"Golf is a good walk spoiled," or so Mark Twain once said. But the picturesque town of Fribourg is proving otherwise with its new urban golf experience.This content was published on May 16, 2008 - 12:05
Strolling around town on a sunny afternoon, toting clubs and rubber balls, our group of players on Switzerland's first urban golf course looked like we had taken a wrong turn somewhere.
In fact we were following a map and had a clear destination – the next hole. There are 18 in total, just like the real thing, but these short holes are situated in some of the prettiest spots in the city.
One moment you are teeing off in a little square overlooking the old town, a few minutes later you are whacking the grass in the shade of the Pont St Jean by the River Sarine.
The tees and holes are easily recognisable, marked by a square of artificial grass. The holes vary from five to 50 metres in length and are located in pedestrian areas.
In the parks we sometimes had to ask sunbathers to move when they were in the way, a request people usually took in good humour. But safety isn't a great concern, as this reporter can testify, getting hit by a ball full force made me jump but didn't hurt.
Our group passed another gathering of more traditional sports enthusiasts at Grandes-Rames by the riverside. Despite the friendly banter, the boules players could not be persuaded to switch sports.
Urban golf has been around in Europe and the United States for more than a decade but it is usually played on waste ground or other empty areas over distances of several hundred metres.
The idea of a fixed course of short holes was the inspiration of business student Céline Curty, who put together a proposal during her apprenticeship at Fribourg Tourism.
"We found it such an interesting idea that we decided rather than leave it in a drawer we would make it happen, which we did in collaboration with Fribourg city," Nicolas Zapf, head of Fribourg tourism told swissinfo.
"I think it's a course and a sport suitable for everyone – families, work outings, groups of friends," he added. The cost for a family of four or five is SFr23 ($22).
But, as Zapf pointed out, this is not real golf. "If people want to come and improve their handicap this isn't the way. It's really just a game, to have fun, discover the town," he said.
Although bilingual Fribourg is not on the main tourist trail, the old town is one of the finest and best preserved examples of medieval architecture in Europe.
The sleepy charm of its many squares, bridges, fountains and cafes provides a very pleasant opportunity to step back in time.
But urban golf is not just about sightseeing. It's about winning! Or taking part, if you prefer. Before they set off, players receive a pen and scorecard where they keep a record of their scores. The element of competition keeps the fun and interest going.
The course covers quite a distance and it takes about four hours to cover 18 holes at a leisurely pace. Our nine-hole outing was thirsty work and we rewarded ourselves with refreshments in the outdoor café at the Fribourg Puppet Museum.
The best way to tally up the scores is over a cool drink. Those aiming for 18 holes would be advised to stop for a bite to eat - unless of course they want to beat the course record, which currently stands at two and half hours.
The best player in our group, Fribourg resident Harjan Winters, found the experience very enjoyable.
"Normally when you walk in a city you do not have a destination and it's very hard to find the nicest places. But when you're playing golf you've got a destination - your next hole - and at the same time you see the nicest places of the city, it's very good," he said.
For the record, despite boasting of golfing experience in Ireland, the swissinfo representative came in comfortably last. Got to practise that putting!
swissinfo, Clare O'Dea in Fribourg
The golf course is open all year round.
The cost for adults to play is SFr9, children SFr5.
Groups of 10 or more SFr7 per person.
Family rate SFr23.
Equipment available at Fribourg Tourism office next to the train station or from Hotel NH (beside the first hole) on Sundays and outside office hours.
Fribourg, founded in 1157 by the Dukes of Zähringen, is the capital of the canton of the same name in western Switzerland.
The bilingual town is situated on the imaginary border between French and German linguistic and cultural influences.
The River Saane or Sarine loops through the medieval town, which is classified as a historical monument, with its narrow alleyways, picturesque squares, fountains and statues.
The impressive fortifications with 14 towers and a city wall are still intact.
Today Fribourg is a lively university town with a population of just over 35,000 inhabitants or approximately double that number if one includes the immediate surrounding suburbs.