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LEGEND has it that every autumn an old man who lives in Lake Ulemiste, near the Estonian capital of Tallinn, checks on construction work in the city. Once assured of its completion his intention is to use the lake, the source of Tallinn's drinking water, to flood the city.

His grievance with Tallinn is not entirely clear but the threat does not unduly concern its citizens; partly because its modern side is undergoing constant change, Estonia having been released from the shackles of Russian rule, and partly because they are used to being threatened.

This valuable trading port has been coveted – and forcibly occupied – by many hostile neighbours over the years, from the Danes back in the 13th century through Germans, Swedes, Finns and Slavs to the Russians.

With the country their own again, Estonians – one-third of whom live in and around Tallinn – are more than happy to share its delights with ‘invaders' from all quarters, and are now able to extend this welcome to golfers.

At the centre of a burgeoning golf industry is the Estonia Golf & Country Club, brainchild of construction engineer Mait Schmidt, whose combined passion for the game and his country has ultimately led to the creation of a 27-hole golfing complex which has already earned PGA European Tour Course status. Just a 15-minute drive from Tallinn airport, EG&CC's pride and joy is its superb 18-hole Sea Course which is bordered by a development of five villages offering residential and holiday homes in a variety of styles, each of which borders a hole.

The Sea Course is something of a misnomer as the layout is a pleasing and challenging mixture of parkland, forest and links golf. The stretch of holes around the beach and the Jagal River are stunningly redolent of top quality Scottish links golf while the inland holes are bordered and, in some cases, intimidatingly hugged by woodland and are eye-catching in both setting and architecture.

Adding to the visual charm is the clubhouse, whose elevated position offers golfers views of several of the Sea Course holes from its restaurant area and balconies. It has been designed in the style of a historic rural manor house but despite its enormous aesthetic appeal it is its comfortable ambience, which is complemented by fine food and drink, which will gain the golfer's attention at the end of a round.

While Mait Schmidt's philosophy has not been exactly adapted from Hollywood's Field of Dreams – build the course and the golfers will come – he was confident that the EG&CC together with the Niitvälja course at Tallinn GC, 18 miles south west of the city, would prove an attractive destination for a golfing break or domicile.

However, it is Old Tallinn itself which provides him with an extra measure of confidence that EG&CC will draw its fair share of golfers eager to supplement a sporting stay with regular visits to this fascinating town whose cobbled streets are marbled through with an array of baroque and classical buildings.

Chances are minimal you will be treated to an open-air concert in the town hall square featuring Estonia's answer to the Spice Girls, Vanilla Ninja – who aesthetically and musically are way ahead of their English ‘peers' – unless maybe you, as I did, visit on Estonia Day.

But their absence not withstanding, it would be difficult not to be intoxicated by the mediaeval architecture, the vast array of churches and spires, and the warm welcome which awaits on every corner.

Standing close to Toompea Castle, the seat of parliament, and taking in the view of the old city, a gaggle of teenagers deliberately caught my eye. ‘You are enjoying our city?' ‘Yes, very much,' I replied. ‘It is a very beautiful place.We are so happy you like it,' was the response, and there was no doubting the genuine pride in these young inhabitants.

Slightly surreal was the sight of four men clad in golfing garb, their clubs slung across their shoulders, walking through the city. They were visitors from Helsinki, returning from a day at the Estonia Golf & Country Club to their hotel via the town square's impressive selection of outdoor bars and cafes.

Many Finns, they revealed, pop across on the ferry to Tallinn to enjoy not just its golf courses but also its art, architecture and culture. Tallinn abounds with museums and several – including the Kumu Art Museum and Museum of Occupations – came highly recommended.

Dining in Tallinn is an experience in itself worthy of the three-hour flight. Olde Hansa offers a mediaeval experience in both cuisine and ambience, waiters and waitresses in costume period serving Middle Age fare in a delightful candlelit setting.

Vegetarians should look away now: chances are this is one of the world's few restaurants which serve sausages containing a combination of bear and elk. Grittily delicious.

Troika is a traditional Russian restaurant where music and dancing provide an intoxicating supplement to a menu which appears to have as its driving force a determination to provide food that will, as my Nan used to say, stick to your ribs and keep out the cold. Do I need to  mention that the vodka served here is as good as it gets?

Estonia Golf & Country Club would be worth a visit on its own merits but when the splendours of Tallinn as a sight-seeing venue are added in, the city becomes one which should be placed on any golfer's ‘To Visit' list.


Published: December 14, 2009

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