Jose Maria Olazabal’s career has, in large part, been defined by a number of significant milestones. Winning The Masters at Augusta National in 1994 made him a major champion. Repeating the trick in 1999 cemented his place as one of the game’s greats. Masterminding a miraculous comeback at Medinah in 2012 assured his place as a Ryder Cup winning captain.
Now, it appears that his work on the ambitious Navarino Hills project at Costa Navarino, located in the ancient Greek region of Messinia in the southwest Peloponnese, will underscore his credentials as one of the game’s most influential – and important – golf course architects.
Already responsible for 20 tracks around the globe, the way Olazabal has operated his design business to date bears all of the hallmarks of the way he played when he was in his pomp: with passion, integrity and respect.
It’s those qualities that saw the Spaniard named “Golf Course Designer of the Year” at the World Golf Awards last October, following in the footsteps of fellow major champions and golf luminaries including Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.
From the Maldives to China, Italy to Qatar, and not forgetting his native Spain, Olazabal has put more than just his name to the numerous courses he has designed to date; he has put a little bit of himself into them, too.
Nowhere is that more evident than at Navarino Hills. Nearing completion, this stunning development looks set to massively enhance the credentials of Greece as a golf holiday destination.
Olazabal’s two new courses – both set to open in spring 2022 – will complement Costa Navarino’s two existing courses: The Dunes Course, designed by Bernhard Langer in association with European Tour Design; and the Robert Trent Jones II-designed Bay Course. Taken together, this will put this Mediterranean marvel in the rare position of offering its guests the challenge of four signature courses to enjoy within a 13km radius, further enhancing its status as one of Europe’s most high-calibre golf propositions.
Set above the coastline and offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, the Bay of Navarino and the Ionian Sea, Olazabal’s courses will both play to a par of 72 and measure 6,867 yards and 7,071 yards respectively. They have been built concurrently but each has their own distinct style. The so-called ‘West’ Course is the longer of the two and occupies the prime land. Prepare to see and hear a lot about the two par-3s on the back nine – the 12th and 16th – in particular.
The ‘East’, meanwhile, is more ‘rough’ and natural, occupying much of the interior of the site. With a reported 75m worth of elevation changes, it is sure to be a formidable test in its own right.
But don’t just take our word for it. Let’s leave it to the man himself to make the introductions.
“The first course is closer to the cliffs,” explained Olazabal. “The breeze is always going to be a factor and it’s going to be a little bit tougher.
“On the second course, you are protected from the wind and guests will experience a more tree-lined course, with forest and mountains in the background. I think it’s going to be ideal for anybody who wants to come and play at Costa Navarino for a few days and enjoy a different feeling and a different view when they are playing.”
Whilst many golf course developments ground as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opposite has been true at Navarino Hills. All infrastructural works, including electrical installations, rainwater drainage works and an additional irrigation lake, were completed last summer.
Underpinning the entire development has been one key, guiding principal: sustainability. For example, a water reservoir with a capacity of 470,000 cubic metres – the rough equivalent of 189 Olympic swimming pools – has been built to meet the irrigation needs of both courses, while indigenous forest plants, shrubs and seasonal local flowers and herbs have also been planted.
This is something that matters a great deal to Olazabal. “Sustainability is much more important nowadays than it was in the past,” he told bunkered. “Nowadays, using the right materials that have long-lasting properties - and which, at the same time, are environmentally ‘green’ - is crucial. It’s where everything is moving in all aspects of life and I think we
have to be really conscious of that and do our best to achieve those goals to make the game of golf and the designing of courses as green as possible."
The two courses are, of course, going to be complemented by extensive, first-rate facilities. A new clubhouse is under construction and scheduled to be finished by December. Designed by acclaimed architect Lubomír Zeman and built using local stone materials, it aims to achieve class ‘A’ in energy efficiency and will feature photovoltaic panels. There will also be a driving range with a capacity for 60 people and a 15,000m² short game area.
It all adds up to one very intriguing golf destination, and that’s before you even begin to consider the wider proposition, which includes two luxury five-star hotels – The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort, and The Westin Resort Costa Navarino – and an array of luxury private residences, conference facilities, spa and thalassotherapy centres, and a wide range of unique year-round activities for adults and children.
“The hotel facilities are second-to-none and of the highest quality,” explained Olazabal. The people are very friendly, the food is great and you’re going to have four wonderful golf courses with wonderful scenery. It doesn’t matter how good your level of golf is, you’re going to be able to go there and have a good time.
“That combination, I think, is going to be fantastic for any golfer.”
He’s not wrong.
For more information, log-on to costanavarino.com or follow the destination on Twitter @costanavarinogolf. To hear more from Olazabal, listen to The bunkered Podcast, dated May 24, 2021, titled: “What The Phil?! - Mickelson makes golf history!”