The phrase ‘It’s Greek to me’ owes its origin, as do so many others, to William Shakespeare, in this case from Julius Caesar. Greece is not especially associated with golf but it certainly is way more so now than was the case a little over a decade ago. And unlike the character in Shakespeare’s play, the Greeks in question here most definitely know what they’re talking about.
Located in the southwest Peloponnese region of the country, Costa Navarino boasts four courses, operated with the assistance of Troon Golf, the world’s leading golf-brand management organisation. The development collects awards as frequently as Olivia Colman, including for being the world’s best emerging golf destination at the 2022 World Golf Awards and being acclaimed as having the world’s best new course at the same ceremony, this for its International Olympic Academy Golf Course. That layout only opened last year, but let’s go back to the beginning; back to 2010.
That year saw the opening of the Dunes Course, designed by the two-time Masters champion and victorious (2004) European Ryder Cup captain, Bernhard Langer. Depending on which tees you choose to hit from, the course plays to anything between 4847 to 6022 metres. It meanders over some pretty impressive dunes and makes use of the terrain to create several show-stopping views: for example on the par-four 6th, just 280 metres long with about a 50-foot fall from tee to fairway. It’s assuredly driveable for a long-hitter, not even requiring a driver. The course also offers tantalising sightings of the Ionian Sea, perhaps notably as the backdrop to the par-four 2nd. Given its location and the fact that the turf is satisfyingly crisp, you will perhaps not be surprised to hear that although this is not a links it has some of the characteristics of one.
A year on from that, the club opened the Bay Course. This was the work of the renowned American course architect, Robert Trent Jones Jnr. It’s a little shorter than the Dunes and offers a few more sea views, the panorama over the Bay of Navarino being a compelling sight. The green of the par-three 2nd hole is right beside the water, and I came within less than a foot of making my third-ever hole-in-one. (A rubbish 6-iron which took all sorts of lucky bounces, since you asked.) Costa Navarino is understandably proud of its sustainability credentials and the earth-sheltered clubhouse here, which blends beautifully into the landscape, is a unique example of this.
In February of last year, the third and fourth courses were unveiled, both designed by José Maria Olazábal, the two-time Masters champion and victorious (2012) European Ryder Cup captain. (You will note the pattern of pedigree that emerges regarding a couple of the course architects here!) These were the aforementioned International Olympic Academy Golf (IOAG) Course and the Hills Course. These two most recent openings had a lavish inauguration last November with the staging of the Olazábal & Friends Charity Pro-Am, which featured the eponymous designer as well as his Spanish professional colleague, Miguel Angel Jimenéz.
These two courses are served by the same practice facilities and clubhouse, where the glorious views over the bay and out to the hills from the offices must make it hard to concentrate on doing any work. Some of those views are evident on the two courses, notably on the IOAG Course. As its name suggests, it has a connection to one of Greece’s most famous gifts to mankind. The course was launched in partnership with the International Olympic Academy and the Hellenic Olympic Committee. The two sides have a distinctly different ambience. The front nine is played over essentially gentle terrain, often old olive groves. The back nine takes us to the clifftops. For my money, the standout hole is the 10th, which measures 351 metres from the back markers. As one advances towards the green (too slowly in my case), a stupendous vista across the bay opens out. It is also there, from a different angle, on the par-three 12th. The subsequent holes going in to embrace some stunning mountain views.
The Hills Course provides five tee boxes, which is more options than one would find at most places, albeit one less than on the IOAG Course. The landscape here is pretty rugged and ravines are a regular feature. The only spot to afford a sight of the sea is the tee on the 4th, a par-five of 468 metres from where we played which my son reached in two. (There was a strong wind behind and he can hit it well.) I have special affection for the 13th, a 257-metre par-four where I hit a decent (for me) drive which left me closer to the green than I had anticipated. My other clubs were on the cart - normally one can drive on the fairways but there had been a brief but powerful storm shortly before we went out - so I had to borrow my son’s wedge. I hit it to 20 feet and made the birdie putt.
The company behind the development at Costa Navarino is called Temes. In 2019, the company chairman, the quite splendidly named Achilles Constantakopoulos, explained to the New York Times the philosophy behind the company’s strategy. “With golf courses there is the following issue,” he said. “One equals almost none.” By that, he was referencing a survey conducted by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators that only 15% of keen golfers would go on holiday to somewhere with only one course, a number which rises to 75% if there are three courses and 100% with five. Costa Navarino now has four, one more, for example, than Quinta do Lago in Portugal and La Manga in Spain. I think that in Europe only the Belek area of Turkey offers more than four and the odds are that Costa Navarino will complete its nap hand comfortably before this decade is out.
At present the four courses are only open from mid-February to November - the necessary heavy maintenance is undertaken in the winter - but eventually the plan is for this to become a year-round holiday destination, and golf is key to that goal. The vast majority of visitors to Greece go there between June and September. Costa Navarino aims to alter that balance with its much acclaimed courses (plus its spectacular, similarly award-winning, spa). There are many other things to enjoy apart from the golf and not counting the gorgeous food and wine. And nor forgetting the olive oil. There is the old port town of Pylos, the charming seaside village of Gialova, the spectacular omega-shaped beach at Voidokoilia, and perhaps the sight of dolphins or flamingos if you visit at the right time of year and get lucky.
There are three accommodation operations on the main site. I stayed at the Westin Resort Costa Navarino, where the bedroom was airy and spacious and the restaurant options terrific. My room was about a 5-minute walk from the clubhouse at the Dunes Course. Getting to the first tee on the other three courses takes a little longer, about 20 minutes, and is accomplished with the assistance of a well-organised minibus shuttle service. (The properties are all less than 10 miles apart.) The practice facilities at all locations are absolutely top-class.
Finally, and I will just throw this stat into the mix, the four at Costa Navarino represent 40% of the golf courses in Greece. There are at present only ten. Somewhat bizarrely, I have played eight of them. There is no doubt which are the best set of four. As to which is the best one at Costa Navarino, that’s a matter of opinion.
You can follow Robert Green on Twitter @robrtgreen and enjoy his other blog f-factors.com plus you can read more by him on golf at robertgreengolf.com