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Tune in to Tunisia
In terms of golf, tourism and property development, Tunisia is where its neighbour to the west, Morocco, was five years ago. Restrictions on foreigners buying property were lifted in 2006, and since then, the French and Italians in particular have been piling in.
Film-makers have been shooting here for years. Star Wars, The English Patient and Life of Brian all took advantage of great desert, friendly and efficient locals, and almost deserted Mediterranean beaches. The country has some of the best ancient Roman sites outside Italy – the Coliseum at El Jem is better preserved than Rome's.
The capital, Tunis, lacks the sophisticated veneer of Marrakech, but is modernising at speed. On the outskirts of town, the oldest of the country's dozen golf clubs, at Carthage, dates back to 1927, since when little has changed. Quite charming.
However, just up the road,with its own ritzy hotel, lies a brand new Robert Trent Jones II course that is bang up to date. La Residence meanders between the sea and large salt flats, uses paspalum turf, and at 7,055 yards, is both long and difficult. With water in play on 14 holes, it's a challenging round that requires plenty of balls.
There being a French connection, the clubhouse a la carte menu is designed to deaden any pain that might have gone before. Based on my own experience, allow three and half hours for the round, then two and half for lunch. I found no birdies or eagles but apparently the nature reserve around the course is a haven for migrating wild fowl.
The latest Tunis property hotspot, equivalent to London's Docklands, is Les Berges du Lac. Embassies and multi-nationals are moving in as new residential blocks are going up. It is the place to buy for foreign investors. In this swish enclave, British company Global Territories have teamed up with a local house builder, Edifia, to sell the Coralia development, 39 two- and three-bedroom apartments. £125,000 get you a one-bedroom pad, £384,500 a four-bedroom penthouse. Their next project has six three-bedroom apartments from £147,000. With underground parking and air conditioning, the design is good and the spec higher than the equivalent Spanish development. Coralia is not directly associated with any one golf club but there are plans to build a new course right across the road.
The annual subs for La Residence, at £1,600, are modest, and worth it for the lunches alone. There are 10 other good courses in the country, the best two at Hammamet, a 90-minute drive away. The flight to Tunis takes only 2½ hours, and the sun shines all year round.
Culturally, Tunisia might be described as Islamic-lite, making it the most cosmopolitan of the North African countries. It's not for the faint hearted, but then getting in early on a good prospect seldom is.
Tallin's got talent
To the Communists, golf was a game played by capitalist pigs. Countries behind the Iron Curtain like Estonia were substantially deprived of our great sport until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.Twenty years on, an emerging middle class needs new places to flaunt its wealth, so dodgy night clubs and golf courses are opening up all over.
A good example of the latter is The Estonian Golf & Country Club near Tallinn, where the recent qualifying event for the Omega Mission Hills World Cup saw the Welsh team of Stephen Dodd and Jamie Donaldson and the Scottish team of Alistair Forsyth and David Drysdale book their places to China.
The Estonian capital is just 2½ hours from London on Estonian Air or Easyjet. Like Prague, the city's beer is cheap and the bars friendly. On the Baltic, opposite their 'big brother', Finland, Estonia is twice the size of Wales but with only a million and half inhabitants.
Twenty minutes from Tallinn, the EGCC is one of only eight official PGA European Tour Courses in Europe. Although not quite in the same class as PGA Catalunya, the 7,067-yard Sea Course built by local businessman Mait Schmidt is certainly picturesque.
Through virgin forest, down to the seashore and round ancient boulders, this is the sort of landscape usually denied to new European courses.The 15th along the Gulf of Finland is a bit special, as is the short 17th over water, but as the blitz of birdies by the likes of Dodd and Donaldson showed, most of course is relatively straightforward, at least for straight hitters.
Being on the same latitude as the Shetland Isles means long summer days but also long winter nights, so play on the Sea Course and the nine-hole Stone Course is only guaranteed from May to October. The USGA-standard greens are firm and true but the turf itself takes until mid June to fully recover from the winter. The comfortable clubhouse may be one of the few anywhere to accommodate a small archaeological museum next to its restaurant, pro-shop and sauna.
The houses, built at a discreet distance from the fairways, are light, airy,minimalist and stylish. Thirty of the 120 available plots have so far been built on, with two and three-bedroom houses going for €300,000 and four-bedroom ones for €400,000. Plots start at €120,000. "I want to keep it simple and natural," says Schmidt, who plays off four. "As well as the golf, we have 100 species of birds here, good fishing, and Nordic skiing in the winter."
All the Baltic States have seen prices fall 25% in the last year, so right now, there is good value here. Having stayed in one of these houses, I think they're fun and built to a high spec, but overpriced. Schmidt is keen to attract the British, though, so he's open to offers.
A long weekend in Tallinn, staying at the splendid old Telegraph Hotel, would be a good excuse for a research trip.
The Czechs are bouncing!
When it comes to golfing heritage, the Czech Republic under Communism suffered the same fate as Estonia, the difference being that the country already had a few courses dating back to the pre-communist era.The oldest was founded in 1898, and our very own Edward VII opened Marianske Lazne in 1905.
Today there are about 50 clubs and 70,000 players, up from 500 pre-1989. In 2007, the country was voted 'Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year' by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. So the game isn't new here, but the question is what state are the courses in?
On a recent tour, I played a couple near Prague, and three in Western Bohemia near the German border. I'd give the overall standard of design, condition and service a B+. A few courses fall into the, 'if I was there already, I'd enjoy a game' category, rather than the, 'it's worth driving for two hours to play it' class. Of those I played, the exception was Františkovy Lázn, which was brilliant.
The good news is that, only 20 minutes from Prague, a course opened in June that could easily mature into the best in the country. The 18 holes of the 6,698-yard-long Beroun Golf Resort have been designed by Canadian Les Furber and funded by the local South Korean steel company. It doesn't sound glamorous, but the course is a peach.
Set along a hillside and through a wooded valley, the set-up has five lakes in play, plenty of bunkers and some of the best-conditioned fairways and greens you could wish to see. With a buggy path around the entire course, a large new modernist clubhouse and well stocked pro-shop, the communist era has been left for dust.
Among the fifty-three properties overlooking the course, there are 27 apartments, 23 townhouses and three detached villas. The apartments start at just £100,000, the three- or four-bedroom townhouse cost from £350,000, and the villas go for £450,000.
The modern, airy design and interior finishing are all German, so the standard is high, with under-floor heating throughout. Completion will be later this year,with 70% of the development sold already. Golf membership is free with ownership.
As with Estonia, the price is a little high, but being so close to Prague, Beroun has good rental potential to go with the great golf.