A Final Look: Meeting José María Olazábal at Navarino Hills

Chatting with José María Olazábal, the designer of the new 18-hole golf courses, The Hills Course and The International Olympic Academy Golf Course, ahead of their grand opening.

Edited by Paulina Björk Kapsalis

There was anticipation in the air. The opening of the two new golf courses at Costa Navarino, The Hills Course and The International Olympic Academy Golf Course, had been the talk of the golfing community since their construction was first announced, and now they were ready. A few weeks before their grand opening, we drove up the fragrant green slopes to meet with their designer, two-time Masters champion José María Olazábal.

He was waiting for us at Navarino Hills, a spectacular piece of land situated high above Navarino Bay. As a location, it’s immediately striking; there’s no doubt that these golf courses have something special to offer. In fact, they are stunning. After taking in the view, that’s the first thing we talked about.

The natural surroundings are, of course, always a factor on a golf course, but how do you work with the Messinian landscape?

“The landscape here, at this site, has unique features. Apart from the stunning mountain backdrop, you also have Navarino Bay below. I really had to think about how to bring those features into the design. I think we achieved that. Some of the holes on The International Olympic Academy Golf Course are close to the cliff, so we have these wonderful Navarino Bay views, and then on The Hills Course, you go down the valley and the scenery is totally different. You see green, and you see the mountain and the forest. I love this combination.”

It’s hard to disagree with that. Navarino Hills combines all the best features of the Messinian landscape. Was it a challenge to integrate Costa Navarino’s sustainability goals into the construction?

“When designing a golf course nowadays, sustainability is a crucial factor. Everyone is going in that direction. You need to be very conscious about the materials you use and the amount of water that you’re going to require. You have to be as gentle as possible with nature, and try to use local species. We kept all of this in mind from the very moment that we began designing. There were a few technical difficulties during construction. The main one was the soil. There’s a lot of stone in the area, and we had to deal with that the best way that we could. The changes in elevation on The Hills Course were also critical. We had to adapt to that.”


What about those changes in elevation? Are they something that could have created practical difficulties for golfers?

“Changes in elevation were accounted for in creating each hole and, in the end, this isn’t a problem but an advantage, as it makes the course much more attractive.”

Navarino Hills was named the “World’s Best New Golf Development” at the 2020 World Golf Awards, and, thanks to Costa Navarino’s work with the International Olympic Academy, the designation of one of the two new 18-hole par-72 courses as the world’s first International Olympic Academy Golf Course is another factor that will help establish Messinia as a world-class golfing destination and Costa Navarino as one of the best golf resorts. How do you feel about your courses being the latest addition to what is turning into a major attraction for golfers?

“As a golf destination, Costa Navarino is, I think, going to fulfill all the possible needs of people who are looking for unique golfing vacations. What’s more, it’s not just about playing golf here. As you say, you also have the highest standard of hotels and restaurants, a wonderful seafront and beautiful beaches, and other activities and sporting facilities, including tennis courts, for example. The experience is going to be fantastic! Costa Navarino is among the most beautiful places I have ever been to; the land of the two new 18-hole golf courses is simply breathtaking. It has been an absolute privilege and honor to design The Hills Course and The International Olympic Academy Golf Course and become a part of your story.”

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