This is a prime example of how a course can be completely turned around by a redesign and go from run of the mill to top of the class. Sure, Föhr was lucky to acquire some good expansion terrain, but many holes were also rebuilt in place or at least on the existing site. The magnitude of the transformation can still be seen, since five of the 27 holes remain as they were and each 9 hole loop is concluded by at least one of them. As instructional as it is is to compare greens (flat vs. interesting), fairways (highway vs. strategic options) and hazards (trees behind trees vs. all kinds of terrain), it is also hard to bear the inevitable downer after a bunch of great holes.
The original design by Pennink and Harradine was clearly parkland with tree-lined holes, but the redesign by Althaus is way more open and has links characteristics. Mick McShane, the shaper of Kingsbarns and the Castle Course, has seen to that. However, there are also ponds and transition areas going from barren dunesland into the forest, so it's not entirely clear what to call this type of course. It's clearly sandy and rugged, almost a bit like a flatter version of Friar's Head, and there's a breeze coming in from the nearby ocean.
Surprisingly, for 27 holes on a site with little room to spare, the routing is not only perfectly walkable, but also quite inspired. Side by side holes are avoided as much as possible and yet each 9 hole loop manages to return to the clubhouse. But the stars of the layout are the greens: they are very undulated and difficult, but not over the top in terms of playability. With an interesting green complex, how bad can any hole really be? That notwithstanding, the shot values are some of the most precise anywhere. Creative ideas will succeed on this course and marginal shots are rarely punished too severely.
After getting rid of the last remaining old holes, Föhr may not be too far behind the best French and Dutch courses. It doesn't even have to lose many trees, as Christian Althaus proved that he can do wonders in the forest as well. A touch of Hardelot is certainly possible here and perhaps someone can find a bit of heather as well. Such is the place that even the adjacent airfield adds a charming touch with its light propeller-driven aircrafts chasing across the course.
It takes a bit of an effort to get to the island of Föhr, but the trip is well worth it. Not only because of the golf course, but certainly its drawing power will be felt by golfers far and wide.