Golf trips are sacred: they’re opportunities to experience new destinations, create lifelong memories and to spend time with your people. The likes of Pinehurst, Bandon and the great links courses of Scotland and Ireland might immediately spring to mind when you’re going through your bucket list but sometimes straying off the beaten track brings the greatest rewards.
Slovenia may not be the most obvious Europe golf trip and yet for those who do venture to this stunningly beautiful country with its dramatic mountain views and sweeping valleys, they will realise they have been let in on Europe’s best kept secret.
Royal Bled is home to two stunning golf courses and a beautiful hotel – the wonder of the setting is hard to sum up in words or capture in photographs, quite frankly, with the Julian Alps and the sprawling forests giving it this place a fairy tale quality. It doesn’t take long to realise why Yugoslav King Aleksander Karadordevic made the property his summer home giving rise to the name of this incredible destination. Royal Bled has certainly earned its title, royal by name and regal by nature.
The Royal Bled experience begins long before your spikes kiss the perfectly manicured grass. The welcome is fantastic, wide smiles and warm words, all underpinned by the most exceptional service you could wish to be on the end of. From the outset the staff make every effort to ensure we have everything we could want and need. That continues throughout the duration of our stay. We felt like we were the only guests and the feeling of being at a home from home didn’t take long to wash over us.
The golf courses at Royal Bled unapologetically overload your senses in the most soothing way possible. The King’s Course is the main event and there’s something genuinely therapeutic about breathing in the mountain air as you stand on the 3rd tee box. In might sound like a cliche but the beauty of it will touch your soul, and when that visual feast is combined with nature’s soundtrack, a feeling of serenity flows through you. Drink it in. It’s wonderful. The contrast of the rugged Julian Alps and the impeccably manicured layout is truly something to behold. The beauty is distracting, quite frankly, so much so that you could be forgiven for a wild drive or a missed three-footer. Royal Bled must be one of the most photogenic places in Europe golf.
Watching your golf shots soar high above the rocky alps and land softly on some of the purest greens you will lay eyes on, is nothing short of exhilarating. I have no doubt that if Mother Nature were a golfer, she would be a member at Royal Bled, if nothing else so she can admire some of her finest handiwork, making the walk alone worth the price of admission.
It should come as no surprise that the course is immaculately presented given that superintendent Steve Chappell is at the helm. Having worked four Ryder Cups including as the head greenkeeper in 2014 at Gleneagles, Chappell and his team deliver nothing short of genuine excellence from tee to green and as captivating as the surroundings are, don’t let them distract from how good the golf course is.
The King’s Course is a true championship test and should not be confused with typical ‘resort golf’ courses you might find in elsewhere in Europe golf. The tips are long, the rough is thick and there are 18 unique and heavily undulating green complexes that will stretch even the best of players. What I love about this golf course is that there is a risk-reward balance to every single shot you play tee to green. With water hazards coming into play on a few holes, as well as deep fescue lining the fairways, if you’re playing bold you best be accurate, or you may find yourself scrambling to the pro shop at the turn to collect a few more balls. With the tight margins between the perfect spot and a lost ball, the King’s Course at Royal Bled is the ultimate thinking layout, presenting opportunities for fun and creative shots on every hole.
The feeling of anxiety standing on the 14th tee is one that I will never forget. A severely elevated tee with water running up the entire left-hand side of the hole had my blood pumping and a reluctance to pull back the club tightened up my whole body. As soothing as the surroundings are, the course makes sure your heart rate will increase and your palms will get sweaty – a mark of a truly remarkable golf course. In addition to the Championship King’s Course, Royal Bled offers nine more strategically brilliant holes on the Lakes Course. Shorter and tighter, the Lakes Course lacks for nothing when it comes to the beauty, views or conditioning of its prestigious sibling and offers guests a splash of variety over the course of their visit.
Royal Bled holds golf at its core, but the off-course offerings are nothing short of opulent. Prior to teeing off, guests are given an access card to the locker room, complete with a wide screen television, leather couches, and a personalised locker. The clubhouse terrace radiates a relaxed vibe beautifully perched above the 18th green and is the ideal spot to put your feet up and soak in views of the Alps with a post-round tipple. The King’s House and Lake House offer refined and tastefully decorated rooms on site, with views of the golf course, and touches of luxury including a claw foot tub in the middle of the room. The comfort of the King’s House was the perfect tonic after a long day on the golf course, capped off with a Michelin quality five-course dinner at the on-site restaurant. The charming accommodation and elite off-course facilities makes Royal Bled much more than a golf resort, something my non-golfing partner would strongly attest to.
Royal Bled is a symphony of nature’s finest elements combining to produce one of Europe golf’s most captivating and romantic settings. There can be no better way to showcase the natural beauty of Slovenia and there is absolutely nothing that should preclude Royal Bled from a rapid rise any list of golf course rankings.
We left Royal Bled with heavy hearts. The entire experience is one that will stay with me forever and, in my book, has set the bar for hospitality, service and scenic golf. In only two days relationships were forged with the staff which gave me a sense of place and a feeling of home, something I longed for after six weeks living out of a bag. This incredible destination is the epitome of what true wandering golfers stand for, straying from the beaten path and colouring outside the lines by chasing some of the most spectacular places in the world of golf. Slovenia is a place where people flock to climb mountains and walk trails, and as the word spreads it will soon be a place where golfers come in their legions. I can’t stop thinking about it.
If there was one piece of advice that I could offer you, it would be to delay your departure for as long as possible, soak it all in, Royal Bled is the perfect escape for golfers. The self-proclaimed title of ‘Heaven on Earth’ is bold, but after spending time at Royal Bled, I am in no position to argue with it.