The alarm call came at seven in the morning, piercing my weary subconscious like the screech of chalk on blackboard. It was the start of an extraordinary but exhilarating day.
Fortunately, unlike some in our party of ‘been there, seen it all’ hacks, I’d got into brief training for what appeared to be a hectic day with an early night and the memoirs of Rich Beem (‘Bud, sweat and tees’) a US Tour rookie, which had rocked me soundly to sleep.
These were the first tentative steps on a day which promised much but threatened even more – two hours ski-ing followed by 18 holes of golf, courtesy of our hosts the Austrian National Tourist Office.
I hadn’t done any ski-ing for more than ten years and wasn’t sure, at age 56, I was up to it. My wife, back home, was convinced I wasn’t and was desperate to take out extra insurance! Out in level par, back in an ambulance.
Within an hour we were halfway up to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, our cable car from Kaprun emerging spectacularly through a gloomy Friday, into an azure blue sky punctuated by vast granite peaks.
I was reminded poignantly by one of our guides that it was here, on November 13, 2000, that 155 died when they were trapped in a railway tunnel taking tourists to the summit. The line and tunnel has been closed as a memorial to those who lost their lives.
I had forgotten how tiring merely putting on your ski equipment can be – at altitude. By the time I’d been fitted for boots, skis, sallopettes and jacket, I was knackered. But, like riding a bike, you don’t forget the rudiments of a ‘snow-plough’ manoeuvre to a stand still or traversing gingerly down a slope. It’s merely that you’re not as young as you were when you did it before.
Thanks to Agnes Koch, a former Hungarian ski international and patient instructor, I survived with only pride (and a few muscles) bruised, to attempt part two of our Mission Impossible – 18 holes at Golf Club Zell am See.
There are two courses set in the valley floor of pines and lakes – the par-73 Kitzsteinhorn and the more testing par-72 Schmittenhohe – with snow-capped peaks rising all around providing an amazing distraction.
My partner for the afternoon of glorious sunshine was 52-year-old Vroni Schwaninger an amazingly robust and outgoing local hotelier who had tragically lost her husband, a son and a daughter when the family’s single-engined Cessna crashed into a mountainside in bad weather only two months earlier. Though she is still coming to terms with her terrible loss, Vrani told me that golf – she’s a very useful 18-handicapper - and the support of her guests at her Alpin Hotel, with whom she plays golf most Mondays, were playing a key role in her recuperation.
Though our betterball score could not compete on the day, against a barrage of birdies from most of our rivals, the course provided a welcome relaxation from the rigours of the morning on the slopes. And with its immaculate greens and lush fairways it will prove a popular destination for visitors aiming to achieve a ski/golf combination in one day.
And with the explosion of golf in continental Europe has come a boost for tourism in Austria where courses have mushroomed from a mere handful to 124. In the last 33 years since the film was made, the hills have been alive to the sound of Maxfli!
Typical of this was Golf Club Traunsee Kirchham, where high on a hill some 12 years ago, a lonely goat-herd had probably yodelled ‘this would make a stunning golf course.’
With elevated tees and small, tricky greens, it’s a tough track without the use of a buggy. But the local farmer and his wife provide a charming halfway house with schnapps and various home-made breads and cheeses to provide extra sustenance for the hungry golfer.
Golf Club Salzkammergut in the fashionable spa town of Bad Ischl had a similar homely feeling though with many more years to its pedigree.
Here the President, Josef Zeppetzauer, wears traditional Austrian hiking jacket and lederhosen and is proud of its historic association with the British and former Austrian Royal families.
The course is the oldest outside Vienna (built in 1933) and was visited a year later by the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor). Appropriate, therefore, that its current teaching professional is Welshman Rodney Richards
The course is cut through mature woodland with an intimidating, opening par-5 but well worth a visit.
It’s little wonder that the members of the exclusive RAC Club in Surrey look forward to their exchange visit to Golf Club Mondsee every other year. This must surely be one of the most captivating, idyllic golf courses in Europe.
Surrounded by granite crags, this 18-hole masterpiece weaves around a lake and criss-crosses it with demanding tee shots to greens that are as slick and true as any you’ll find on the European Tour.
Its finishing four holes (par-3, 4, 3, 5) are as tough and tight as any you can imagine and can lull you into a false sense of your own importance, as I found with my 3, 3, 3, 9 finish!
It’s a place you’d want to savour over a couple of delicious local wheat beers and meal of Wiener Schnitzel and salad in the stylish clubhouse. Unfortunate then, that our party had no time to waste in making sure we didn’t miss any of Austria’s burgeoning golf market.
We were whisked to our next destination in a possee of three, five-seater EuroHeli helicopters, which I was told by our pilot could be hired for around £800 per hour – for the golfer who has everything.
From the air you see Austria at its most breathtaking - its lakes and mountains that dominate this part of the Alps and the courses dotted below which form the backbone of the Golf Alpin Card, which offers five green fees among the 38 partner clubs in the area for 240 Euro (approx £180).
Eugendorf is new course, which serves the wealthiest golfers in Salzburg. It sweeps majestically across former agricultural land with plenty of water hazards, bunker and manicured waste areas. It has excellent facilities though it lacks the stunning scenery of other courses closer to the mountains.
Our final visit was to Golf Club Urslautal, designed in 1991 by its current professional, Scotsman Keith Preston, and where surprisingly golf is played from May to November.
"The members here are keen to play for as long as possible," club manager and owner Robert Orgler (a ten handicapper) told me. "Only when the heavy snows fall to several feet deep on the course do the locals reluctantly switch their golf clubs for ski poles."
Armed with your Golf Alpin card, the Salzburg Lakes and Mountains area is an easily accessible introduction to golf in Austria, where the courses are in peak condition throughout the summer months – the locals all speak perfect English and the beer, wine and food is exquisite. Getting around is easy and uncrowded and, as you would expect, it’s probably the cleanest country on the planet. Go for it!
The group stayed for one night at the Schlosshotel Freisitz Roith overlooking the shores of Lake Traunsee at Gmunden, where Germany’s most popular TV soap opera is currently being filmed. Two nights were also spent at the Grand hotel Zell am See.
For further information about lakes and mountains golf holidays and the Golf Alpin card contact the Austrian National Tourist Office, PO Box 2363, London WiA 2QB (Tel: 0845-101-1818) or email: email@example.com
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