|King Frederik III's castle sits near the 16th hole at Royal Copenhagen. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
DYREHAVEN, Denmark - To get to the Royal Copenhagen Golf Club, you must first drive 20 minutes north of the Danish capital to a shady public parking area on the inland side of the coastal road that fronts the Oresund Strait, with Sweden in the murky distance.
You exit the lot and walk under a tunnel to a large gate that seems to be a portal to an ancient kingdom. When you open the gate, you're met by a landscape that can only be described as surreal, particularly if it happens to be one of those days when the fog rolls in off the sea.
A well-worn path leads you through a large, grassy plain and ancient forest to the clubhouse, hidden behind a wall of sticks that could have been rooted by some medieval army.
The Royal Copenhagen is in the middle of Dyrehaven, one of the country's prettiest natural areas. It was here that King Frederik III in 1669 decided he wanted his own hunting grounds, and so he herded in thousands of deer and fenced off the area. Hence the name Dyrehaven, which means "deer park" or "deer garden."
The king built a castle, called Eremitage, on one of the highest areas around, overlooking the plain where the deer graze. He and his ancestors used the area for a royal hunting ground for the next 100 years until it was opened to the public in 1756.
It's still open to the public and now, in addition to the deer, there is a golf course.
"It's a fairytale course," said Tuula Undal, playing with her husband. "It's very special."
The crown prince and princess are members here, though you're unlikely to see them hacking their way around; the castle remains empty most of the time. What you will see, however, are deer. Everywhere. These aren't the small, delicate white-tailed deer so prevalent in many parts of the U.S. These are big, ruddy, Danish deer the size of bull elk.
There are more than 2,000 of them in the park, and they roam freely over the fairways and greens. Indeed, they are so many, they are literally part of the course, serving as aiming points ("Hit just to the left of that big bull up there" and obstacles - you'll be lofting shots into the green literally over their heads.
You've heard American courses bragging about their wildlife; here in Denmark, they are the course. You want some fun? Play here in September and October when the stags fight over females during breeding season. Talk about obstacles.
Royal Copenhagen is Denmark's oldest golf course, founded in 1898. No one knows the original architect, but a man named Frederik Dreyer oversaw a renovation 70 years later. Another renovation is scheduled for this fall, to be followed by a succession of work over the next few years.
It's a fairly straightforward course, over mildly rolling terrain with few forced carries - other than the deer - and only a couple of blind landing areas. There are also only a handful of bunkers, with brown sand that had to be carried in from outside so as not to disturb the park's natural setting.
The biggest threat here is the fescue rough. It's three to four inches high: tough, springy, nasty stuff. Your only option normally, if you can even find your ball, is just to get it out and back to the fairway; forget about trying for the green. And it will only get worse as the season progresses.
"This course is easy now, but in a month it will be hard, when the rough grows up," Undal said.
Royal Copenhagen is a private course, but open to visitors.
You're in Denmark, so you want that royal connection, right? The Hotel Store Kro is right down the street from the Fredensborg Castle, the "Castle of Peace" in memory of the end of the Great Nordic War in 1720. It's so close, you could hit a five-iron and knock the big, fluffy hat off one of the royal guards patrolling the royal grounds. They hold the changing of the guards every day at noon.
The hotel was originally called "The King's Inn," built in 1723 to accommodate the overflow of guests at the castle. The royal history around these parts has all the drama you'd want, including the scandalous tale of young Anna Sophie Reventlow, who caught the glad-eye of King Frederik IV.
Her mother locked her up for a year after their first "date," but she escaped and married the king, becoming his second wife. They paid the price for this, though, with the public and other royalty turning against them. After the king's death, poor Sophie was banished and given a pathetically small staff of 66 to care for her needs.
The inn has all sorts of antiques, paintings of the king and Sophie, and a restaurant called the Anna Sophie.
It's also close to a number of attractions, including Copenhagen, Hamlet's castle in Elsinore, Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
If you'd rather sample the fast life of old Copenhagen, the Imperial Hotel is very convenient for a walking tour of the city. It's a short walk from the main train station, and a short walk away from the world-famous Tivoli gardens.
It's a four-star hotel of classic Danish design, and was renovated in 2006, including all 214 rooms as well as the restaurant and lobby. The rooms are rather small, but you'll be spending most of your time outside. The hotel has conference facilities for up to 200 people.
SAS Scandinavian Airlines is the biggest airline in Scandinavia, specializing in non-stop travel from North America and Asia to Stockholm and Copenhagen. The airline serves Copenhagen non-stop from Newark, Chicago, Seattle and Washington, D.C., and Stockholm non-strop from Chicago and Newark, with Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft.
SAS and its partners offer connecting service to cities throughout Scandinavia, Europe and the world from the SAS hubs at Copenhagen and Stockholm. For more information, see www.flysas.com or call (800) 221-2350 or + 1 201 896-3600.
June 6, 2008
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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