Whenever I think about Switzerland a few things spring to mind. Chocolate, an army knife that can always help you out if you ever need a bottle of wine uncorking, railways that are never late and of course, time. Swiss watches are famous throughout the world and there is a very good reason for that. Not only are they luxurious but also made with precision. Every part and mechanism within the watch works perfectly. If one was to ever fail then the whole thing falls. No matter how insignificant the part may be to the untrained eye, it is essential.
The finest 5* hotels in the world function with the same dynamics of a Rolex. Everything, from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, is in place. The whole thing runs like clockwork. From the moment you wake you know you are somewhere special. Friendly staff and an exceptional breakfast complete with the glamour and decor that elevates you. The Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina would be our home for the next few days as we sampled the golfing delights of the Engadine Valley.
Pontresina was clearly in a party mood when we arrived. Perhaps they heard that we were in town as the streets were filled with people enjoying the street festival. Live music, street sellers and the smell of delicious food welcomed us as we made our way to the hotel. The hotel itself was stunning. Its neo-baroque architecture was a feast for the eyes. Our room was equally impressive complete with suite and bathroom. From the moment we had arrived it was as if I had elevated up the social ladder. Whatever my true standing was in the real world, I was made to feel like I was most the important person staying there.
When morning came and breakfast was eaten, I took a quick stroll around the town. The street party may have been finished but you wouldn’t have even thought that one had taken place. Pontresina was as clean as a whistle. The crisp alpine air filled my lungs with every step. All around me was beauty. The Alps, glaciers and birdsong was simply breathtaking. It may have been a quick morning stroll but it had certainly reinvigorated me as a day of golf awaited.
We were playing in the Kulm & Kronenhof cup at the Kulm Golf course in St Moritz. The nine-hole Kulm Golf St. Moritz course, first laid out in 1891, tees off close to the centre of the resort, before meandering harmoniously out into the countryside, past the Olympia Bob Run and the former Olympic Stadium (two winter Olympics have been held in St. Moritz, in 1928 and 1948), while enjoying spectacular views over Lake St. Moritz. Lying at a height of 1,860 metres, this demanding par 27 course is among the highest in Europe and was re-laid in 2001 to bring it up to date for the needs of today’s golfers.
A par 3 course, what could possibly go wrong? Not only is the course beautiful but it is also a tough one. One moment you are playing uphill. Out of bounds is just behind some greens, then you are downhill. Club selection is everything here. Thankfully my playing partners Urs and Mario had some tips for me along the way. It was only playing the course again for our back nine that I had managed to iron out the creases of my game. Either way, I was never here to try to win. I was here to see how things are done in Switzerland.
Things are done differently here. 54 players took part in the Kulm & Kronenhof Cup, 20 of those players were female. For me, a journalist, it was a pleasure to see. Equality it appears, is alive and kicking within golf in Switzerland. On one opening tee, the men played before the women. “Whatever happened to ladies first?” I asked them.
“Welcome to Switzerland, where everyone is equal.” Came his reply.
Following the golf we took a stroll around St Moritz. It might be a playground for the rich and famous but a little window shopping was in order. The finest boutiques supply the wealthy with everything they need. For me though it was the Lake that grabbed my attention. In winter, it is easy to imagine it being used as a skating rink, albeit, a large one. There wasn’t much time though. We were invited to the prize giving ceremony at the Kulm Country Club. Restored by British Architect, Norman Foster, the space is a winter Olympian’s paradise full of bobsledding memorabilia from Olympics past. It certainly has an alpine feel to it. With the prizes awarded, part of the club was now becoming an outdoor cinema. Before we knew it our day in St. Moritz was over as we headed back to Pontresina.
The following morning we were off to the Engadine Golf Club. Switzerland's oldest golf club is celebrating it's 125th anniversary this year and we had been invited to play both of the club's courses. Our first port of call was the clubs youngest course.
The Zuoz-Madulain was constructed in 2003. It has clearly been constructed with careful attention to the environment. A mixture of undulating fairways, multiple elevation changes, tricky doglegs and punishing rough made up of meadow flowers and grasses made it a challenging course. Its carefully thought-out landscaping and location alongside an Alpine forest and a fast-flowing river surrounded by snow-capped mountains made for a magical, natural setting.
We were welcomed by the clubs managing director, Ramun Ratti who was coming along to play with us. It was difficult not to like Ramun. He was charming, funny and came complete with a flask of rum that was shared to celebrate any birdies.
The course was in spectacular condition with each hole giving you another challenge to face. Then there were the views. I started to think about Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven is a place on earth". Don't ask me why but the song just popped into my head as I strolled in search of a lost ball. Humming away aimlessly it turned out that the song perfectly matched the mood I was in. She is right, Heaven is a place on earth and it just so happens to be called Engadine Golf Club.
As we approached the 9th hole Ramun told us about Mulligans, Zuoz-Madulain's halfway house. Tapas was on the menu as well as a Bacon and Egg Toastie. The choice was obvious.You might be able to take the Englishman out of England but you'll never take England out of the Englishman. Bacon and Egg Toastie it was. The food was exceptional and the beer was much needed. It was certainly the finest halfway house I had ever encountered.
Fed and watered (well, liquored) we headed off to complete the rest of the course. It was a challenge. The back nine is certainly more tricky. Walking uphill was beginning to take its toll but it was worth it. With our round complete, Ramun knew just how to celebrate.
"No birdies on the last but hey, let's have some rum to celebrate anyway!"
Who am I to say no to an offer like that. Samedan, the clubs oldest course followed. Zuoz-Madulain may have been the youngest but now we heading to the respectful grandfather of Swiss golf.
The course was where it all began 125 years ago. To celebrate, they are recreating a mixed foursomes tournament just like they did when the course first opened in 1893. A philosophy was established here all those years ago. Golf is for everyone. No matter your age, sex or creed. I turned to Romun to tell him about some courses in Britain and how mixed tournaments are rare. I told him that only now are some clubs even allowing women to play on their courses.
He looked bemused, shaking his head. That was his equality stance. But a businessman also knows bad business when he sees it.
"That doesn't make sense, don't they realise how much business they are losing?"
Golf is a business but it also an experience. Here in Switzerland like many clubs in Europe, the emphasis is on the family. It shows with so many on the course throughout our stay.
Samedan is noticeably a lot flatter that Zuoz-Madulain. It would, however, be a mistake to believe that it is any easier. Just behind the fourth hole tee box is a tree over two centuries old. I wondered what it had witnessed in its time. Given the many famous names who had played this course such as Sean Connery and Aga Khan, it must have seen some amazing tee shots. Oh, the disappointment that tree must have felt when it saw mine.
The two courses might have been completely different but they had something in common. Both had a tremendous heart that only comes from the people that make it a club. Returning to the Kronenhof the sharp realisation that the trip was about to end had hit.
In truth, I felt a little sad but I couldn't help but smile also. Switzerland has some amazing courses that is for sure but what made the trip complete was the people who we met along the way. Friendly, sincere, and welcoming. Switzerland is simply perfection personified.
Where we played:
Kulm Golf Club: http://www.stmoritz-golfclub.ch/de/
Engadine Golf Club: Zuoz-Madulain and Samedan courses: https://www.engadin-golf.ch/
Where we stayed:
The Grand Hotel Kronenhof: https://www.kronenhof.com/en/
Travel whilst in Switzerland:
Swiss Travel System
The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities. The Swiss Travel Pass also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £197 in second class.
For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call the Switzerland Travel Centre on the International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail, for information firstname.lastname@example.org; for packages, trains and air tickets email@example.com.