Pärnu Bay Golf Links
After a lovely day in Saaremaa, we set out for our main goal for this trip, Pärnu on the south coast of Estonia, and the new golf course built there. The trip from Saaremaa to Pärnu is a short one, less than two hours by car on good roads.
Pärnu is where you want to be seen in the summertime, it is the “summer capital” of Estonia. As you approach the town, you drive along the wide Pärnu River. Just as the river is about to meet the sea it makes a sharp turn and runs parallel to the coast for a few kilometers, creating a small peninsula. This is where you find Old Pärnu, with the old town, the many spas, and the old Jugend-style houses along tree-lined boulevards running down to the wide, white, sandy beach. Pärnu is a romantic town where things progress in a nice relaxed tempo, perfect for an afternoon stroll, a bike ride, or a nice morning run along the beach. It is no coincidence that the number of inhabitants multiplies tenfold in the summer.
But, being who we are, we cannot stay two weeks in a spa, however nice (and they are really nice). We have to play some golf. Before this year there was only one golf course in town, but now there is a second choice, and it is a good one: Pärnu Bay Golf Links.
Pärnu Bay Golf Links have been in the works for almost ten years, with various starts and stops with the EU finance crisis and whatnot. But now the long journey is over, and the course is ready for play. Well, almost ready. The club house still needs a few finishing touches, so the official opening is not until September. We, however, got the chance to play the course today as a special treat. A double treat actually. We were the first ever players to play the course and we got to play with the course designer himself, Lassi Pekka Tilander.
The weather almost ruined our day. When we arrived at the course, it was pouring down so hard that even battle-hardened golfers like ourselves were hesitant to start. Since the clubhouse was not yet ready, we had nowhere to change into waterproofs. We decided to abort.
A couple of hours later the weather report indicated that it should clear up, and we decided to give it another try. As we teed off, it was still raining lightly, but is soon stopped. We fully expected to find the course in bad condition after the heavy rain, and while there were a few puddles on the first couple of fairways (no water at all on the greens), the water then magically disappeared. “All because of the sandy soil” explained Lassi. The ground conditions are ideal for a golf course. The entire course has been built up from sand, which ensures that the course will be playable almost the entire year.
The terrain next to the Gulf of Riga in the Baltic Sea is fairly flat, and the fairways have been left with only small undulations. However the greens have been more aggressively shaped, and often feature several different levels. In addition, they are well protected by numerous bunkers, build in links style with lots of overhanging “beards”.
Actually, to be more precise, the course has no bunkers at all. All sandy areas on the course, and there are many, have been designated as “waste areas”. This means that you can ground your club and take practice swings, and you don’t strictly have to rake (although I think you should). For being waste areas the look a lot like bunkers, though.
Another distinguishing feature is that all fairways have only a single cut, there is no second cut between the fairway and the rough. Many of the holes are lined with rough on one side, and giant bunkers (“waste areas”) on the other. The rough is very links-like, so you most often have no problems finding your ball. Because of the single cut, there are no tee boxes. This leaves the greenkeeper to put the tee boxes wherever it makes sense for the conditions of the day. This I think will be a very nice feature to keep up the pace of play, even when conditions are rough.
The course runs back and forth along the edge of the forest, with a nice mix of par threes, fours, and fives. Most of the holes look fairly easy from the tee, but fairway “bunkers” and large waste areas come into play on most holes, severely limiting your options if you want to challenge the holes. With the option to move the tee boxes around, this makes it possible to configure the course to suit any player, regardless of ability.
The course finishes with a beautiful stretch of holes along the water of the Bay of Riga. Hole 14, as par 3, takes you out to the coast, and then holes 15 to 18 parallel to the beach, with a forest of tall pine trees on the other side. This part of the course faces south, so you will have sunshine on these holes the entire day and into the sunset hours. A beautiful finish.
After the round we had a chance to tour the yet unfinished club house. Situated with a panoramic view over the Bay of Riga and the 18th green, it looks like it will be a stunner. Just as at Saare Golf, the lower level will have the pro shop and changing rooms, and the top level will house the restaurant and bar. The top level will also have a terrace around the entire clubhouse, so that you can sit in the sun any time of day if you so desire.
The course has been ready for play since the fall of 2014, but the owner has decided to hold off on the opening until the clubhouse is complete. Right now it looks like it will be sometime in September 2015. We can’t wait to come back to enjoy it, and play the course again.
Read the full review of Pärnu Bay Golf Links.
For more information about Pärnu and Estonia, visit www.visitestonia.com.