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Golf tees off in Estonia

PUBLISHED: 14:44 15 October 2009 | UPDATED: 16:29 07 September 2010

EVER wanted to play midnight golf? Now you can - but you have to go to Estonia. Golf is pretty new in Estonia - it just didn't happen there when the country gained independence from the Soviet bloc back in 1991 - but already there are now eight courses i

EVER wanted to play midnight golf? Now you can - but you have to go to Estonia. Golf is pretty new in Estonia - it just didn't happen there when the country gained independence from the Soviet bloc back in 1991 - but already there are now eight courses in the Estonian Golf Association.

Thanks to the county's northern position - on the Baltic coast in eastern Europe - there are only about four hours of darkness daily during the summer. The latitudes allow play deep into the night - and the Estonian Golf & Country Club (www.egcc.ee) offers golfers the chance of that midnight round.

The complex boasts 27 holes, which mixes traditional British golf links with old Estonian forests and the Baltic sea. It was designed by Finnish professional player Lassi Pekka Tilander.

The club's nine-hole Stone Course is ideal for night golfers. Opened in 2005 and situated on the upper plateau, the 2,903m layout is built on a limestone heritage site. The course is open to the winds and sprinkled with stone fences and ancient grave markings and wild junipers. You will be provided with night 'tracer' flashing balls that light up for five minutes after being hit.

Night golf will make you trust your swing and force you to listen for the sound of the ball landing on the fairways and greens. Great fun. And take a post-match sauna - it's a popular Estonian pastime. But don't play in the winter - it's dark all the time and the courses are closed as they are covered in snow. The Estonia golf season starts in April and ends in early autumn.

The jewel in the crown, though, is the club's championship Sea Course, which opened last year. It is already regarded as one of the premier courses in eastern Europe and one of only eight venues endorsed by the European Tour.

Last month, it was named as the venue for the European qualifier for this year's World Cup, which will be played at Mission Hills in China.

At more than 7,000 yards, the par-72 Sea Course is long and requires good technique and imagination, even for low-handicap golfers, to master the spectacular layout.

The elevation of the course, along the Baltic Coast and the Jagala River delta, is up to 40m. The signature par-four 13th hole certainly lived up to its billing. There is water all the way down the right side of the fairway and dense woodland on the left. I spoiled a sparkling drive by pulling my three-wood approach into the trees.

There are numerous on-course golf villas - complete with saunas - which can cater for up to 12 people and the clubhouse, situated on the edge of a limestone bank, includes a pro-shop, terrace restaurant and bar and, of course, saunas.

The Niitvalja golf course in Tallinn is the country's oldest - having opened in 1993 as a nine-hole course. Indeed, it was the only golf course in the Baltic region during the 90s. It is now home to the Tallinn Golf Club (www.egk-golf.ee) and a splendid 18-hole parkland test through pine and birch forest.

The first nine holes were opened to the public in 1993 and then extended to 18 holes a year later. The course continued to be modernised in 2000, with many new bunkers, and was further extended in 2004 before being completed two years later. Now, it is a par-72 and a good, unspoiled walk at 6,411m. It is located 30km southwest of Tallinn, easily accessible via the Tallinn-Paldiski highway.

The practice area at Niivalja is among the largest in Europe, consisting of three putting, two chipping and two pitching greens; five bunkers, a 15-place turf range, a 30-place driving range and nine-hole mini-golf.

Needless to say, I spurned all the facilities before teeing off - and paid the penalty with a poor scoring round. Water comes into play at almost every hole, particularly the signature par-five 15th, which has an island green. I almost parred it - the ball hung agonisingly on the lip but refused to drop.

Away from the golf courses, Tallinn provides lively and varied entertainment. It may be a medieval town, but the people have embraced their relatively newfound freedom with a joyful energy.

The cobbled streets are narrow but offer superb accommodation and dining options. Check out the splendid Three Sisters hotel (www. threesistershotel.com), created out of three neighbouring merchant houses or the equally relaxing Telegraaf (www.telegraafhotel. com), which offers a great spa treatment and swimming pool.

And if you fancy a more lively time, try the Troika restaurant (www.troika.ee) in the town square for a memorable Russian evening with live entertainment - and numerous shots of on-the-house vodka!

Patrick Mooney travelled as guest of The Azalea Group (www.theazaleagroup.com)

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