A Golf Trip to Poland

At the crossroads of Europe, a golf destination is coming into its own

Few people have fought harder for the freedom to spend summer afternoons on a golf course than the citizens of Polska. Poland’s strategic location in central Europe has attracted hosts of invaders stretching as far back as the Vikings. But today, the proud Polish people live under the yoke of no one. The country’s distinctive culture has blossomed like its red poppies, the national flower. And those who cross the Polish border now aren’t looking to conquer: They’re coming to visit historic sites, go skiing or sailing, take in a music festival, feast on pierogies and beer—and play golf.

Poland is roughly the size of Colorado, and it’s got mountains of its own—the snowcapped Carpathians—plus sandy beaches on the Baltic, lowland plains, and vast forests. But where the Rocky Mountain State boasts 300-plus golf courses, Poland has just over 40. The good news: The best of these can be played in one scenic, counterclockwise loop.

photo by Getty Images

Modern golf got its start here at First Warsaw Golf & Country Club, and it’s a good place to tee off your trip, too. A 1990s parkland layout that zigzags between claustrophobia-inducing tree lines and a series of small lakes in the Vistula River floodplain, it calls for precision. Bring lots of balls to this and every Polish course, as water is the chief hazard everywhere. After your round, explore historic Warsaw—from the cobblestone streets and shops of its magical Old Town to the sidewalk cafes of the colorful square known as the Rynek Starego Miasta. Depending on how your round goes, you might also pop into the Polish Vodka Museum, where you’ll learn the proper pronunciation of na zdrowie.

Next, head north to the Baltic port city of Gdansk, birthplace of the Solidarity movement, where four courses merit visits. Martin Hawtree did the honors at Mazury Golf & Country Club, augmenting the hilly Warmia terrain with mound-stippled fairways and undulating greens protected by sand and water; the finishing hole is defended by no fewer than three water hazards. Then there’s Sand Valley, an expansive, imaginative track that’s a bit of a chameleon, with wide-shouldered holes variously routed over canyons, waste areas, riverbanks, and ridgelines—plus raucously undulating greens that may not speak your language. Gdansk Golf & Country Club (aka Postolowo) is the longest track you’ll encounter in Poland, tipping out at over 7,700 yards. Here again, water factors in frequently, as at the knee-knocking par-three 16th and the daredevil par-four 17th, which requires a laser-accurate approach shot to a deep but narrow green guarded by a lake below. North of Gdansk, Sierra Golf Resort has its own version of Magnolia Lane (but with oaks), well-groomed playing conditions, and brawny fairways bordered by yet more water and wetlands. The par-five 17th, where a lake snakes all along the right-hand side, is particularly obstinate.

Veering southwest from Gdansk, the Gary Player-designed PGA National course at Modry Las is considered by many to be the country’s best. Flat stances are few and water hazards many here, as the course wraps around a lake and treks over hillsides that present captivating views of its Choszczno countryside setting. Finally, just northwest of the celebrated city of Krakow, the creators of Rosa Private Golf Club (open to visitors) spared no expense to turn the featureless terrain into a golfer’s paradise. They built lakes and streams, fashioned jolting fairways and greens, sprinkled the site with dense rough (and 117 bunkers), and conjured up a world-class course that’s an experience as epic as Krakow’s grand castles.

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