Hamburger Golf Club
Hamburg, Germany

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

Located two hours inland in Falkenstein, Hamburger Golf Club is one of Europe's most attractive courses thanks to its the rolling topography and large areas of heather. Pictured above is the reachable par five seventeenth.

When Harry Colt took the train between the classy De Pan Golf Club in Utrechtse and Hamburg in 1929, little could he have realized how swiftly the peak of golf course architecture in Europe was coming to a close? The Great Depression in North America was about to commence and Europe itself would be torn apart a decade later. Yes, the firm of Harry Colt, Alison, & Morrison would go on to build several more courses of great distinction in Europe, most notably at Royal Hague, but by and large not only was their best work done but some of it like their seaside course at Knockke would be forever lost as a result of World War II.

Fortunately, there is a renewed appreciation today in England and across Europe for Harry Colt‘s work and Falkenstein is now widely regarded as Germany’s best course. Built during the transition from hickory to steel shafts, it was always meant to be a course for great events. Set on nearly 175 acres, there is a sense of spaciousness to Falkenstein that not all Golden Age courses enjoy. In addition, its practise area is one of the best in Europe, which is a good thing – Germans famously receive more golf lessons per golfer than do golfers in any other European country.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

The raw site with which Colt had to work was ideally suited for golf thanks to its sandy soil, open nature and rolling topography.

Though the club is rightly proud of possessing a Harry Colt course, that is not to say that changes haven’t occurred to it since play commenced here in the summer of 1930. According to historian Christoph Meister,

When the new Falkenstein Golf Course was officially opened on July 24th, 1930 it played 5,612m (6,137yds). Bernhard von Limburger, editor of the German Magazine “Golf” and golf course architect himself, wrote in his article covering the opening tournament that all the course was lacking was a true par-5 hole. Also with the steel shaft becoming more popular, it became evident the course could use some more length. Thus, in 1938 a major reconstruction was started to lengthen the second hole from 345m (377yds) to 500m (547yds). In addition, the third hole was lengthened from 125m (137yds) to 195m (213yds) and was accomplished by moving the tee westwards onto the “Reincke-Höhe”, the highest point on the course. A new 3rd fairway was cut through the forest. The 3rd green was already graded towards the new teeing area so that the green only needed very little movement. A row of cross bunkers was built some 50m in front of the green. The work was done and supervised by then club manager C.A.Hellmers, who was himself a former scratch player. The author of these lines nevertheless believes that like in Frankfurt around 1937 Morrison was asked for his opinion regarding some course alterations. No.9 at Berlin-Nedlitz, also designed by Morrison, had a similar if not even more impressive cross bunkering as Falkenstein’s No.3 after the redesign. Construction of the second hole was finished in 1939 and during autumn of the same year the new 3rd fairway was cut through the forest. The two holes were opened on August 30th 1941. The “Reincke-Höhe” became a very popular spot for spectators, as from that spot you could watch the golfers on green No.2, Hole No.3, Green No.6 and Tee No.7. The creation of these two holes has definitely strengthened Falkenstein with the addition of a true three shot hole and a long one shotter. Plans for work on the back nine were shelved for twenty years due to World War II. 

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

Meister provides this photograph as to how the third hole appeared in 1941 after the playing corridor was relocated and the hole lengthened by C.A.Hellmers. A wood was sometimes required to reach the back hole locations.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

Here is how the third hole now looks and plays today after von Limburger himself modified it in 1961. His alterations offer a real insight into how he approached golf course architecture. Specifically, he was a fan of fewer hazards but that they should be well placed. In that manner, the maintenance expense would be reduced while the course would be strategic and enjoyable to a wide range of playing levels.

Of course, one may wonder that if the creation of the new true three shot second hole was so beneficial to the course, why didn’t Harry Colt himself build it? The answer is simple in that the club did not own the property in 1929 and that Harry Colt‘s first hole played into the corner of the club’s property as it existed at the time. Hence, Harry Colt had no choice but to send his second hole back down what is now mostly occupied by the club’s practice area.  The land two hundred yards behind the first green that the club eventually acquired in the late 1930s was in fact a sand quarry (!) and there is no doubt that Harry Colt would have found a way to incorporate it into his routing.

By the early 1960s, as Europe heeled, thoughts again turned to what was best for the course. Meister continues the story on the evolution of Falkenstein,

The members of Hamburger Golf Club had to wait until 1961 to pursue the pre-war idea to lengthen the course to more than 6,000m (6,562yds). Bernhard von Limburger, who in 1930 had written that No.13 was probably the easiest hole on the course, brought forward the idea to close the Par-3 14th and lengthen No.13 by 40m by putting the green onto the edge of a ravine that was formerly part of hole No.14. Ever since then, No.13 has been a challenging dog-leg Par-4 hole. It might make the reader smile to hear it was von Limburger himself who said during this time at Falkenstein that he felt like a painter who was sent to the Louvre and being asked to prettify Mona Lisa’s mouth. Old No.15 became no.14 and the hole was lengthened by a few meters putting the tee where there was formerly green no.14. Now the course needed a second Par-3 hole on the second nine and so the spectacular downhill par 3-hole was added between old No.15 and No.16. As Mark Rowlinson states in the latest edition of the World Atlas of Golf, “the 155-yard 15th is almost as far down as it is long! It seems quite out of character with the rest, as does the 329-yard 16th, a short par four that involves a drive which must pierce the narrow gap between two tall trees. Neither is a Harry Colt original”.  Right he is as both holes are the work of von Limburger and not Harry Colt or Morrison. The new No.15 necessitated moving the tee of No.16 westwards to the outset edge of the golf course.  No. 16 now became a dogleg and just recently German-Canadian architect David Krause added a nice deep bunker where long drives will end up if they don’t get around the corner of the dogleg. The second part of the hole as well as the position of the green is original though. Some people say 15 and 16 are the weakest holes on the course, all I can say is that on most German golf courses they would be considered nice holes. The end result is that after the 1962 and 1965 renovations Falkenstein played 6,010m (6,573yds). The course was again well suited for Championships such as the German Open, which was played at Falkenstein eight times between 1951 and 1981 when Bernhard Langer won the tournament for the first time.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

The changes to the 2nd, 3rd, and 13th-16th holes are evident above when the 1970 course is transposed over Colt's 1930 routing.

In looking at the routing above, the upper middle section where it shows the second green, third tee, sixth green and seventh tee is the  Reincke-Höhe, the highest point on the course. How devastating it would have been if the club founders had been insistent that the clubhouse be located here! Mercifully, they didn’t handcuff Harry Colt in this manner and he was free to incorporate that landform into the golf. Far too modern day owners/founders of courses make the mistake of allocating prime land for golf for the clubhouse instead. This blunder helps doom many a modern course to mediocrity.

Hole to Note

Fourth and Fifth holes, 480 yards & 430 yards; As referenced above, Falkenstein gets off to a solid start that requires stout hitting but the course becomes altogether more special starting on the fourth tee, thanks to Harry Colt‘s innate ability to route holes over landforms in such a manner as to create unique, arresting holes that live long in the player’s mind. The manner in which the fourth and fifth fairways are draped over the rolling land is Harry Colt at his very best. At both, the holes dogleg to the right over crests of hills with out of bounds on the inside of the doglegs and guess what? That leaves blind tee shots of the sort that the modern tiger golfer despises. Yet, standing on the tee, all but the first time golfer (of which there aren’t too many at this private club) knows exactly when he has executed a good drive. The reward of a long tee ball that is properly shaped from left to right is that the golfer enjoys a much easier second shot after his tee ball receives additional kick and roll off the sloping landforms. In the case of the fourth, this half par hole becomes reachable in two. Though the visuals are perfect on holes two and three, it is when more mystery is presented that Falkenstein becomes truly special.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

Colt used the broad slopes and ridges to great effect, especially on the front nine. Both the tee balls on the fourth (see above) and fifth are blind and play over the crest of hills.

Sixth hole, 430 yards; In the first several months from when the course opened, hickory shafts were the norm but that quickly changed. Always keen to test the best, Falkenstein looked where it could best pick up length. At the sixth, they were able to both move the tee back fifty-five yards and also shorten the green to tee walk from the prior hole.  The only downside was that the new tee made the hole more of a pronounced dogleg right than Harry Colt initially had it, meaning it was the third hole in a row that is shaped from left to right. Nonetheless, the hole is a standout and plays completely different than the prior two due to its uphill nature. If anyone was ever inclined to compile an eclectic list of Harry Colt‘s hardest holes, this would be included! The Nordwand of the Eiger is often referred to as the Wall of Death and that’s how someone in a stroke play event might view this brute.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

A monster of a two shotter, the sixth hole climbs eighty feet from tee to green. As if that's not enough, its green features the most back to front slope of any on the course.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

Rare is it for a hole to climb so dramatically on both the tee ball and approach shot. As seen above, the contoured green offers no respite.

Seventh hole, 380 yards; As noted above, the highest point at Falkenstein is called Reincke-Höhe and it bears the sixth green and seventh tee with the second green and third tee some thirty yards lower but cut into the same landform. Variety is at the heart of all great architecture and that is exactly the opportunity that topography affords the architect. What could be more different than the bruising sixth with its uphill climb and fiercely sloping back to front green? The answer is a downhill hole with a green that falls away to its back right which is exactly what Harry Colt built. Such diversity is extremely rare to find on a flat course.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

Hamburger is hillier than most heathland courses around London. The prospect from the elevated seventh tee is friendlier than the prior three tees as everything is clearly laid out before the golfer. A drive down the left best opens up the green.

Hamburger, Falkenstein, Harry Colt, Christoph Meister

In fine contrast to the prior green, the back half of the seventh falls away and to the right.

continued > > >