Golf course in the Swiss mountains

Golf in the Swiss mountains

Matt Cooper discovers the pleasures of St. Moritz's fairways

When James Bond found himself on the trail of his iconic foe Auric Goldfinger, he preceded the chase into the Swiss Alps with a round of golf in England. It was a slip-up which Sean Connery (pictured below), the man who played him, didn’t make the mistake of repeating. The actor, who is as discerning in his golf as his alter ego was with a Martini, fully understood the intoxicating thrill of striking shots into crisp mountain air. So, when Connery travelled to the glamorous resort of St. Moritz, his golf clubs definitely went with him.

Engadin Golf Club, which hosted the Scotsman, continues to lure golfers, drawn by the prospect of watching their shots fly high and long through thin air into a snow-capped backdrop. For the golfing spirit there are few sensations more invigorating and restorative.

Nor is the excitement shared by committed golfers alone. Increasingly those new to the game are coming to recognise that this is an outstanding location for an introduction to what could easily become a lifelong passion.

The cradle of Swiss golf

Just as St Andrews in Scotland is recognised as ‘the home of golf’, Engadin Golf Club is acknowledged as ‘the cradle of Swiss golf’. It was opened in 1893 and, as such, is the oldest club in the country. From those humble beginnings it has matured, welcomed visitors from across the world, and it now boasts not one, but two courses.

The notion of ‘cradle’ extends beyond it being a wellspring from which early pioneers of the sport could foster its growth. The first course was laid out on a meadow surrounded by imposing Alpine peaks, so it quite literally lies within a geological cradle and the metaphor has been further extended with the introduction of a Beginners Golf Clinic, the latest golf package for guests at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel.

Learn golf from the best

Ilija Djurdjevic, one of the team of professional golfers who run the clinic, is a man who radiates engagement and enthusiasm. It is immediately apparent that he is at one with the new breed of golfer whose vitality has echoes of the sport’s past, but which is also ready to fuel its future.

The first golfers, many of them based in St Andrews, were a small band of trend-setters participating in a sport which very few people played. They craved fresh air, a connection with nature, adventure and innovation. They were, to a great extent, the extreme sport generation of their day.

Djurdjevic is not only a teacher of golf. In addition to that, he also hits golf balls a long way. A long, long way. Indeed, he is a European Long Drive Champion, competing on a tour that breaks new ground for the game, with music and explosive action. This, too, feels at one with extreme sports and his energy fuels those around him.

“My coaching philosophy is that you must have fun and that golf is easy – it’s that simple!” he insists with a laugh. “How good you become is obviously a matter of how much you practise, but what about enjoying yourself? I can help you hit shots that you never expected to hit. Shots that will make you smile and feel good. I can teach any beginner to hit the ball well and I can help any regular golfer gain another 20 yards.

“To see a beginner break into a smile when they hit an amazing shot is so much fun. But there is also a wonderful paradox because when I improve the biomechanics of a regular golfer he or she not only hits it further, but also straighter!”

Two magnificent St. Moritz golf courses

What golfer could fail to be tempted by such an apparently impossible prospect? It helps that there are few finer locations to hone the swing. Perched high in the mountains, the mind feels free of clutter, aided by the scent of the fir and pine trees, the gurgle of descending glacial water and the sight of birds soaring on air currents, hopefully every bit as impressively as your newly high-flying drives.

Engadin’s two golf courses provide tremendous contrast, making them ideal for the regular golfer who seeks variety and also well able to accommodate the beginner who can attack the layout which best suits.

As the older of the two, it is no surprise that the Samedan course offers the more traditional design. It’s a narrow, tree-lined challenge from tee-to-green, with many doglegs and small greens, and a fine technical test and the ability to shape the ball is a must.

Opened in 2002, it is immediately obvious that the Zuoz-Madulain course is a more modern examination, with wider landing areas, extensive fairway bunkering and larger putting surfaces. Don’t be fooled by those deceptively inviting targets, however. “You can attack this course,” cautions Djurdjevic. “But if you get it wrong, you will pay for it!”

The short holes are a key feature of the course. On the front nine both are played over water to greens framed by the forest whilst on the back nine the 14th is a supreme test of nerve calling for a precise approach from an elevated tee to a green almost completely surrounded by water.

Golf for all

There is a sense, in this cradle, of the old and the new coming together. Golf is a traditional sport, but one which is embracing the future. The 20-something Irish singer Niall Horan, for example, is a golfing zealot not only thrilled by the conundrum of fine-tuning his swing, but who is eagerly promoting the game beyond its conventional demographic, championing a relaxed approach, a wider palette of apparel and on-and off-course inclusivity.

Engadin Golf Club is committed to this dynamic, with Djurdjevic explaining that the split between men and women on the course is more or less 50-50 and that junior golf is thriving. “You know what I think?” he asks. “I think golf should not be limited. We should push beyond what we think we know. Let’s hit the ball further and better than we thought possible. Let’s look for the wow factor! Let’s really enjoy our golf.”

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