Warm summers, stunning landscapes and a cluster of challenging courses make Austria’s southernmost state a left-field but genuine alternative to the crush of Spain and Portugal, says Duncan Lennard.
The unexpected joy of an unsung Austrian region.
Tell your fourball partners you are taking a golfing holiday to Austria and you can confidently expect at least one of them to ask if you might also be considering a skiing trip to Alicante.
A country the size of Scotland, Austria is of course renowned for its superb, western Tyrolean landscapes that offer some of Europe’s best snowsports. But as you move east and south, the Alps begin to peter out and the golf courses grow in number.
When Austria has shown up on the golf map it has tended to be in the country’s north east, around Vienna. European Tour venue Diamond CC, host to the Lyoness Open and June’s Shot Clock Masters, is just outside the capital, as is Fontana – at 78, the country’s only entry in Golf World’s ranking of continental Europe’s top 100 courses.
But further south, there is a golf hub that delivers the perfect antidote to the hustle of the Mediterranean. The southernmost state of Austria, Carinthia is a truly blessed part of Europe spanning Alpine foothills in the west, through ubiquitous and expansive forests and lakes to the lower Klagenfurt basin to the south east. Bordering Italy and Slovenia to the south, its climate and culture borrows more from the Mediterranean than the Germanic. Voted Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year by golf tour operators in 2017, its beautiful courses remain underplayed and underappreciated.
Carinthia’s layouts are scattered around
the Worthersee, a slender 10-mile strip of glittering turquoise and emerald, with water so clean you can drink it. Scanning the vivid, fir-clad Alpine slopes around the lake, you half-expect to see Steve McQueen bouncing around on a motorbike. Instead you’ll come across 12 golf courses offering variety and challenge, peace and space. That we suggest you pay it a visit is as clear as the waters. When you do, here’s everything you need to know.
The clubhouse at Millstatter See GC enjoys one of the best views in golf. Perched on the side of a mini-Alp, it looks across a beautiful lake which mirrors the facing snow-capped massif. Dots of clouds hang in the space in between, and at 3,000ft you don’t really have to look upwards to see them. Down below you is a velvet practice green, beyond which a rolling, shamrockgreen course stretches away.
And the pro that gets to work within this Carinthian tableau every day is a Yorkshireman. “This view stays with you,” says Paul Thompson. “Back home they wonder why I’ve chosen to base my career in Austria, but if they came here in summer they’d understand. We get the Italian weather so it’s almost always nice here, even up to 22 in September and October. The courses are perfect, and never crowded. And the air is so crisp, clean and clear. It’s just unbelievably beautiful.”
There are buggies to hire here, but it seems to defeat the object somewhat. Short and tight, Millstatter See is a gorgeous hike in a stunning setting and a classically fun holiday golf course, a time to take on your driver and the pin rather than a scorecard. The severe undulation means plenty of semi-blind shots, but that won’t stop you relishing the whole experience.
A half-hour’s drive from the Worthersee. Millstatter is one of three courses set up in the mountains that are well worth the trip. Just a few miles to the east, Bad Kleinkerchheim GC greets you with the definitive babbling brook, which runs alongside the path up to the clubhouse. Set near a main ski resort, this course takes the dramatic Alpine scenery up a notch. In truth it is more inspiring than the front nine, which sweeps up and down the valley without huge imagination; but this all changes on the back nine when the course suddenly changes character. A dizzying ski-run of a fairway greets you from the elevated 10th tee, before a cheeky little par 3 through the woods provides a delicious test. The superb dog-leg-right 12th takes you out of the trees, though the forested final two provide a merciless finale.
But if you only have the time or the legs to play one mountain golf course, make it Velden Kostenberg GC. Just a short drive north of the pretty lakeside town of Velden, its fantastic holes dart and weave through thick forest and sudden magical clearings, across dramatic elevations. Almost every hole gives you the opportunity to hit a shot you will remember. A walk in the park it ain’t, and after nine holes you might feel like you’ve played all 18. But push on through the pain and you’ll be rewarded with the memory of having had the definitive Alpine golf experience. In a region of peaks, this is a definite high point.
Bad Kleinkerchheim delivers a thorough test in stunning surroundings.