Vilnius weekend – Golf and history on a budget

If you want to make the most out of your European golf travel budget while discovering new courses and a historic town, check out a long weekend in Vilnius. The V Golf Club has some of the best greens we’ve seen in Europe.

Vilnius may not be a new kid on the European block, but it is definitely a newcomer to the European map of golf destinations. If you love to travel, see new and different things, a foray to the capital city of Lithuania should be top of the list.

Vilnius has plenty of intriguing history, culture, architecture, galleries, restaurants and nightlife. All of this will keep your group of golfers interested, entertained, occupied and sated during the course of, say, a spring or an autumn trip to this Baltic nation.

The Old Town of Vilnius, known as Europe’s largest preserved medieval city, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The standard of products and services, including the fare at trendy restaurants, is higher than one finds many other places in Europe. Try the lively Zoe’s Bar and Grill in the center of town. Wander through the streets, you’ll see some amazing architecture and dozens of beautiful churches and cathedrals.

Vilnius has three golf clubs: The V Golf Club, Capitals Golf Club and European Centre. Package prices for various combinations are noticeably low – for example at Capitals Golf Club you can get two nights’ stay at rooms in the clubhouse, with breakfast, unlimited golf, unlimited beer (!) and a roundtrip airport shuttle, all for 179 euros per person. The V Golf Club has a ‘stay and play’ package with three nights and two rounds of golf for 235 euros per person. The price level is in other words quite pleasant, no matter which course or courses you choose to play on.

Golf and spa

The most exclusive of the three resorts is The V Golf Club at Vilnius Grand Resort. Vilnius Grand Resort is large spa hotel (previously in the Meridien chain) 25 minutes from the airport and 15 from the center of town. We’re not surprised on the first evening when we see that there’s a large group from Sweden staying at the resort. The din in the restaurant is full of southern Swedish dialects, and the atmosphere hits new levels when they start singing their traditional drinking and toasting songs in between their Švyturys beer and cepelinai (a kind of potato ball).

Scandinavian groups are welcome at the Vilnius Grand Resort, which has strong ties to Sweden especially. The golf director is a Swede, Karl-Anders Grundin. He manages an impressive course. The V Golf Club (par 72, 6312m from the back tees) was designed by the American golf course architect Bob Hunt, and opened in 2009. It is situated in an area that used to be marshland, and of course that means that there are many, many water hazards (lakes, streams, ponds) on the course: only five holes have no water.

USGA standard

It’s obvious at the outset that the greenkeepers at the V Club are dedicated professionals. We have hardly seen better greens anywhere in Europe. The course is the only Baltic course to have been built following the United States Golf Association (USGA) standards. This basis, combined with investments in maintenance and the expertise of the staff, has resulted in fine fairways and exceptional greens. The practice areas and range are also of high quality. The entire package leads you to get ideas of coming back for a week’s play and practice combination. It would most certainly be a handicap-reducing proposition.

Grundin is in the process of making some changes to the course. The course can be a real ball-eater, preying especially on bogey golfers and high handicappers. It is particularly difficult for women. The yellow tees are at 5638 m, while the red tee is at 5175 m, a difference of 463 m. To compare, my home club has a difference of 900 m between red and yellow.

In fact, the slope rating at the V Golf Club is 137 for women, two points higher than the men have from the very back tee. The slope rating for men from yellow is a more manageable but still challenging 127 (the slope for an average course is stipulated to be 113).

Some of the holes are strategically challenging. After the first round of play, we wanted to play again – in order to eliminate some of the ‘stupid’ strategic mistakes we made in the first round. For example, there are a couple of demanding par fives with double doglegs and of course water and lots of trees in play (the 7th and the 9th).

The changes to come, according to Grundin, are some widened landing areas in some places, including less severe rough so that it will be easier to find some balls. A new ladies’ tee prior to an ominous water hazard on the 8th is also in the works. Grundin promises the course will eventually be shorter from the red tees.

In any case, it’s probably smart to bring plenty of extra balls if you’re not overly straight with your driver and long irons. I learned a lesson during my second round of play on the course. I had to ask my playing partner politely if I could ‘borrow’ a ball on the 15th, as I had run out. I proceeded with no delay to slice it into the dense woods. OK, so you’ll use more balls here than on your home course. Just bring along some old ones and the problem is solved. After all, you’re playing golf courses all over the world. What’s a few balls here and there?

The Capitals Golf Club

There’s more golf around Vilnius. Of course, The V Golf Club is an experience, but the Capitals Golf Club (par 71, 6234m) is well worth visiting, too. The course opened nine holes in 2006 and completed the full 18 in 2007. It was named Capitals as it’s near the midpoint between the four historic capitals of Lithuania: Kernave, Trakai, Kaunas and Vilnius. It takes 45 minutes to drive from Vilnius. Capitals is a course that reminds one of some popular courses in Scandinavia, with rolling hills. The course architect is Peter Chamberlain, who has been the club professional at Falsterbo in Sweden. The parkland course is laid out around eight lakes and boasts 67 bunkers. The first nine are a bit rollercoasterish (good aerobic training if you’re walking), while the back nine are less hilly. The course is wide and the fairways are forgiving – a nice course to play several times.

European Centre

The third course on the Vilnius periphery is European Centre (Europos Centro), with 18 holes (par 71, 6055m) – based around a very cozy clubhouse with a friendly, family-run restaurant. This is a woodland course with some very narrow holes with tall trees on both sides. Other holes are more open, with a few on the back nine bordering the picturesque lake. The story behind the name of the club is worth noting: the French national geographic institute has proclaimed that the official center point of Europe is next to the 7th tee. Visitors usually take a little break after they tee off on the 7th hole, and make their way to the impressive monument on the other side of the OB line on the left of the hole. If I were to intuitively place a pin in the center of Europe, it would probably not land in Lithuania, but who wants to argue with French geographers?

Who wants to argue at all? Find a few friends, hop on a plane a try a long weekend for golf in Vilnius.

Resources: