One of the privileges of being a golf reporter is visiting high-profile new courses in their early stages – sometimes even before they are finished. Mostly, inevitably, these are high-end, big budget projects, often with associated housing and, unless the site is a real beauty, involving large amount of earthmoving to reshape the site and give the golf holes the designer and developer want.
They can be great, and the importance of championship courses to the status of golf in particular regions can't be overstated. But there is a place too for development on a more human scale, that will challenge and give pleasure to ordinary golfers day in day out. And to the reporter, it can make for a welcome change too! That was the feeling I got at Skjoldenaesholm Golf Centre, about 40 minutes west of Copenhagen, recently.
Skjoldenaesholm's new Trent Jones Jr course, designed by RTJII president Bruce Charlton, is, in one sense, not a small scale experience at all. At more than 6,500 metres (7,100 yards) from the back tees, it is thoroughly man-sized, and it will test the best golfers. But the course has a low-key, natural feel to it, mostly, I suspect, because the budget was not high, and only around 150,000 cu m of earth was moved during construction. There are no massive flashy bunkers at Skjoldenaesholm, nor do you get the impression that the course had to be imposed on the site. It's just very good, solid golf. The course gets off to an interesting start, with the walk to the first tee taking players through an old railway yard.
Having crossed to the right side of the tracks – from a golfing point of view at least – players are presented with a relatively gentle short par four opener.
There is out of bounds all the way up the left, though, so the hole shouldn't be ignored.
The golf course really gets into its stride on the second, a clever risk-reward par five. Bash the ball down the left side and it's a fairly standard three shot hole curving around a lake. But four bunkers defend an extra strip of fairway on the right, from which a direct second shot across the lake to the green is possible.
The tee shot needs to be accurate, as the second fairway is not wide, but the carry over the water is then less that 175 yards.
What I liked about this hole is that the decision is required on the tee. Here there is no thinking 'Well, I'll hit my drive and then I'll see what's left'. If players want to take the green on, they must commit to the aggressive shot, and execute it. Twice.
Difficult chips are a recurring theme at Skjoldenaesholm. A number of greens are defended on one side by water and generally slope quite steeply towards the lakes. Bail out the other way – a natural enough response – and you will need pinpoint control to stay out of trouble on your recovery shot. Both the par three third and the intriguing short par four fourth are examples of this. The latter hole, 330 metres from the back tee, is one of the most option-filled short two shotters I have seen. A wetland blocks the way in front of the tee, and continues all up the left of the fairway. The green, long, but at 12 metres very narrow, sits behind the wetland. Golfers can either try to drive the green – a carry which is probably beyond most, unless they move up a set of tees, or play into the right hand fairway. From the fairway, the approach shot can be as little as 40 metres, but players might be more sensible to lay back off the tee, as the further up the right the tee shot is hit, the more the approach is being played to a green which is now only 12 metres deep.
Put the tees forward 20 metres or so and this could be one of the most entertaining holes you will ever play.
Another fine hole is the tenth, where bunkers in the hillside on the right of the fairway set up the drive. The golfer who goes left of the traps will face an almost blind approach, even from the middle of the fairway. On the par five twelfth, trees at the corner of the dogleg create the driving challenge – you can fly them or try to hit a draw around them. A marsh on the right of the fairway means that a longer drive is a great help – there is not much room between marsh and OB wall – but the trees make hitting that drive in the fairway no easy task. Perhaps there is one tree too many, but it's still a very appealing hole. The elevated green, full of humps and hollows, is good too.
Humpy greens feature on the next three holes, which are located in their own field.
No bunkers were allowed in this field, so Charlton has made good use of the topography to create interest. The par three thirteenth seems to come out of nowhere: with no bunkers to guide the eye, the slightly uphill green is hard to envision. It's only a short iron, but I doubt there will be many birdies made here. And the fifteenth, another short par four with a devilish green, elevated at the front and then sloping severely away to the back, will test the short games of the best.
For me one of the few clunkers at Skjoldenaesholm is the home hole. It's annoying, because the hole is close to being great, but the tee shot doesn't quite work. The idea is sound: a pond is a classic 'bite off as much as you can chew' diagonal hazard for the drive, and the player must pick his line. However – certainly when I visited – the tees were a little too far back to make the challenge of the most aggressive line conceivable.
To demand a carry in excess of 230 metres (250 yards) from the yellow tees, I felt, was just too much. Golfers with a reliable fade will love the hole, but for anyone unable to hit that shot with any consistency, a tough time awaits.
Nonetheless, Skjoldenaesholm is a real delight. I found myself repeating 'It feels like I'm in England' on the way round, and for a brawny modern course, there is a lovely old-fashioned look to the place.
Meeting up with architect Charlton a couple of days later, I told him the course seemed to have been there for many years. To me there are few bigger compliments.
This article first appeared in issue 14 of Golf Course Architecture, published in October 2008.