The island of Cyprus is beginning to emerge as a credible golf destination for tourists from across Europe. With the startling success of the Aphrodite Hills resort near Paphos and strong political support from the government of the Republic of Cyprus, which has targeted golf as a powerful economic development aid, golf projects are starting to appear around the island.
The northern part of Cyprus, has, until now, been a different matter. Separated from the rest of the island since the 1974 Turkish invasion and a self-declared independent republic since 1983 (although only Turkey recognises this declaration), northern Cyprus has only recently started to develop its tourist offer. Now, villas and apartments are springing up along the northern coast, new hotels with standards of accommodation comparable with other destinations are opening, and a large marina is planned. And, along with those developments, the area has its first 18- hole golf course, just outside the village of Esentepe.
The Korineum golf course has been several years in the making. British golf architect David Hemstock originally conceived the routing, but later withdrew from the project. The developers then hired Dutch construction supervisor Arne van Amerongen to oversee the build; the course opened earlier this year.
Cyprus is hot and arid. Except when the temperature gets unbearably high, this makes for pleasant conditions for playing golf, but keeping the grass alive is a constant challenge. At Korineum, the problem has been dealt with by using paspalum grass on the whole course. Paspalum, a strain of grass that originated on the seashore in South Africa, is naturally tolerant of both salt and poor quality water, meaning that partially desalinated sea water can be used to irrigate. The grass can also create an extremely good playing surface if properly managed, though it is prone to becoming puddingy. Paspalum is surely the future of golf in these hot markets; those behind Korineum have made a good decision by choosing it.
From the northern coast of Cyprus, the land rises quickly towards the Besparmak mountain range, so finding property suitable for golf cannot have been easy.
Korineum scores well in this regard: the site is effectively on the side of a foothill, and is relatively gentle lower down, becoming more rugged as it rises. At the eastern end of the property, the land plunges into a huge valley: routing holes along the cliff edge must have been the golf architect's first thought.
The course is a little slow to start: the first hole is a benign short par four, and although the second is a pretty one shotter across a ravine, the next few holes are also only fair.
That said, these holes at the bottom of the property still offer tremendous views, with tee shots typically being aimed straight at the Mediterranean or up at the mountains. The spectacular Five Finger Mountain is in constant view, and the relatively gentle opening is appropriate for the resort setting, allowing players to get into the swing of their round before meeting bigger challenges later on. The par five fifth has a nicely sited green, but shows one of the recurring problems with the course: a large but shallow bunker protecting the whole of the front of the green. There are too many holes with such bunkers: to me, they show a lack of imagination, perhaps demonstrating the lack of architectural input during the build phase.
The eighth is a terrific par five, demanding a drive across a ravine to a fairway slightly obscured by olive and pine trees. Perhaps the second half of the hole is less interesting, but the steep back to front pitch of the green demands respect. Hole nine is on the borderline between excellent and problematic: again the drive, from an elevated tee to a fairway only part of which is visible from the tee is challenging, but the sharp dogleg to the right, protected by an olive tree and a large but shallow bunker, might be a little too sharp. The inside of the dogleg needs to be more intimidating to increase the penalty for going too close to the corner – at the moment, there is little to stop the player simply aiming at the green. That green, however, is good: protected by a stream, it is long but undulating, and offers many good pin positions.
Ten and eleven work their way straight up and down the hill, and lead the player to the best part of the course. The twelfth gives the first view of the huge chasm to the east and, especially from the back tee, presents a terrifying drive with certain death to the left. Unfortunately, the green has been built away from the edge, and thus, once the tee shot has been successfully executed, the hole's defences are mostly behind you. There is a fine possible location for a green slightly further back and left than the existing putting surface: if the technical problems of relocating it can be solved it would massively improve the hole.
The thirteenth is by a long chalk the best hole on the course, and could easily become one of the most famous par threes in golf. Again the chasm is to the player's left, but this time it is in play all along. Almost 200 metres from the back tee, and sharply uphill sits the green in a wonderful saddle between two hillsides.
This saddle makes the hole slightly less brutal than it looks, because the ball collects from the sides. A swale constructed to the left to carry away stormwater means that a miss on that side will not find the putting surface, so right is the better bailout. But essentially this is a pure heroic hole: make a fine strike with a long club, or lose your ball.
Actually there is strategy involved in the hole. A layup area is provided for those who don't choose to risk the carry (which is nearly 180 metres even from the yellow tee), and the fact that the hole is stroke index one means that a four will see almost every golfer play to his handicap.
In an ideal world I would remove the small mounds behind the green and cut down the scrubby trees to create a skyline green with nothing beyond the hole and the mountains beyond, but this is quibbling. I hate the term 'signature hole' but if ever such a thing existed, this is it. I may be biased having hit two fine five wood shots from the tee, the first time round with a little too much draw and thus finding the left swale, and the second straight over the pin leaving an eight yard birdie putt which duly went in, but this hole is truly one of the best par threes I have seen.
The fourteenth tee is the highest point on the course, and offers another fascinating drive. Again the green is less interesting; indeed this is a recurring theme. Excellent drives are a feature of the course, but the greens complexes could be better done. The routing has been well done, making the best use of the site's natural features, but the 'in the ground' architecture could be improved.
This can – and hopefully will – be fixed, but it will take time, care and money.Overall, Korineum sits on a fine piece of property with some natural features any architect would be pleased to work with. The course has been routed to take advantage of those features, and as a result has several very good holes. But it is a more interesting course off the tee than it is once the fairways have been found. Some greens are quite challenging – the nicelyshaped seventeenth that becomes more challenging the further back the pin is located, and the eighteenth with a fairly severe slope away from the direction of play are good examples. Many golfers may dislike this latter feature, but for me it fits well. In general, though, the green complexes look and play as though they have been constructed rather than designed.
There are too many relatively short par fours. Even the twelfth, a terrific driving hole, is only really challenging from the back marker. Move up one set and any half decent drive into the fairway will leave a very short second. Several other holes on the course share this problem.
One good thing about the course is that, in favourable conditions – not the 33 Celsius in which I played it – it will be fairly walkable. There is only one really severe stretch, the drag up to 13 green and 14 tee, and green to tee walks have mostly been kept short. If the course is later lengthened, as director of golf Michael Jones would like, this attribute needs to be kept in mind. But Korineum is a fine addition to the golfing options offered on the island of Cyprus: hopefully it will continue to improve.