Golf in the morning and Mozart in the afternoon
The majestic mountains of Switzerland and Austria offer breathtaking scenery galore. But they brim with cultural opportunities, too, from concerts to plays.
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA — Let's see, what might Austria's new tourism advertising motto be? How about: "Come for Mozart and a mulligan." "Edelweiss and a drive that doesn't slice." "The Von Trapps and nary a sand trap."
Most people don't go to one of Europe's premier cultural capitals to swing a Ping. But modern history is replete with unlikely duets: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; chili and chocolate; Luciano Pavorotti and Sheryl Crow (really!).
Golfing in Salzburg is one of those odd juxtapositions that work somehow.
The nation that gave us Mozart, Strauss, Haydn, and Schubert is also home to 144 golf courses - most built in the past 10 to 15 years. Granted, that's about one-tenth the number of courses you'll find in the state of Florida. Admittedly, there are only a handful of Austrian courses that might approach the length, conditioning, and challenge of championship courses found in the US and elsewhere in Europe.
But golfers, fess up: How often do your tee shots momentarily disappear into the white backdrop of a towering glacier? When was the last time you heard an Austrian cow bell tinkling softly as you walked up to the 18th green in the Alpine dusk? And when have you backed away from a birdie putt just to gaze at an 800-year-old lakeside castle where the rich and famous have slept?
"The biggest hazard on this course is the view," remarked one New Yorker as he finished a round at Zell am See Kaprun Golf Club, a 36-hole postcard-pretty site at the foot of 10,000-foot-high Kitzsteinhorn mountain.
While there are plenty of courses in the world that offer beautiful vistas, few can also offer a comparable dose of the culture and history found in the Salzburg region.
The birthplace of Mozart has music festivals almost monthly, culminating from late July through August in a five-week-long artistic banquet of opera, theater, church choirs, folk music, classical concerts, and Austrian marionette theater performances.
Mix and match until you find the perfect blend of both: Golf in the morning, museums and cathedrals in the afternoon. Finish your day with a live quartet playing "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" while you dine on an exquisite meal in a 19th-century monastery.
To borrow a line from that Hollywood film shot here in 1964, here are "a few of my favorite things" to do on a Salzburg golf and culture trip:
• Golfers may want to start at the Mondsee Golf Club (www.golfclub mondsee.at). This is a 6,802-yard gem wrapped around one small lake, abutting another, and nestled at the foot of the Drachenwand or Dragon Wall - 4,100 feet of striated white granite.
The course is flat and holes are straightforward. At first, you could almost be persuaded to believe club pro Wilhelm Müller's description of the game: "Two straights, two putts. Nothing more."
But you'd also better have your birdies by the time you reach the last four holes that go over and around the lake; par will be an achievement. "These are the best four match play holes in Austria," brags Mr. Müller.
Before or after your round, you might stop by the Mondsee Cathedral where the wedding scene in "The Sound of Music" was shot. The village is also shown in the opening scene when Maria runs across the hill to the convent.
• Before you head out for Mondsee, make a reservation at the Stiftskeller, the eatery in St. Peter's monastery that has been serving hungry travelers for 1,200 years. It is one of the oldest continuously operated restaurants in the world.
You can have just a meal, or for about 20 more euros, local Salzburg musicians in period costumes will perform Mozart's compositions while you dine on traditional recipes from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Our menu included cream soup with cinnamon; breast of chicken with watercress sauce, potatoes and green beans; and a sampling of arias from "Don Giovanni," "The Marriage of Figaro," and "The Magic Flute."
If the dinner concert only whets your appetite for more music, as it did ours, Salzburg brims with follow-up options. The easiest to find are the nearly nightly chamber music concerts (www.mozart festival.at) in the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which dominates the city skyline.
Look up at night, you'll see five windows lit up. That's the Golden Hall or Prince's Chamber, a wood-paneled stateroom built about 1500. On the night we were there, members of the Salzburg Music Academy, led by its artistic director and cellist, Tibor Benyi, performed Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Dvorak.
If your eyes should wander (only during the intermission, of course), you'll notice the royal blue ceiling decorated with gold stars, and a chunk missing from one of the four marble columns in the room. During an uprising in 1525, the local peasants sent the archbishop of the day a taste of their displeasure: a cannonball.
In fact, it's worth setting aside some time before the concert to tour the 917-year-old fortress. The sprawling estate includes some of the finest Gothic secular architecture in Europe, not to mention an impressive display of torture instruments in a chamber dedicated to that end for a couple hundred years.
• For sheer majesty, it's hard to beat the Zell am See Golf Club (www.europasportregion.at/ golfclub) at Kaprun. Two 18-hole courses are nestled in the flatlands of the Salzach valley and surrounded by 14,000-foot mountains of the Hohe Tauern National Park. There's year-round skiing on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier at one end of this course. OK, it's a few miles away, but it seems close enough to touch.
These are two top Austrian courses that the average golfer can also enjoy - as have some notable pros, including Greg Norman, John Daly, Seve Ballesteros, and Bernard Langer.
• While you're in Zell am See, you must take the cable car up Schmittenhöhe. From the top, the 360-degree vista is awesome: you can see 30 other mountain peaks. It's a great spot for a picnic, photographing Alpine wildflowers, or quietly pondering the meaning of life. There are hiking trails snaking away from the summit in every direction.
When you get back to Salzburg, try dining at the K&K (www.kkhotels.com) for "authentic" medieval food and entertainment. You will cook your own meat on hot stones set in the middle of the table.
We had a selection of pork, chicken, beef, bacon, and sausage. Green beans, carrots, sassafras root, and French fries were also served.
We missed it, but our waiter said that if we had chosen to eat in the "Banquet Theater" - a 900-year-old Romanesque wine cellar - the waiters perform as well as serve.
• Gold Egg is one of those places that Austrians know, but many tourists don't. It's a little village with a long history. The 18-hole course here is small but challenging. It's wedged into the hills (i.e., plenty of side-hill lies) and weaves in and out of working dairy farms.
"For every 30 cows, an Austrian farmer get $65,000 per year in subsidies," says Franz Schellhorn, the owner, explaining why he could get the farmers only to rent, not sell the land to him. "If they sell, they lose their subsidies," he says. A different farmer owns each hole.
For lunch or dinner keep your Gold Egg business in the family. That means a short stroll or drive into the village where Franz's son, Sepp, and daughter-in-law, Susi, run Der Seehof Inn.
Sepp is an excellent chef, with 15 points and two toques in the "Gault-Millau Travel Guide." We had a five-course meal that included lake trout mousse in cream sauce, lamb that was as lean and tender as the best filet mignon, and a kind of blueberry compote creation that can only be called heavenly.
Over dinner, Franz shared a little of the history of Gold Egg (founded in 1047) and the inn (www.seehof-goldegg.com), which the Schellhorn family bought as a home in 1848. Their first guest came from Scotland in 1865.
During World War II, four German generals lived in the inn. Later, US soldiers captured the generals and shipped them to Italy. Then the inn became the US military's regional headquarters from 1945-48.
In recent years, Austria's most famous actor/governor (of California) has been a guest at the inn - more than once.
• For more information, see the Salzburg City Tourist Office's website, www. salzburginfo.at. See Austrian Airlines' website, www. austrianair.com, or in the US call 1-800-843-0002 and ask about golf packages.
Salzburg Golf Alpine passes are available from participating hotels. See the Salzburg State Board of Tourism office's website, www.salzburgerland.com.