I first set foot in Engadine Golf Club in Samedan, near St Moritz, on a fine September morning five years ago. With blue skies over the Alps, the majestic setting blew me away – I’ve encountered few courses anywhere in the world that compare. Teeing off at the first hole with snow-capped mountains to left and right is truly an awesome experience and, for scratch golfers and recreational players alike, the setting is more than matched by the club’s history and style.
Engadine, an 18-hole links course dotted with 700-year-old larch trees, is the oldest golf club in Switzerland, established in 1893 and soon discovered by a roll call of well-to-do Englishmen. A special wooden railway station (which still exists today) was built to greet visitors ranging from Lord Tyrell – the British Ambassador to Paris, who was always accompanied by his bulldog Mike and typically began a round with champagne and sandwiches in the clubhouse before repairing to the first hole – to Edward VIII, the Aga Khan, Grace Kelly and the original James Bond, Sean Connery.
The “St Andrews of the Alps” was given an imaginative redesign in 1982 by Mario Verdieri, an ardent golfer and local architect, who was determined to maintain the character of a links course in the mountains but with bunkers that are easier to play out of than, say, Carnoustie in Scotland, making the experience enjoyable rather than tortuous for the less gifted. But it is not to be underestimated; several greens are protected by water hazards and the fairways are lined with a deep rough of thick meadow flowers and grasses. Patience and precision are the key; it’s definitely not the sort of course to let rip with the driver down every fairway. My favourite hole is also the hardest: the lord par-four 12th, where the drive off the tee has to avoid a pond to the right and a bunker on the left of the landing zone. From there your second shot has a long carry over an even larger water hazard that splices the fairway.
But I can testify that there is still one significant hazard that remains unchanged and that’s the famous Maloja Wind, which has been known to blow train carriages off the tracks. The advice I was given was to go out early as the wind rarely starts before 12 noon and it can play havoc with your score the wrong side of lunch. But no matter how many bogeys, double bogeys or missed putts you may incur, the stunningly beautiful landscape always compensates for your misfortune. As does the comfortable modern clubhouse with its excellent restaurant. My dinner there last September was delicious: huge plates of local charcuterie, cheeses and game all washed down with Swiss wines, craft beers and a head-spinning digestif called Braulio Amaro.