Roderick Easdale heads to the idyllic Costa Navarino to sample the destination’s impressive golf and lifestyle offering
Costa Navarino Golf Resort Review: A Greek Odyssey
In this masked era, you notice those whose smile reaches their eyes, as it does with the staff at Costa Navarino.
The service is also attentive due to the high staff-to-guest ratio.
Costa Navarino was the brainchild of the late Captain Vassilis Constantakopoulos, who grew up in Messinia and made a fortune in shipping.
It was conceived, in large part, to ensure the people of his home region have employment to allow them to remain in the area, and to preserve the local culture and landscape.
It had been a long-term project for the Captain, as he is universally referred to around those parts.
It took him decades to buy up the parcels of land he needed to weave his tourist-tempting tapestry across his home territory.
This project, which he began and his family has now taken over, is ever expanding: the two golf courses are soon to be joined by two more, with the number of hotels also doubling from the existing two.
These two new hotels are to be built at the Navarino waterfront, adjacent to the Bay course.
Currently, the majority of rounds played by guests are at the Dunes.
This is on the same site as the existing hotels, the Westin and the Romanos.
The Westin is open 11 months of the year (so this is not the place for a Christmas or New Year stay unless you want to take exclusivity to unintended levels) and its sister hotel has a more limited season.
The Bay course is approximately 15 minutes away, but a shuttle service is provided by the hotel.
A sublime setting
The Bay course, which I had greatly enjoyed on my previous visit, did not disappoint on reacquaintance.
It had changed, however, as the holes have been re-routed to accommodate the new clubhouse.
The opener is now much easier – no longer a doglegged par 4 over water (which has become the 14th), but instead a descending par 4 of no great length with a bewitching bay backdrop.
How far you descend on this hole depends upon where you tee it up.
And you can sometimes literally tee it up here for there is a tee box on the grassed hotel roof.
Most of the holes have a gorgeous backdrop, either floating down seawards or ambling up the hillside. There are few flat holes.
Well, two to be precise, the splendid 2nd and a par 4 late on, which both have the bay all along their right flank.
As one who was taught about the works of Archimedes, I know I state a scientific fact when I say the water level in the bay was minusculely higher shortly after I had sliced my drive on that par 4 than it had been before.
That 2nd is now a cracking par 3 nestled alongside the shoreline, one of several magnificent short holes including two played over dramatic, deep valleys.
The 8th is an odd par 3, which on first sight appears to have taken a wrong turning on its way to a local pitch-and-putt course.
Steeply downhill, it is only 122 yards off the tips and 101 off the yellows.
It is deliberately short – there is plenty of space behind the tees to build a longer hole – and an intriguing bit of design which divides opinion.
I liked Robert Trent Jones II’s courage to be different.
When there are six par 3s and five par 5s, why not ring the changes on the par 3s?
This par-3 hole is also unusual for the number of doglegs on it.
It is the local hangout for a small pack of gentle, lolling, stray dogs, which have been semi-adopted by the club.
I have played here three times and every time they have been on this tee.
Well not quite on it – they have enough golfing etiquette not to lie around nor sleep on the tee itself, merely alongside it, although they obviously consider themselves to have equal rights on the cart path as golfers.
Another subject of debate in the clubhouse, as we sat looking over the 1st fairway down to the bay where a fire helicopter scooped up water to douse a bit of burning hillside, was on the relative merits of the Dunes and Bay layouts.
On my previous visit, which had been for the annual Messinia Pro-Am, consensus of opinion had been that it was a contest of looks versus brains.
The Dunes posed the more technical challenge, but the Bay was prettier.
The low-handicapper in our party disagreed slightly with this, reckoning both tracks would challenge him equally when he was on his A game.
When slightly off it, though, he felt the Bay is more forgiving than the Bernhard Langer-designed Dunes.
For what it’s worth, I played comfortably below my handicap on the Bay; comfortably above it on the Dunes.
But then I am not sure I have an A game.
More to come
The Dunes has some fine views from its fairways, but you normally need to look away from the game for these.
On the Bay, they are more integral to the round.
Where the Bay wins hands down over the Dunes is that there is little drama on the Dunes’ one-shotters.
But the Dunes does have some highly enjoyable holes such as the 2nd, a par 4 sliding gently towards the sea, and the 15th, with its clever tight green with a run off to the front and dense shrubbery back and left to gobble a ball.
The green itself is tucked away at the left corner of the fairway.
A hooked approach to the 15th is one of the few obvious ways to lose a ball here.
With its wide fairways, light rough and no water, straightforward opportunities to litter the countryside with Titleists are absent.
Two more courses, designed by Jose Maria Olazabal, are coming at Navarino Hills, with opening planned for spring 2022.
One will cling to the side of the hill overlooking the bay; the other will run through woodland.
We were taken to see a couple of holes on the former which have been recently seeded and they looked spectacular.
Planned at around 7,300 yards, it is hoped this particular layout will host top pro events.
Navarino Dunes boasts numerous restaurants but not a French one, to the incredulity of the French member of our press party.
I’m not sure being taken to the American Diner, with its three bowling alleys, mollified him.
Along with the usual things you’d expect at such a destination – beach, tennis courts, gym, spa et al – are a modern museum explaining the local flora, fauna and sealife as conservation and being green is a large part of Costa Navarino’s DNA, and a go-kart track.
This wasn’t on our itinerary, sadly, as “journalists get too competitive,” the trip organiser explained.
Every time we returned to Navarino Dunes our temperature was taken, and seeing the eagerness of some of my press colleagues to record the lowest temperature, maybe our organiser had a point.
Where to play
Stats: par 71, 6,581 yards
Stats: par 71, 6,358 yards
Where to stay
The Westin at Navarino Dunes
Kalamata International airport is about three-quarters of an hour from Navarino Dunes and has seasonal direct flights from London, Birmingham and Manchester.
Athens airport is about a three-hour drive away and has direct flights from London, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh.
Flight times from London to Athens are about three and three-quarter hours.