Part 1

The Schloss Pichlarn Golf & Country Club has been attracting golfers from Austria and abroad to the Styrian Enns Valley for over 50 years. Now the golf course is undergoing a furious redesign to develop it into a leading course and make it one of the best golf clubs in Austria.

The new golf course will be characterized by more enjoyment, sustainability and a great experience of nature. The internationally renowned golf course architecture firm Olazabal Design was brought on board for the project. The renowned architecture firm was named “Golf Course Designer of the Year” by the Golf Course Awards in 2020. In 2022, the Olympic Course built by Olazabal Design in Costa Navarino, Greece, was named “World’s Best Golf Course of the Year”.

We spoke to lead golf architect Toni Ortner from Olazabal Design about the new features at Golf & Country Club Schloss Pichlarn.

What was the first thing you noticed on your first visit to Golf & Country Club Schloss Pichlarn?

I think that was in 1995. I was a top amateur, played for the national team for a long time and came into contact with Pichlarn relatively early on. What was the first thing I noticed? The castle and the Grimming, of course. The embedding of the castle and the entire estate in a natural landscape. The place has an aura, a soul that captivated me.

You have been working as Lead Golf Architect for Olazabal Design for 14 years. Where have you been allowed to build and rebuild golf courses?

In addition to the actual design work, I am responsible for all technical matters in a supervisory function. José María Olazábal himself has developed our golf design studio with Matthias Nemes and myself to plan and build high-quality golf courses worldwide. In addition to our technical and creative expertise, we naturally also have the marketing and PR potential of a golf icon like José María Olazábal. He has won the Masters in Augusta twice and is a Ryder Cup legend, both as a player and as captain.

I have worked all over the world. Among others: Maldives (a compact golf course on Velaa Private Island), Qatar (the 33-hole Education City Golf Club in Doha), Saudi Arabia, China, Greece (two courses in Costa Navarino), USA, Mexico, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and Austria. In Spain, one of our core markets as the home of José María, we rebuilt 27 holes for La Sella Golf and this year the European Ladies Tour took place there.

Lead Golf Architect Toni Ortner, Olazabal Design

What does Olazabal Design’s golf architecture stand for?

We have three core values that are important to us, and José María Olazábal himself stands for them as a golfer. We have adopted these values as our company philosophy. Firstly, integrity/honesty. That we are independent of third parties and always act in the best interests of the customer. Secondly, passion.

Respect is the third core. Respect not only for the client and partner and other people involved in the project, but also respect for the landscape, which should be incorporated into the golf course architecture in the best possible way.

We realize high-quality golf course facilities all over the world, from championship courses to compact golf courses. Harmonious and natural integration of the golf course into the surrounding landscape. Interesting and varied golf design with a focus on creativity, first-class understanding of the game and strategic tricks. We are also very concerned with influencing the golfer’s psyche, presenting him/her with certain tasks that need to be considered in order to best master the golf course in terms of playing strategy.

At Golf & Country Club Schloss Pichlarn, the aim is to redesign the golf course. What is your approach to a project like this?

After the customer contacts me, I always take a look at the original site or the existing site at my leisure. I study the available aerial photos, the as-built plans – if available, read the course reviews to get as objective an impression as possible and consult with the key stakeholders of the course (i.e. owners, management, head greenkeeper, course committee, etc.) and try to get a feel for what is desired and considered necessary for the re-design. For my first visit to the site, I prefer to take some basic plans with me to help me walk the whole course.

I take a detailed look at the strengths and weaknesses of the course on site and determine the potential for improvement. With regard to the individual course elements, I naturally take a detailed look at all the greens, tees, fairways, bunkers, practice facilities, ponds, cart paths and, in addition to the general look and feel, I assess the modeling, playability and strategy of each hole, the placement of obstacles, etc., as well as the condition and maintenance of the individual course elements. And not to forget: the existing drainage and wet areas as well as the irrigation technology and dry areas are essential components of my audit. From this audit and the improvement analysis, a concept master plan is then created in collaboration with the customer and their representatives, a kind of “road map” to achieve the goal that the club has set itself. The concept master plan is therefore the basis, which is then further detailed with detailed planning, cost and time schedules and coordinated with the customer.

What are the main points for the redesign of the Golf & Country Club Schloss Pichlarn?

In addition to the drainage already implemented in the shallow and therefore often wet areas of the first nine holes and the general improvement of agronomy/maintenance, irrigation and machinery in cooperation with our partner Turf Agronomy Services, there are two main points.

A completely new irrigation system including a pumping station, new pipes and sprinklers will be installed for all 18 holes and the practice facilities. This is a major, but also extremely important investment in the infrastructure of the course to improve the long-term development and maintenance of the course. A new storage pond for sustainable irrigation has already been built and will be enlarged again.

And the second point?

The second point is the actual redesign, which involves conversion and modernization. The golf course in Pichlarn has a lot of slopes, but there are also very flat courses, so it is very varied. It starts out very flat and then builds up from the slopes to a challenging golf course. We are trying to further enhance the strengths of the course and improve the existing weaknesses and the playing experience. All measures are also designed to improve the care and maintainability of the pitch.

At the moment, it concerns the renovation of fairways 2, 4, 5, 11, 12 and the driving range as well as the construction of a new short game area next to the range. In the future, this will probably include hole 6, although planning has not yet been completed. Now to the fairways that are currently being rebuilt:

On hole 2, where the bunker always fills up with water and is too far away from the green, we are solving the drainage problem, moving it closer to the green, redesigning it and generally improving the area around the green.

Fairways 4 and 5 form a common working area: A new ladies’ tee is being built further forward on hole 4. The entire fairway area before and after the pond will be generously remodeled, including a new hilly landscape between fairway 4 and green 5, taking into account the safety of green 5. In addition, the existing pond to the south towards hole 5 will be enlarged to ensure a sustainable supply for the irrigation system and the drainage system will be completely improved.

The completely new hole 5 is a highlight both visually and in terms of play. The old tees will be abandoned and in future you will play from an elevated tee further south onto a new green with a fantastic panoramic view of the castle and the Grimming. Although the green has been moved significantly further towards the tees for safety reasons (tees from hole 4) and the hole has therefore lost length, not only the view, but also the design of the new interestingly modeled green, which nestles dangerously close to the pond and is defended on the left by a bunker, will be a treat and Instagram moment of every round at Pichlarn in the future.

On hole 9, which is uphill and has a large right-left slope and is very difficult and long to play, all the tees are being completely rebuilt. We improve the angle of play off the tee. This means that we move the tees a little further left in the direction of play so that the forest and the slope on the right don’t come into play. And we are also shifting the front tees further forward. These tees will have a positive effect both in terms of play and appearance.

On the back nine, fairways 11 and 12, which have often been criticized by players for their general playability, slopes, poor visibility and long distances, will receive a substantial facelift.

No stone is left unturned on hole 11. New tees, including a new back tee, which will also serve as the new front tee for hole 13, a complete remodeling of the entire fairway and a new green complex, will significantly improve the enjoyment of the game. The green will be relocated by approx. 50 m towards the tees, whereby the existing green will in future be available as a sod garden for the greenkeepers. The extremely long road to

We shorten hole 12 considerably by leading it straight up through the forest.

On fairway 12, we will not be able to make the landing zone visible due to the difficult topography of the terrain and the rocky ground. But we will try to lower the landing zone a little and create a kind of soft “half-pipe”, especially on the right-hand side of the fairway, to keep the balls in play. We will also improve playability on the left-hand side. For the shot into the green, which was previously impossible from the left side of the fairway, we will clear most of the existing spruce forest in the direction of the green, but preserve beautiful solitary features for the landscape and playing strategy. We will also widen the fairway in the steep area in front of the green on the left.

Which hole is the most exciting for you to work on?

It’s all exciting because we don’t know exactly how much rock we’ll have under there at holes 11 and 12, for example, and how the ground will play along with our plan. If we’re talking about earthmoving, then you have to remove material from one place and add it to another. And where you take it away, you soon come up against rock in the 11th hole, which makes the earthworks very difficult, time-consuming and costly. However, our initial samples have shown that the rock should be largely removable with standard machines. We hope that this proves to be the case.

In terms of creativity and what people will be excited about, it’s holes 5 and 11 that are exciting because they will be fundamentally improved, not only visually but also in terms of play.