If it seems hard to recognise the claim of the Czech Republic to be considered as a golf destination of importance, then the first thing to grasp is that golf in the Czech Republic has a tradition which goes back more than one hundred years.
The temperate climate and the healing waters of the famous West Bohemian spa resorts of Karlsbad and Marienbad, or Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne as they are now known, have been attracting discerning travellers for many generations and were internationally renowned, not only among the wealthy industrialised countries of Europe, especially France, Germany and the United Kingdom, but also as far away as the Orient and the USA.
Every social, cultural and recreational need was catered for, including the new sports of fencing, horse racing and tennis, and it was only a matter of time before playing golf became another fashionable accomplishment. The first course was established by the International Sporting Club of Karlsbad in 1904. A year later came the opening of the course at Marienbad where the British King Edward VII, a regular visitor to the resort, was a founder member.
Both these courses started as nine hole layouts but they were extended to 18 holes and, despite all the political upheavals that took place in central Europe during the first half of the twentieth century, by the time of the outbreak of World War II there were already ten golf courses in what is now the Czech Republic.
The war and the period of totalitarian government which followed were not conducive to the further development of golf, perceived by those in power as being a ‘bourgeois’ sport. Since the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989, however, the development of the game has re-started and, indeed, accelerated. The older courses have been modernised or, where necessary, reconstructed and new ones have been built.
The Czech Golf Federation reports that in the last five years the number of both courses and players has doubled. One-third of the 25,000 registered players are women and the programmes for encouraging newcomers, especially children, to play the game are first-class. Last year, for example, a nationwide ‘Open Doors Day’ brought in 8,000 people to give the game a try and this will be repeated in 2006.
The growth in the number of golf facilities is set to accelerate, with 22 new projects known to be in development. Investors tend to be golf enthusiasts rather than major corporations. They are generally encouraged by the authorities to turn land which is no longer required for agriculture or which may have been used previously for mining into managed estates, and government help is available to part-finance qualifying projects. Even the environmental lobby, so against the development of golf in many other countries, can see that using land for golf courses is more desirable than leaving it in a dilapidated condition.
Recognising that the climate, while mild and hospitable in the spring and summer, is cold and unsuitable in the winter, the country has several indoor golf facilities which are as good as any in the world.
With this continued growth in provision, the Federation, the golf course owners, the Czech PGA and the government have all recognised that for the business of golf to continue to prosper it is vital to attract visiting golfers from other countries.
The situation, in fact, is much as it was a hundred years ago but, in contrast with those days, the attractions are not confined to the traditional resorts of Western Bohemia – spectacular though these are. The whole country will now appeal to the visiting golfer. Prague itself, as well as being a popular city break destination, has a number of first class facilities while South Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia also have courses which are well worth a visit; the whole country being well-served by connections with Prague Ruzyne International Airport, less than two hours flying time from the UK and most parts of Scandinavia.
Peter Walton, chief executive of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), has said, “Golf in the Czech Republic is of such a uniformly high standard that the country has the potential to become one of the most successful golf destinations in Central Europe.” It was with this message very much in mind that last month’s Golf Show in Prague featured a section devoted to promoting incoming golf tourism.
Welcoming a group of golf writers and travel operators from all over Europe, Amara Zemplinerova, show director and a former Czech champion lady golfer, said, “The Czech Republic is ready to host incoming golfers. We have the infrastructure, the hotels and the courses.” www.golfshow.cz
Marketa Svatonova, advisor to the Minister for Regional Development, emphasised that the Czech government knows the national importance of growing golf tourism to the country. “There has been a growth in European tourism in general but golf tourism has grown at double the average rate,” she said. “Furthermore we know that golf tourists tend to spend significantly more (up to 30%) than average tourists. The Ministry is well aware of the opportunities and has pledged substantial funding to help promote Czech golf tourism, especially through the efforts of the Czech Tourist Authority.” www.czechtourism.com
On behalf of the Authority, Helena Kopecka described the country as a whole as hospitable with safe and secure destinations offering good value for money. In addition to uncrowded golf courses there are opportunities to combine the golfing holiday with a mix of spa and health treatments, cultural activities, castles and UNESCO heritage sites. The Czech Tourism Authority had played an active part in last year’s International Golf Travel Market and would continue to work with international golf tour operators. It offered a service which is free of charge to any golf club that wants advice on promotional activity.
Marie Jehlickova is the president of the Czech Golf Travel Association www.cgta.cz. The Association includes golf courses and incoming travel operators within its ranks. It has 23 members so far, with more joining all the time. Weekday green fees go from €10 to €100 and weekend fees from €30 to €120. The idea of golf passes is being developed and there will soon be a centralised system for tee time reservations.
The conference concluded with the statement that in recent years there has not just been an increase in the quantity of Czech golf courses but also an improvement in their quality. It was confidently claimed that all the top courses and the majority of all the others are well up the best of European standards.
Golf Business News.com attended the 11th Golf Show in Prague as a guest of the Czech Tourist Authority www.czechtourism.com. Golf courses visited were Golf Resort Karlstejn www.karlstejngolf.cz Golf Park Plzen www.golfparkpl.cz and Erpet Golf Centre www.erpet.cz.
Hotels visited were Grand Hotel Bohemia www.grandhotelbohemia.cz Romantic Hotel Mlyn Karlstejn www.europehotels.cz and Parkhotel Plzen www.parkhotel-plzen.cz