Play Away: Estonia

Estonia Sea 3rdSITTING in Tallinn’s central medieval square enjoying a chilled, early evening beer outside one of its many pavement cafes it is almost impossible to believe that Estonia only broke free of the dead hand of communism in 1991.

Despite a legacy of massive levels of pollution, including nuclear waste, Russia’s Baltic neighbour has taken giant strides forward in the last two decades to attract western tourists keen on seeing some beautiful scenery, historic castles and architecture, as well as those seeking the more bacchanalian pleasures the capital has to offer after dark.

And for the seasoned golf traveller there is now a course in Europe’s top 100, which is most certainly worthy of our attention plus some first class hotels to stay within a 30-minute drive.

Some 16 miles east of the capital is the Estonia golf & country club designed by the young Finnish architect, Lassi Pekka Tillander, and its splendid Sea course sweeping down through pine forest to the salty reed beds of the Gulf of Finland. Plans are also well advanced to develop another 18 holes on the present nine-hole academy course.

At 7,000 yards long from the back tees off a par of 72 it is a serious enough challenge well worthy of its election to PGA European Tour Course status in 2005 and this year playing host to the European International Seniors Championship.

The biggest problem about playing here is picking the best time as, given the severity of the Estonian winter, the golf season is very short- from the end of April through to the first week or so of October. So allowing the track time to get in shape before a visit is key.

Members of Royal Blackheath golf club play an annual match on a home and away basis and travel during the first two weeks of July, although according to Estonia director of golf Hanno Kros, June is also usually a popular month.

And when the sun shines there are few more attractive or peaceful courses to play in mainland Europe with some splendid holes to enjoy that will test the best, especially from the back tees.

The 3rd hole, 377 yards from the tips, is a beauty, teeing off through a corridor of mature trees running down to the Gulf of Finland whose shore lies perilously close to the back of the green. A thinned second will probably never be seen again.

There are many fine holes on the course but the other that really stands out is the 580-yard dog-leg 15th to a raised green, which hugs the coastline down the right with a huge lake to the left. Into the prevailing, wind it can take three well his woods to get up.

The 18th takes us uphill to  another raised green and the stairs to the splendidly equipped clubhouse with its excellent first floor bar and restaurant gazing out across open countryside. With flights now running regularly from both London Gatwick and London City airports direct to Tallinn, Estonia looks set to see a lot more southern based UK golfers and rightly so.




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