First opened in 2010, the Dunes course at Costa Navarino in Greece has quickly become recognised as one of the finest golf courses in Europe, and with very good reason.
Now boasting four courses and four hotels, the destination offers an outstanding array of course architecture, making it one of, if not the best golf destinations on the continent.
Better known for its olive oil and ancient architecture, Greece has never been renowned for its quality golf courses.
Before the opening of Costa Navarino, the country only had a handful of courses to choose from, with countries like Spain, Portugal and France dwarfing the Mediterranean country in terms of golfing pedigree.
That reputation is firmly behind it though, with golfers now travelling from around the world to visit Costa Navarino.
The quality of golf and hospitality is second to none, and impeccable attention to detail will ensure visitors return time and time again.
Yardage: 6,581 Yards (Championship Tees)
Location: Messinia, Greece
We had the pleasure of playing all four courses on our visit, but today we will focus on the Dunes Course.
The Dunes Clubhouse terrace, the ideal place to recharge whilst enjoying the serenity of the landscape.#costanavarinogolf#costanavarino#TheDunesCourse#bepartofourstory#golf #golfers #golfing pic.twitter.com/LARb78CSAu— Costa Navarino Golf (@Messiniaproam) September 23, 2020
Upon entering the clubhouse, we were instantly impressed by the setup.
A fully stocked pro shop and attentive staff quickly got us signed in, and we headed down to the caddy master to pick up our golf buggy.
With an array of practice facilities available pre-round, we opted to venture down to the range to warm up, where we were greeted by one of our favourite sights in golf—a complete line of perfectly formed golf ball pyramids.
A few loose drives later and we paid the short game area a visit to ensure we sampled all of the facilities on offer.
With confidence high and a noticeable spring in our step, we jumped back into the buggy and drove up to the first tee.
We were playing off the yellow tees for our round, and with the course measuring 6,235 yards, we knew it would be an excellent test that required every club in the bag to pull its weight.
To the eye, the 1st hole looks simple enough, a longish par 4 with a variety of fairway and greenside bunkers cleverly placed to swallow up any errant shots.
It's a welcoming opening tee shot, with driver being the ideal play. A small lake is lying in wait for any horrible snap hooks, but finding the short grass should be a straightforward task for most golfers.
We were fortunate enough to hit a straight drive, and from there, it was a well-placed 8-iron to find the safety of the green. While this sounds easy enough, trust me, you can undoubtedly run aground on this hole. Cunning bunkering and a razor-sharp three-tier green means you should be delighted to move on from this hole with a par.
We found it hard to pick our favourite hole on the front nine, as there are many options, but the 2nd hole might have to take the award.
Stood on the tee, you get a simply stunning view of the Ionian Sea.
The story of #Messiniaproam continues in 3 golf courses on 24th of November 2021. Be the first to ever play the brand-new course at Navarino Hills offering panoramic views of the Bay of Navarino.— Costa Navarino Golf (@Messiniaproam) April 7, 2021
Registration is now open: https://t.co/yR8yWu4aFb #MessiniaProAm#costanavari ... pic.twitter.com/xjhUccPBRH
Flanked by the Romanos Hotel on the left, the hole is beautifully framed with the vibrant blue sea and bright blue sky meeting on the horizon for an uninterrupted backdrop.
A selection of fairway bunkers makes iron the intelligent play, and if you can strike one pure, you should only be left with a wedge in hand for your approach.
Being the intelligent golfers we are, we managed to execute the plan flawlessly and left a straightforward two-putt for par. Be wary, though. Anything long into this green can leave you with a devilish up and down. The steep fall-off at the back will require a delicate flop shot to get you anywhere near the pin if it's set at the back.
The 3rd hole is a winding par 5 that requires two well-struck shots to get you anywhere near the putting surface. The longest hole on the course, measuring 538 yards, this beast is best played as a three-shotter.
Bunkers on the left-hand side of the fairway give longer hitters a good target line, but we recommend aiming right of them to give yourself the best chance of finding the fairway.
Realistically you'll have a 3-wood left unless you're 'Greek god' Rory McIlroy, but a well-struck 5-iron is the smarter play as leaving yourself in the wrong spot for your third shot can be an easy way to rack up a big score early in your round.
The long, three-tier green is incredibly well protected by steep-sided bunkers, so precision is the order of the day for any length of approach shot.
Heading on to the 4th tee, you are met with a dog-leg left that gives you a great risk-reward option with your drive.
If you head over the trees on your left, you can chew off a healthy chunk off the hole but beware, turn a draw over too much, and you could be looking at your first lost ball of the day.
With some tricky pin positions available on the green, you better pray the greenskeepers have opted for front left rather than back right.
We found this to be one of the toughest holes on the course. Despite the seemingly wide-open fairway to aim at, the smart design means most golfers will leave themselves with a long iron that can be tricky to stop on the greens despite their receptive nature.
With our first bogey of the day chalked down, we headed onto the fifth hole, a short par 3. Perhaps the most underwhelming hole on the course, this 142-yard par 3 presents a simple enough obstacle for golfers of any skill level.
Having said that, despite managing to safely land our pitching wedge on the green, one of our playing partners managed to rope hook three balls into the trees on the left without finding a single one. So beware, despite its modest length, even the humblest of opposition can strike you down when you least expect it.
A quick buggy ride across the road and you are met with a quite breathtaking tee shot.
With wide vista views of the Greek countryside sprawled out in front of you, a steeply undulating green is carved out of the ground below.
Probably the most entertaining hole on the course, the steed drop-off and short length (297 yards) means that a well-struck drive or even 3-wood can land you on the green.
Cavernous bunkers and out-of-bounds left of the green provide ample hazards for wayward shots, but despite their presence, we obviously had to give it a go.
Opting to aim for the right-hand side of the green, we managed to cling on to the back right fringe with our tee shot, but with wild undulation and sticky rough to contend with, par was far from a foregone conclusion.
A side-winding chip and three awkward putts saw us walking off with our tails between our legs, but the 6th hole is the kind you wish you could play over and over again.
One of the most entertaining golf holes we've played in recent memory, the 6th at the Dunes is the kind of hole every course should aspire to have.
Now onto the 7th and, without a doubt, the hardest hole on the course. Aptly tagged as the stroke index one, this tight uphill par 5 has disaster looming with every shot.
Neither left nor right is safe off the tee, and with a variety of bunkers scattered throughout the fairway, this will be one the most satisfying pars you will ever make.
We've played this hole close to 10 times now, and if you were to look at an eclectic score, it wouldn't make for pretty reading.
The 8th is a par 3 that can vary dramatically in distance dependent on the pin selection. We've taken an 8-iron and a 4-hybrid, due to the length of the green. With monster putts on offer if you select the wrong club, make sure you double-check your yardage to avoid disappointment.
The 9th hole heads back down to the clubhouse, and measuring only 400 yards, a good drive can set you up nicely for one of the more birdiable holes on the course.
With a straight and wide fairway, the ninth offers a great opportunity to swing hard with the big stick.
One or two beers and a chocolate bar later, we were ready to get the back nine underway.
An inviting downhill par 3 kicks off the second half of the course. Deep pot bunkers protect the green, so if you can bring yourself to avoid pin-seeking, then any shot to the middle of the green is the clever play.
Heading out towards the sea, the 11th and 12 holes run side by side, both similar in yardage. The 11th hole seems simple enough on the tee, but with danger flirting the whole way up the right side, any wayward drive can leave you in a whole world of trouble.
One of the flatter greens on the course, the 11th can be a great birdie opportunity if you avoid trouble off the tee. We had a pitching wedge in, and thanks to the soft, receptive nature of the greens, you can take dead aim, safe in the knowledge that the ball will stand to attention upon landing.
Rolling topography and steep-faced bunkers characterise the 12th hole. With out-of-bounds hugging the right side of the hole, left of centre is the ideal line off the tee.
Typically one of the windier holes on the course, the 12th is one of the closest holes to the sea, so you benefit from the beautiful sounds of crashing waves accompanying any shouts of "fore left" that night echo around the hole.
A slightly elevated green makes any approach tough, with ample protection provided by a large green side bunker short and left. At this point, we should also point out that despite the landing areas being very generous on this course, if you do go far enough offline, the shrubbery you may encounter is thick and spiky.
While you can find your ball if you search hard enough, be prepared to walk away with some battle wounds for your bravery.
With the sea at your back, the 13th offers one of the most generous fairways on the course. Only 351 yards, longer hitters could be fooled into thinking this is worth having a go at. It would be a fool's errand; however, as much like the other holes on this course, precisely positioned bunkering will quickly punish you for anything that drifts offline.
We really loved this course, but if we had to be picky, we think the par-3s could be a touch more inventive. In comparison to the Bay course only a few miles down the road, which features some exceptional par 3s, the Dunes Course lacks a little excitement on its shorter holes.
The 14th is a good example of this. While thick plant life right of the green provides plenty of opportunity for disaster, I wouldn't describe the hazard as one that really gets me excited.
A straight, relatively short tee shot should be enough to avoid disaster and set you up for a strong finish to your round.
The 15th hole is probably the best birdie opportunity on the course. Measuring 342 yards, the hole plays straight and short, giving you an excellent chance to get your tee shot just short of the green. From there, a relatively straightforward uphill chip should give you a good chance of getting near the pin for a putt at birdie.
From the 15th green you wind your way back through olive and citrus trees to the 16th tee.
The 16th is a long, winding par 5 that's beautifully settled into a backdrop of thick trees and lush foliage. From the tee, you have a few options for your opening shot. The hole slides downhill from right to left with some steep undulation that can act as a handy speed slot if you can carry your drive far enough.
From the tee, you can see the top of the hill and anything left of centre with driver should allow you to hit the downhill, shortening the hole significantly.
Be warned, though, driver does come with its own perils. With out-of-bounds both left and right, a block or pull can easily see you reloading off the tee.
Once you approach the crest of the hill, you are met with one of our favourite views of the course. The fairway drops off steeply and winds like a thick s before reaching the well-protected green.
From here, you have a few options. We laid up, leaving a more straightforward third shot, but if long irons are your speciality, then it's a really fun green to try and conquer.
As we became accustomed to during our round, the complexity of the greens is one of the course's best defences. Subtle break and speed make putting at the Dunes a test for even the most accomplished player.
With two holes to go, we should reveal that we were currently having the best round of our life at this stage. Undoubtedly a factor in why we remember the course so fondly, with two holes to go, was it possible to avoid disaster?
Well, the 17th got off to a truly terrible start. A pulled six iron cascaded into the trees left of the green, leaving an absolute horror up and down to save par. Channelling our inner Seve Ballesteros, we somehow managed to pull off the impossible. An average chip was followed in with the putt of the day for a memorable par that will live long in the memory.
One hole to go. The 18th is a fantastic test of every aspect of your game. The sweeping uphill par 5 requires pin-point accuracy and distance control to secure par. An accurate tee shot that can split the two fairway bunkers leaves you in excellent shape for your lay-up, as unless you have a 270-yard uphill 3-wood in your armoury, it's the only option.
Two centre-line bunkers then provide a daunting set of obstacles for your second and hopefully third shots, but the fun really begins on the green.
Split into two halves with a spine running through the middle, the final green is primed for a three-putt. Thankfully with a comfy cushion of shots at our disposal to card out best ever round, we decided to use almost all of them and walked off with a bogey that felt like a hole-in-one.
Make sure to pop into the flame grill after your round for an ice-cold beer overlooking the course, as there are few better sights on the property as the sun goes down.
Having had the pleasure of playing the Dunes course a number of times, it really has cemented itself as one of our favourite courses on the continent.
The complex greens and devilish bunkers compliment the outstanding condition of the fairways and rough for an experience that's both challenging but incredibly fun at the same time.
The standard of resort golf in Europe has never been stronger, but we believe Costa Navarino stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best. No expense has been spared in making the destination a must-visit venue, and we're counting down the days until we can return again.
We would highly recommend anyone to visit Costa Navarino. The hospitality, food, golf and location are all five-star, with a wealth of additional activities also on offer; it's an outstanding choice for a luxury family holiday.
For more information, please visit the Costa Navarino website.