A rich culture, distinct foods and even a national park: Graubünden has it all. Add golfing in crisp mountain air and you will understand why we continue to go back.
In the 19th century, it was the pioneering spirit of a local hotelier that brought golf from England to the old continent. Conradin Flugi of St. Moritz recognized his British summer guests' passion for golf. So, during the summer of 1889, Flugi researched the game on a trip to the isle.
One year later, he was ready to entertain the British golfers on the very first golf course on a meadow by Lake St. Moritz. Fast forward 130 years: embedded among the mountains, valleys, lakes and streams of Graubünden are no less than a dozen golf courses. In fact, Switzerland’s largest canton also boasts the highest density of golf courses anywhere in the country.
Newly Swissed goes golfing in Graubünden
Even though Mamiko and I have never chipped or pitched a ball in our lives, the prospect of learning the game in the Swiss heartland of golf did appeal to us. This summer in Graubünden would be the time and the place to “give it a shot”!
In the spirit of a grand tour, the Alpine Circle Golf Tour offers a chance to see Graubünden from the vantage point of its golf courses. The tour is as "tailor made" as a golf bag: simply pick the number of courses you want to play and select a hotel that fits the bill.
In no time, you could be hopping from course to course - either by car or by train and postal bus. You might even benefit from an attractive green fee flat rate. And surely, the locals will be welcoming you to their club house. At least, this is what happened to us during a recent weekend.
Day 1: our first attempt at golfing at the Golf Club Brigels
We have never been to the Surselva region with its majestic valley carved out by the River Rhine. The majority of residents there speak Romansh, one of Switzerland's official languages. We decide that this golf getaway would be the time to explore this blind spot on our Swiss map...
While selecting our itinerary on the Alpine Circle Golf Tour website, we were asked to pick among the western, central and eastern regions of Graubünden. Stretching from the Oberalp Pass near Andermatt all the way to Reichenau, Surselva is located in the west. And so we put together a three-day tour involving three different golf courses.
On a sunny Friday in late June, we meet up with Thomas Mondani at the Golf Club Brigels. Every Friday at 11 AM, the professional golfer holds a free crash course for holders of a Surselva tourist card.
At the driving range, Thomas first explains the various golf clubs and their purpose in the game.
Soon after, Mamiko and I find ourselves with a club in hand and a basket of balls.
This introduction class is hands-on. And while we make the first attempts at firing away, Thomas is there to correct our posture, help with the grip and show the perfect swing.
Before lunch at the club house, we get a VIP tour of the nine-hole golf course.
The views from the Brigels plateau across the valley are stunning. I ask Thomas how he would characterize this golf course with its many slopes: "Tricky." Truly, this would be just the right course for someone who wants to experience alpine golfing in Graubünden - with all its ups and downs!
For our overnight stay in Brigels, we are checking into Hotel Mulin.
The young manager, Marc Seiler, is a local. He runs this cozy three-star hotel together with his partner, Samanta Schäfer. She is a horse fan, so they created a unique service for other equestrians: Hotel Mulin is Switzerland's first hotel where guests can bring their own horse.
Thanks to those long summer days, we still have plenty of time to switch our golfer outfits for hikers' gear and climb up through the forest behind the hotel.
The river with its many bends and drops is called "Flem" in Romansh, which translates to "village creek". After about 25 minutes, we cross the first (and possibly only) bridge in order to return on the other side of the creek. The refreshing mist of the Flem and the views from the chapel make every step worth the effort.
Day 2: hiking and more golfing in Valendas and Sagogn
The next day, we decide to make a detour on the way to our next session of golfing in Graubünden. Just across the River Rhine from the 18-hole Sagogn golf course, there are several cutesy Graubünden towns.
We park in Valendas where we strap on our hiking boots... Rhine Gorge, here we come!
After walking the town’s narrow alleys and marveling at the village fountain (entirely made of wood), we descend to the town's train station by the river. In hindsight, we could have parked right at the "Valendas - Sagnon" train station, saving us the descent through the forest. But regardless, we join the walking trail and approach the riverside.
The Anterior Rhine we are seeing here has negotiated less than 60 kilometers on its journey of 1233 kilometers to the North Sea. The water is rapid and grey from all the minerals it contains. And the tall cliffs in this meandering valley are proof that we are amidst history.
Then, a beginner's golfing class at Buna Vista Golf Club Sagogn
From the aptly named Buna Vista Golf Club Sagogn, the vistas are truly buena. From the clubhouse, we can not only see the towns across the valley, but also a stretch of the River Rhine. The club offers regular beginner’s classes for newbies like us.
Of the two-hour class, we spend about 90 minutes with hands-on practice on the perfectly manicured grounds. The approach here is to try and fail, then try again and get better at it. Rather than spending time on teaching techniques, our instructors want us to have our first experiences with a variety of golf clubs: the putter, the iron and even the driver.
Here's yours truly practicing putting:
Time passes too quickly as we walk from one exercise to the next. On the putting green, our instructor has set up a challenge, stating that: "Firing balls is for show. The real money is in putting." Turns out, it is harder than I thought to control force and direction on these uneven grounds.
To wrap things up, our instructors invite us for a refreshing “Golfer” in the garden of the club house. While sipping on this grapefruit beverage, we have the chance to ask questions and find out more about the game of golf.
Lo and behold, Mamiko and I sign up for our first tournament! Two beginners, the rabbits, will be paired up with two seasoned golfers, the tigers. We might not finish the course, but we will surely pick up some techniques and the revelation that even pros are still learning with every swing…
Day 3: time to reflect about golfing in Graubünden
On the last day of our golf getaway, we wake up to the Sunday church bells of Flims. From our balcony at the Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof, we have unrivaled views of the towering cliffs behind town.
Before heading to our last golf course, we decide to finally check out Lake Cauma in Flims. That's the good thing about booking this tour: unless someone is a hardened golfer, it allows for plenty of time to see and experience Graubünden highlights.
Our final stop: the driving range in Domat/Ems
When we identify ourselves as travelers on the Alpine Circle Golf Tour, the club house receptionist knows right away what we are talking about. She iterates what a good deal this was with the green fee flat rate.
Mamiko and I are here to hit a few dozen more balls with that seven iron and the driver at the driving range. Since we do not own our own golf clubs, we have found that golf courses will always borrow clubs to newbies like us.
Ten hours of golfing instructions and several YouTube video tutorials later, I am still nine holes away from playing on an actual golf course. But one thing is for sure: golfing is something that I want to get good at! I want to continually improve my swings so that I can soon play on a golf course in Graubünden...
(For the purpose of this review, Graubünden Ferien has invited us to stay for two nights, incl. half board, as well as try out the beginner's golf class.)