Kitzbuhel is a medieval town marked by original walls and gateways. The sense of history is palpable on cobbled streets linked by arches and lined with restaurants, cafes and bars. Tables set up outside handsome facades serve knodelsuppe and kaiserschmarrn – noodle soup and pancake dessert. Not bland chicken noodle, but large dumplings rich in liver and herbs; not dainty crepes suzette, but chunky pancake pieces mixed with plum jam and steeped in schnapps, hot in the communal pan and sprinkled with icing sugar. Skiers and boarders are accustomed to Austria’s ways of catering for big appetites in cold winters, but golfers may be less aware of Alpine pleasures.
In a Mediterranean golf complex, a distant view of the sea between villas is often as good as it gets. In Kitzbuhel, the mighty Streif towers over the town. In January, top downhillers cling to perilous lines on its near vertical ice faces in pursuit of victory in the Hahnenkamm, the most dangerous race of the FIS World Cup circuit. In July, the sun shines on pastures, lush and green.
To the north, the grey teeth of the Wilder Kaiser range, the slopes still patched with snow, dominate the skyline. It claims to be the first alpine area to receive the Austrian hiking seal of approval, but its scrappy 27 hole golf layout wouldn’t rate any accolade. Anyway, there’s no need to go so far: Kitzbuhel has two 18 and two nine hole courses of its own.
The king is Eichenheim, rated number seven in Austria, a fine position for a remote Tirolean course as the glitz above is clustered round Vienna. When Scotland wants to prove modern can be on a par with ancient, it cites Kingsbarns, designed by Kyle Phillips. He’s the man at Eichenheim as well, transforming unruly slopes into a magnificent test, not least because keeping your head down in such surroundings is a constant challenge. Unless you’re training for a marathon, take a buggy to avoid mountaineering from green to tee.
Eichenheim celebrates its 20th birthday this year, a sadly muted celebration in the Covid-19 era for a course only open from April to October.
With no expense spared, Phillips literally moved mountains to create fairways wide and flat enough to keep good balls in play. Many of the tees are raised, always enticing, sometimes spine-chilling as they reveal the nature of the task ahead. The first 14 holes are mountainously varied, then the final stretch short on the wow factor but the 18th reveals a final sting in the tail. As the clubhouse is integral to the five star Grand Tirolia Hotel and Spa, part of the Hilton Curio Collection, the facilities are all-embracingly good, but lack the atmosphere of independent set ups.
The Schwarzsee Club is a course of two halves, with the front nine rolling along the valley floor and the back nine ascending into the foothills.
From the start, it takes no prisoners with a dog leg par 5 towards a lake in front of the green. Too optimistic an angle over the water and your card is toast when you’ve barely begun.
This if the first of four dog legs before the fairways straighten out around the 9th: where spectators on the clubhouse terrace watch as balls drown in front of the green. The back nine starts similarly with an intrusive lake, then rolls across cambered hillsides.
If you play in the afternoon, drive on to the Rosengarten in Kirchberg (9km) for one of the best dinners in Austria. Mine host is Simon Taxacher, who with partner Sandra, runs a boutique five star hotel.
In 2009 Taxacher won two Michelin stars, the first of many awards, and sources local ingredients and customer favourites such as Gillardeau oysters. It’s the same with the wine list which is Austro-international at the highest level. Eat in the Simon Taxacher restaurant or the Bistro, both comfortingly informal with impeccable service. If you’re due a splash out, have it here.
Back in Kitz, as its friends call it, there are two nine hole options. My favourite is the Rasmushof, basically a large sloping field that doubles as the finish for the Streif piste in winter.
The Kitzbuhel Golf Club, founded in 1955 and re-invented in the noughties as an ornate and highly manicured layout, is part of the swanky A-rosa Hotel and Spa, a German-owned complex specialising in rigid luxury. This is typified by the 8th hole, a maze of walkways and little bridges accessing an island green set among ponds enclosed by stone walls.
For future diaries, the annual Kitzbuhel Gourmet Golf Festival week over the June solstice, has 12 tournaments in six days spread around the four courses; the climax is the Red Jacket on the Rasmushof. An impromptu 12-hole set up on the Streif launches with a mighty tee shot from the Hahnenkamm starting gate. Local Gault&Millau chefs compete to offer signature dishes, with back up from wine merchants nationwide.
As one of the top luxury winter sports resorts, Kitzbuhel’s centre has several mansions converted into handsome hotels such as the four star Zur Tenne, The Tiefenbrunner, endorsed by former downhill Olympic champion Franz Klammer, for all the right reasons. Away from the centre, Schloss Lebenbergis a five star medieval hideaway with tower suites and rooftop pool while the four star Tennenhof, Relais & Chateaux “Gourmet & Spa de Charme” lives up to its billing, with 39 rooms and three restaurants, a reassuring ratio for gourmet guests. Relax away from the hurly burly of the city centre among herbaceous borders and mature trees. As 19th holes go, this is as good as it gets.
Stunning backdrop: Kitzbuhel offers golf with a difference – plus all the benefits of a luxury resort
Eichenheim, 18 holes, 6092m, par 71, green fee €99, twilight €60 (after 14.30). +43 5356 66615.
Schwarzsee, 18 holes, 6104m, par 72, green €87-95, +44 5356 71645, golf-schwarzsee-.at
Rasmushof, 9 holes,, €28-34, twilight €19 (from 17.00) + 43 5356 65252, rasmushof.at
Kitzbuhel Golf Club, 9 holes, 2850m, par 35, €50-56, +43 5356 65660, golfclub-kitzbuhel.com
Tennenhof Gourmet & Spa de Charme Hotel, double (2 persons) with breakfast £166 (July) +43 5356 636181; tennenhof.com
The nearest airports are Salzburg(59.9km) & Innsbruck (81km). Flights currently suspended
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