During a recent ‘road trip’ to Germany, beginning in Berlin and travelling the length of the country before ending up in Bavaria, Public Relations Manager Peter Driver, took the opportunity for a stopover at the Hartl Resort in Bad Griesbach.
Claiming to be the largest golf and thermal health and beauty spa resort in Europe, he ignored the health and beauty part to concentrate on its numerous golf courses.
The host for my German road trip was John Moore, a British-born, ex-RAF technician who is Managing Director of Ransomes Jacobsen’s distributor, Golf Tech, based in Munster, Westphalia in the north west of the country.
We began our tour near Berlin at Berliner Golf and Country Club Motzener See, then drove north towards Rostock on the Baltic coast to visit Winston Golf, before heading south to Bavaria, where en-route we stopped off at Hartl Resort Bad Griesbach.
For the past 40 years Alois Hartl has been the driving force behind the development of this impressive resort. After graduating from the grammar school at Ettal Benedictine monastery he studied law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich and became a lawyer. In 2005 he joined forces with internationally renowned financier and investor
Dr Hans-Dieter Cleven and the Bad Griesbach project received the final impetus to become the world-class resort it is today.
The group owns three hotels at the resort, the five-star Maximillian and the two four-star Das Ludwig and Furstenhof hotels. All feature excellent cuisine, sport and fitness centres and first-class health and beauty facilities utilising the natural thermal springs which abound in the area.
However, probably the main attraction is the range of golf on offer, unparalleled anywhere else in Europe. Five 18-hole championship courses, three 9-hole courses, and two 6-hole practice courses make up the golf offering at the Hartl Resort, integrated into the rolling landscape of Bavaria, 150 kilometres east of Munich. That’s a total of 129 holes of golf with three courses designed by Bernhard Langer and all constructed by Kurt Rossknecht, one of the most prolific
golf course architects in Germany.
Ranging from the almost mountainous to the completely flat, there is enough variety to test every level of golfing enthusiast. Add to this the Golfodrom, a practice facility to help all levels of golfer perfect their game and you have the perfect venue for a golfing sojourn.
The Courses Manager
Hermann Freudenstein is the Group Golf Courses Manager and has been with the owning company, Hartl Investments, since the beginning of the golf course development back in 1986. He previously worked for an architectural practice and has a technical engineering background.
Back then, the original golf facility had a clubhouse but no course and Hermann was asked by Herr Hartl if he could build it. With absolutely no practical experience, but with a modicum of confidence and his engineering background, he completed the project. Once construction was complete, the course needed to be maintained, so Hermann was given the job of Head greenkeeper because of his family farming background.
From these humble beginnings the resort has grown to become the largest in Europe and Hermann has grown his job responsibilities to match. With the initial course to manage, he studied at the Kempen training school for greenkeepers and obtained the qualifications to further his career.
Long standing association with E-Z-GO
The resort has a long association with E-Z-GO, the US-based manufacturer of golf cars and small utility vehicles, which began at the German Open in Stuttgart some 24 years ago. Through Bernhard Langer’s brother Ein, Hermann was introduced to the president of E-Z-GO and that resulted in a direct order being placed on Augusta for their first buggies. They arrived in a container
and were assembled at the resort; the initial delivery featured petrol engines, but in 1996 the decision was taken to switch to electric.
The resort is located in four distinct areas: Brunnwies, Lederbach, Uttlau and Penning. Today they have 113 of the latest RXV golf cars, all electric and complete with an on-board battery filling system, golf bag covers and turf saver tyres. They are also road homologated as they need to use the local road system in the area to move around the courses. 29 are located at Brunnwies, 33 at Lederbach, 28 at Uttlau and 33 at Penning.
The Caddy Masters at all courses are responsible for the daily maintenance and fleet rotation and at the time of visit back in April 2014, the golf cars are hired out at Euro 30 per round, which is included in the green fee. The Brunnwies and Lederbach courses are particularly undulating and the golfers are encouraged to use the carts.
“We are very happy with the performance of these cars,” Hermann said, “the braking system that allows the vehicle to be safely stopped on a hill without touching the brake pedal is an excellent safety feature and there’s absolutely no roll-back when you eventually pull away again. It’s a clever system and we can alter the response of the cars for the type of course they are on. For example, we might restrict the speed of the cars on the hilly courses for safety reasons and allow faster speeds at the flatter ones.”
The golf courses
This initial conversation with Hermann took place in the clubhouse at the Brunnwies course, which is situated north west of the town of Bad Griesbach, and marked the beginning of our tour of this huge facility.
“Brunnwies was the first course at the resort to be designed by Germany’s former Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer,” he said. “It has been integrated into the rural surroundings here in the Rott Valley and has stunning views of the woodlands that are a feature of this area in Lower Bavaria.
“It has many undulating greens that provide a real test for the golfers. The 11th hole is a typical example, where we can place the pin on any one of three different levels. The course also has extensive rough and although the ball can usually be found, it does encourage careful tee shots.”
As we were climbing into Hermann’s gleaming white Audi A5, he pointed out the 6-hole Chervò Junior Golf Course, which sits up the hill from the first fairway.
“This is exclusively reserved for children visiting the Golf Resort Bad Griesbach,” he said, “and is the ideal course for them to learn the rules of golf and golf etiquette, while having fun.
“You can also see the Junior Golf Park; it’s a 3,000 square metre facility where the youngsters can practice coordination, flexibility, balance, and reaction. It opened in 2013 and also caters for other sports such as football, hockey and various other ball games. During the recent Easter holiday we had nearly 100 children booked into the kinder golf school and the primary aim is to ensure they have fun.”
Our next stop as we drove closer to the town of Bad Griesbach, was the small village of Uttlau. The 18-hole course comprises of areas of flat land, some hills, some water surrounded by fruit trees and the village in the centre, making this a delightful championship course. The large greens make considerable demands on a golfer’s putting talents, but getting to the greens means negotiating a combination of rising fairways and water hazards. The par 5, 18th hole takes you directly back into the village of Uttlau with fine views of this part of the region, which is known as the ‘Bavarian Tuscany’.
After taking some reference photographs it was back into the car and a short drive south to the centrepiece of the golf resort, the Golfodrom, which opened in 1990 and provides the ideal environment for golfers of any level to train and hone their skills. This is a massive training facility and bigger than France’s Ilbarritz International Golf Training Centre in Barritz that I visited a couple of years ago.
“We are very proud of this facility,” Hermann confided and then reeled off the statistics. “We have three 9-hole and two 6-hole golf courses, 210 tee areas, of which 109 are under cover and 21 are heated, two pitching and chipping areas, one 18-hole indoor putting green, and one 72-hole putting green outdoors. The Golfodrom provides a practice capacity for more than 500 people simultaneously.
“Currently, we have more than 30 golf professional here at what has to be Europe’s largest golf school. In addition, the associated shop in the Golfodrom offer a large variety of golf clubs, bags, shoes, clothing and trollies. We also have an affiliated fitting centre, staffed by specialists, which ensures that the golfers can purchase the best fitting equipment.
“In addition, we have the Hartl Resort Golf Academy, which provides professional coaching covering all aspects of the game including biomechanical and anatomical functionality, the psychology surrounding the game; everything that could enhance an individual’s playing skills.”
As Hermann stated, within the confines of the Golfodrom are three 9-hole golf courses. These courses are ideal for beginners who can perfect their game in a relaxed atmosphere before progressing to one of the championship courses. The Jagl and Pfeiffer courses comprise all par-3 holes, but the Engled also features par-4 options, with holes ranging in length from 75 to 195 meters.
The Pfeiffer is the shortest course and with a maximum length of 139 metres is primarily reserved for the professionals of the Hartl Resort Golf Academy and their students, who can practice their game on this golf course.
The Jagl is more undulating with more slopes, water hazards and bunkers coming into play. The shortest distance to master is 57 meters while the longest hole measures 195 metres and features a large water obstacle.
The third 9-hole golf course is Engled. It comprises six par-3 and three par-4 holes and is the most demanding course of the three short courses, and has therefore has been used for many years to enable golfers to obtain licence.
Not used to this system, I asked Hermann to clarify. “In Germany, golfers who have yet to achieve a handicap, have to obtain a playing licence and then take a test,” he explained. “This allows them to play and get a handicap certificate. Non-licenced golfers can play the 6-hole Hackerwiese course, as long as they are accompanied by a golfer with a playing licence.”
More golf courses
Our next destination was the Axel Lange Generali Golf Course Lederbach, which offers an interesting and strenuous game of golf around a course that is almost mountainous in character and features no flat holes at all.
Now, I have driven or been driven around golf courses on golf cars, utility vehicles, even in the back of a trailer pulled by a tractor, but never have I been taken around a golf course in an Audi A5.
Hermann is the boss, so if he wants to show us his course from the comfort of his car, who are we to argue! We mainly kept to the sides of fairways and followed gaps in the rough where the mowers had travelled, but it was certainly a different experience.
The landscape at Lederbach is typified by the final 160 metres of the 9th hole, which requires a climb up a gradient of an unbelievable 48% and, to no one’s surprise, Hermann advises that it’s nicknamed ‘Heart Attack Hill’. It is considered to be one of the ten hardest holes in Germany. With a course as undulating as this the reward is magnificent views over the surrounding countryside and on a clear day, the Alps can be seen in the far distance. With a sense of
irony Hermann said, “Buggies are recommended on this course!”
Dogs are allowed to accompany their owners on the Lederbach and Hermann provided a short anecdote about the unforeseen consequences of this policy.
“We had a lady golfer who owned a St Bernard and she regularly took the dog round with her. Being a large dog, lazy and overweight, she would put it the passenger seat of her buggy. On one particular occasion, while she was playing a tee shot, the dog stretched out, put its paw on the accelerator pedal which sent the buggy careering for 400 metres down the fairway, before coming to an abrupt stop in a greenside bunker!”
The Penning Golf Centre is located just three kilometres south of the thermal spa facilities at the resort and is the location of the two sponsored championship courses, the Beckenbauer and the Mercedes-Benz.
Named after the legendary captain of the national football team, the Beckenbauer championship course has been expertly incorporated into the mountain meadow
landscape of the Rott Valley by Bernhard Langer.
It is renowned for the quality of its hand mown greens and the perfect condition of the fairways, which is due to its two-tier irrigation system. Small stone bridges lead over the streams and ditches on the course, with stone walls separating the greens from the water. Although the course is completely level and easy to walk, it is considered by many to be the hardest at the resort.
Constructed in 2002 and making it the youngest of the championship courses, the Mercedes-Benz Golf Course sits adjacent to the Beckenbauer on the Penning estate. Similar to the Beckenbauer, Langer has integrated the course into the landscape of the Rott Valley and allowed the existing established trees to give the course its mature character and natural charm.
Featuring sharply undulating fairways, numerous water hazards and well-defended greens, it can be a stern test. “The 13th measures 175 yards to a green situated on a peninsula, which is a challenge,” said Hermann, “and the final hole has a difficult approach shot over water and will also provide a stiff test.”
The end of the visit
Returning to the joint clubhouse, I was able to get some more background from Hermann.
“I am responsible for a team of 55 staff,” he said. “I have six head greenkeepers, three full-time mechanics and five dedicated construction workers for general maintenance and any hard landscaping duties.
“As well as the E-Z-GO golf car fleet, I have some Jacobsen and Cushman equipment, which we purchased from Golf Tech including two hybrid Jacobsen Eclipse 322 diesel-electric mowers with three-wheel drive. I have been a customer for many years; we had the first LF100 fairway mower in Europe back in late 1980s, but the mower I’m most pleased with, is the LF3800 light fairway mower.
These have been excellent for us; lots of power, great output and great cutting units providing an exceptional cut. I am just replacing these with Jacobsen’s latest model, the LF570; it’s a natural progression and being able to change the speed of the reels to suit a particular course is a good innovation.
“Oh, and one last thing; I would like to mention the excellent level of service we receive from John Moore and his team at Golf Tech. They are very professional in everything they do and are easy to do business with. I can see that they appreciate our business and they work very hard to ensure that they keep it.”
It was obvious during the visit that the two businesses have a mutual respect for each other and John was delighted to hear Hermann express his feelings. It made a fitting end to a great visit; Hermann had given us the best part of his day showing us around this impressive complex and all that was left was to return to John’s car for the next leg of this German road trip.