South of Thessaloniki in Halkidiki, Captain Yiannis Carras built the first golf resort in Greece at Porto Carras. The resort includes a full-service marina with over three hundred boat slips; nine tennis courts; a casino with roulette, black jack and slot machines; a thalassotherapy spa; beaches and water sports; and an equestrian center with horses for riding lessons and supervised trail rides through the Porto Carras vineyards and around the 18-hole championship golf course. The Porto Carras Golf and Country Club course was designed in 1973 by renowned American golf architects G.S. Cornish and W.G. Robinson; it was renovated by golf architect Roy McRay in 2003. Laid out in a bucolic olive grove, this eco-friendly course exemplifies how one extracts a golf course from the landscape, rather than imposing one upon it. The 18-hole par 72 course lies nestled between the lush slopes of Mount Meliton and the transparent waters of the Gulf of Torone.
Measuring 6058 meters, it presents a fair challenge to good golfers, while not discouraging less-experienced players. Pines, poplars, eucalyptus, palms, tamarisk, angelica and five hundred olive trees line the fairways. Pink, white and red oleander bushes brighten the banks of the three lakes and the perimeter of the course. Swallows flit through the trees and seagulls hunt for insects on the fairways. The grass used on fairways is paspalum, a salt-tolerant turf species that endures brackish water and will grow even when watered with sea water. The greens, also resurfaced with paspalum, are uniformly paced. The course was designed in a spiral configuration: the challenging front nine outlines the perimeter of the course, the less intimidating back nine, the interior. The 1st hole, par 4 (314 meters), poses no threat as it is an unflinching straight shot down a generous, tree-lined fairway. More challenging are the 2nd hole, par 5 (497 meters), dog-leg left pockmarked with bunkers; the 4th hole, par 4 (343 meters), requiring a long carry over a barrier of olive trees from the men’s tees; and the 5th hole, par 4 (299 meters), hitting from a high terrace, dog-leg left with waves of bunkers outlining the fairway. The front nine closes with an attractive target accented by the bright pink, yellow and red flowers of mimosa, acacia and hibiscus. The back nine moves into the inner circle of holes surrounding three small lakes: one trefoil, one small round pond and one kidney shape. Located to the sides of the fairways, the lakes provide primarily lateral pressure. After the straightforward 10th hole, par 4 (344 meters), and 11th hole, par 5 (355 meters), the 14th hole, par 4 (379 meters), carries over water from the men’s tees before the dog-leg left to the green. The 17th hole, par 3 (172 meters), hits into a trough along a canted fairway before approaching an elevated green. The 18th, par five (460 meters), proves the architect had a little Hollywood in him. Intended as a grand finale, this hole entices gamblers to shortcut a double-dog-leg left before finding the green in front of the clubhouse. Near the Porto Carras Resort, the intriguing monasteries of Mount Athos are accessible only by sea. Since 885 CE, Mount Athos has been the sole preserve of monks. Twenty Orthodox monasteries and smaller individual monastic quarters, inhabited by over two thousand monks, now dot the mountain. Athos’ monasteries and libraries contain countless treasured manuscripts, art work and religious artifacts. Only men are allowed to live on and visit Mount Athos. Women and children may view the monasteries on the mountain from boats on the sea. Northwest of Porto Carras, set in the midst of rich agricultural fields, lay the ruins of the ancient Kingdom of Macedon. During his twenty-three year reign, until his death in 336 BCE, Philip II transformed Macedon from a small beleaguered kingdom to the largest kingdom in Europe. He developed his capital at Pella, northwest of Thessaloniki, into a center of culture and art. The extensive archeological site of Pella is well worth a visit. Southwest of Pella lies Vergina, an earlier capital of Macedon, where a series of tombs has been excavated, possibly including the tomb of Philip II himself. Completing the archeological tour between Thessaloniki and Sithonia, one can visit the well-preserved houses and streets of Olynthos. From the monasteries of Mount Athos and the ruins of the Kingdom of Macedon to all the pleasures a full-scale resort can offer, a visit to Porto Carras will captivate golfers and their families alike.
TIPS TO…TEE #1 To repair damage to the putting green, discard the loose piece of turf taken out by the ball; insert repair tool vertically into the ground just outside the back of the ball mark; pull the turf toward the center of the hole; gently tap the repaired area with your putter. This action stretches undamaged turf over the ball mark, providing instant recovery.
TIPS TO…TEE #2 The clubhouse features a bar, balcony overlooking the course, and men’s and women’s locker rooms with showers. The pro shop sells golf equipment and apparel and rents clubs and carts.
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