As the German Open golf championship continues in glorious Cologne sunshine, the inquisitive observer may look on with bemusement. Golf in Germany? Surely you mean the car…
When most people talk about golf in Germany, they're referring to the car and not the sport.
When asked a question that involves the words “Germany” and “golf”, most people outside the country itself will automatically think of the popular Volkswagen hatchback. Those with a little more knowledge of the sport which shares the same name as VW’s flagship motor may be able to combine the two terms and come up with the name of Bernhard Langer, Germany’s double U.S. Masters winner and Golfing Hall of Fame resident. Few would be able to name a major golfing event which takes place in Germany.
However, Germany plays home to one of the European Tour’s main events once a season when the top players in the game come to Gut Lärchenhof near Cologne to contest for prize money that totals €3 million. And this year, more people are likely to get to hear about it as the championship has already seen a European record after just one round of play.
Record breaking first day
The 28-year-old Swede Fredrik Jacobson wrote his name into the annals of European Tour history on Thursday when he completed his day’s work twelve shots under the recommended number players should take to get round the course. Jacobson’s 12 under par gave him the lead in the Linde German Masters but also made him only one of 10 players ever to complete a course in 60 shots on a European Tour event.
He very nearly broke all records when he arrived at his final challenge of the first day, the ninth hole, needing to complete the hole in one shot less than the par to record a round of 59. Unfortunately, it was not to be and the Swede equalled the European record instead of beating it.
Such feats may tweak the interest of the foreign enthusiast in the direction of Germany for the duration of the tournament which ends on September 21, but for the local golf fan, it is just one of the attractions of a sport that is growing in popularity across the country.
Pay and play or ride all day.
Before Bernhard Langer's (picture) success, there wasn't much interest in golf in Germany. Now, however, the construction of over 100 new courses is a strong indication that the Germans have taken a liking to the sport. The numbers of official golf clubs is on the rise, increasing three-fold since 1987 according to the German Golf Association. Germany’s official golf body boasts 622 clubs and 13 federal associations, and boasts more than 350,000 members.
Members of association clubs usually have to possess a license called a Platzreife which is awarded to a player who has taken a five-day course that involves several hours of training each day and a series of written and practical tests for the price of around €300.
The Platzreife is actually a legal requirement to play golf in registered clubs in Germany, instituted over 40 years ago. No other country in Europe requires such a license, but German golfing associations say it is necessary to prevent unskilled players from holding up the games of others.
However, there are other ways. Some German courses are semi-private, meaning visitors are welcome, although usually only Monday through Thursday and will cost the visitor €60 for the privilege. Some other clubs cost somewhat less to play.
The cheaper priced courses reflect the fact that most German clubs still expect their golfers to walk with only a few of the bigger clubs providing motorized carts at prices that include their hire.
Tournaments for all
For the adventurous golfer in Germany, or the confident one, many German clubs offer the opportunity to take part in open tournaments to players outside their membership. These tournaments are recommended to those who intend to spend the whole day at the club teeing off and putting away happily as they tend to be the same price or less than a usual day pass and include a meal, such as an awards dinner where formal attire is insisted upon.
Typical to the national mentality, the Germans have taken to golf in a very technical way, focussing on the skill aspects of golf and spending a lot of time taking lessons and practicing, both on the range and on the course. This has permeated into their well regimented and valued leisure time with a booming trade in hotels combining well-earned breaks with course passes becoming a country-wide phenomenon.
So in Germany, the old adage that, for many, golf is a pleasant walk spoiled could not be further from the truth.