in the fairways provide an appealing aesthetic not commonly found in the Czech Republic and the large, wavy greens provide a stern test. A full 18 can be played for between 900 – 1800 CZK.
Golf Club Hostivař (Hornoměcholupská 565) is a 9-hole course found in the middle of the city and is very well-lit, making it perfect for an after work round that finishes as the sun sets. The course also provides 3 “B” options allowing for a 12-hole round if you have a little more time to enjoy yourself and comes with a very reasonable price of 800 CZK.
Motol at Golf Club Praha (Plzeňská 402/1) is one of the oldest courses in the country and is run by the oldest golf club. It is only 9 holes but is considered one of the most challenging courses and would be most appreciated by experienced golfers who can cope with its narrow fairways and small greens.
Finally, we come to Hodkovičky (Vltavanů 982), which has beautiful views of the Vltava River and the spectacular Vyšehrad complex, as well as numerous water traps and large modeled greens to keep your eyes on the course. This 9-hole course requires a handicap of 45 or below, but, if you qualify, their summer greens are used year-round and the course only closes when the temperature falls below zero, making it a great late-season option.
Although we are focused on detailing places to play in and around Prague, it would be a crime to not mention the two oldest courses in the Czech Republic for those that appreciate the history of the game as much as playing it. Karlovy Vary (Pražská 125) and The Royal Golf Club at Mariánské Lázně were opened in 1904 and 1905, respectively. Both are 18-hole courses with Karlovy having undergone extensive renovations in 2009 making it one of the more prestigious European golf destinations while Mariánské maintains the same charm it had when opened by King Edward VII, leading to it receiving the best rating of any course in the country in the category of aesthetic impression. Be sure and check out both if given the opportunity.
If you enjoy watching golf as much as you do playing it, look into attending an event on the Pilsner Urquell United PGA Tour. The symbol Czechs proudly associate with their top beer will also lead you to the best golf to be found anywhere throughout the country in both course quality and competition. The connection between Pilsner and top golf has existed since 2001, and in 2009 they became a general partner of the Czech Professional Golf Series, leading to an improved tour with between 10 and 12 tournaments annually. Starting out with the Prague Golf Open in early May, right through to the 1,000,000 CZK purse available at the Casscade Grand Finale in Brno in mid-October, the opportunity to watch top pro golf here in the Czech Republic is provided with great assistance from Pilsner. Something for you golf fans to think about next time you´re ordering a pint.
Pilsner also provides an online golf academy for those of you looking for tips and lessons to improve your game all free of charge. The lessons and videos are put together by Oldřich Nechanický, a Czech pro who has twice been rated the top golf instructor by a popular golf magazine. Another way to improve your game without making it out to a course would be to head down to the Erpet Golf Center (Strakonická 2860/4) in Prague 5. With everything from a two-story driving range, a 6-hole course for tightening up your short game, to the four FSG simulators, it will keep you busy. Also provided is an instructional course which concludes with the test and certification required to be registered with the CGF.
Now that we´ve established what to do and where to go, the only thing left is action. Whether you find yourself registering at the golf club of your choice or starting off by simply registering down at the Erpet Golf Center for their certification course, opportunities abound in front of you. The season is in full swing, the sun is out and tee times are available. What are you waiting for?