On this the second day of our Estonian adventure, we set out for the island of Saaremaa, located in the Baltic Sea west of Estonia. Saaremaa is the largest island in Estonia, also home of one of the seven golf courses in the country.
The trip to Saaremaa takes about four hours by car. The main roads in Estonia are of good standard. Most are two lane roads, divided highways are fairly rare. You will have no problems finding your way if you bring your own car, or rent one locally. Gas prices are generally a bit lower than the major EU countries.
After driving for about two hours, you reach a ferry crossing to get over to the islands. The crossing takes about half an hour. You drive your car onto the ferry, and while at sea you can have lunch or a beer (unless you’re the driver – the alcohol limit in Estonia is 0.0%) in the cafeteria, or just enjoy the view from the top deck. After crossing, it takes about an hour to reach Kuressaare, the main town on Saaremaa.
Kuressare is located on the southern coast of Saaremaa. It’s a small (the entire island has only 35,000 inhabitants), quaint, fairly sleepy town. But looks can be deceiving. There’s an abundance of activities available, mostly centering around the sea, such as sailing, wind- and kitesurfing, and of course swimming. But maybe the main attraction that bring tourists to Kuressare are the spas. The first spa was founded already in 1840, and now there is a good selection for all tastes. I stayed at the George Ots Spa Hotel, right next to the yacht harbor, a fine choice with modern rooms and free access to the spa facilities, including a choice of different style saunas. Very relaxing after your golf round. And excellent wi-fi of course.
But the main reason we were in Kuressaare was to play golf. Saare Golf is located just west of town, easily within walking distance (I rented a bike and got there from the hotel in five minutes).
Saare Golf promotes itself as “The best golfcourse in Saaremaa”. This is not a difficult status to attain; Saare Golf is the only golf course in Saaremaa. But even if there were other courses in Saaremaa, it is easy to see how Saare Golf would be the best; it is a truly fine track.
The quality and attention to detail is apparent the moment you arrive. The club house is very nice, with a well stocked pro shop and dressing rooms on the ground floor, and a restaurant and bar on the second floor, with a panoramic view of the 9th and 18th holes, just as it should be. From the restaurant, you can access the terrace overlooking the finishing holes, also with evening sun and a view of the sunset. An excellent setup. We were served lunch in the restaurant, and the food lived up to the high expectation set by the surroundings.
Also notable are the training facilities. Apart from the driving range and putting green, there’s also a three hole practice course right next to the club house. Short but not easy, with plenty of water and hazards to sharpen your short game.
The main 18 hole golf course was designed to USGA standards by Lassi Pekka Tilander, and opened in 2008. The area where the course now resides was mainly covered by forest and brush, so a lot of clearing had to be done. As the terrain was rather flat, a number of lakes were created in order to get the material needed to shape the course. The result is a nicely undulating course with lots of water.
When you play the course, you sometimes feel like you are on a links course. With forest lined fairways and lots of water, that is of course not the case, but the fairways have a definite links feel to them. Maybe also the prevailing southwesterly wind, often quite hard, adds to the links feeling. When it blows, the wind make the course very challenging.
Many of the holes look fairly easy and straight from the tee, but the hazards have been very strategically placed to provide a lot of difficulty, especially on the holes playing into the strong headwind. Hole 13 and especially 14 are a bit different from the rest. 13 is a short par 4, dogleg left with water in the dogleg. The 14th is a long par 4 with water on both sides, and also lined by trees.
Both the front and the back nine end right in front of the clubhouse, in a traditional layout with a lake separating them. The 18th is a par 4, slight dogleg left with the water to the left. You can play safe to the right and face a long approach to the green, or risk it to the left and be rewarded with an easy shot to the green (or find your tee shot in the water). A good finishing hole.
We found the course in excellent condition, especially the greens that were near perfect. We can heartily recommend the course.
Read the full review of Saare Golf.
After the round, I rented a bike and took a self guided tour of the town. If you are a history buff, don’t miss the castle tour. Riding around town is quite a leisurely activity. You rarely have to ride more than a few hundred meters between sights and cafes. For more information about Kuressaare and Estonia, visit www.visitestonia.com.