Few things light up a pre-tournament Pro-Am like celebrities, and this week at the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda the players were truly in the presence of Austrian sporting royalty.
Olympic downhill skiing Champion, and all-round legend, Franz Klammer was in attendance on Wednesday at Golfclub Schloss Finkenstein, playing alongside Barclays Kenya Open winner Jake Roos.
While he may have once been more comfortable with ski poles in his hands, the man who hails from Carinthia is now a very keen golfer, and it showed, as he pumped one down the first fairway as his professional partner watched on.
The 1976 Olympic Downhill Gold medallist at Innsbruck, Austria, dominated the World Cup circuit during the mid-1970s en route to becoming one of the greats of the sport, but even so, nothing brings on the nerves like an impending round of golf.
“I always look forward to playing,” said Klammer, who was overheard admitting to some first tee jitters. “But doing it with some really good players makes it even more fun. My game is off and on, I hope it is on today as the last time I played here, a few days ago, I shot four over par. So I’m hoping for more of the same today.
“This kind of event is very important for us to have here in Carinthia. We are a golf destination, and it is very important to have this tournament here, and also to promote it as a golfing region. We also want to get young kids involved over here so they can see what is possible by playing golf and motivate them to play, and this event can help do that.”
Also striding the fairways during the Pro-Am were another couple of sporting icons from the area, NHL heroes Michael Grabner and Michael Raffl. The pair played together alongside England’s Oliver Wilson, and both looked pretty handy with a golf club, rather than the hockey sticks they are more accustomed to.
With their hats turned back, and sporting the shorts that such glorious weather deserved, the two men duly dispatched their opening tee shots down the fairway as both returned to the game after a long, hard season back in America.
Michael Grabner gives it a biff off the first tee at Golfclub Schloss Finkenstein
“It is fun to be here, I’ve been part of it a couple of times,” said Grabner, who plays for the New York Islanders. “I missed it last year, but it is fun to play with the pros and learn a little bit from them. It is a fun sport, and obviously a tough one, so it is nice to get some tips.
“My game isn’t great right now, I’ve only played one round so far after a ten month break for the season, but I usually get better in July when I have played a few more times.
“A lot of hockey players like golf. It is a challenging sport, and it’s great to get out and do it in the summer, in the fresh air, so I try to play as much as I can.
“I only live about 15 minutes from here, so it is nice. I’m a member of this golf club, it is a good course, and it is a lot of fun to play the tournaments here.”
Raffl, staring through jet black sunglasses, was equally excited about the day, but a little more concerned by his own form ahead of hitting the links.
“I live in Villach over the summer, and I’m from here, so it is great to be back,” said the Philadelphia Flyer. “My golf game is awful, so I will try to have fun out there, not take it too seriously, and we’ll try and have a nice day.
“Golf is a totally different game to hockey, and I don’t really practice much, I just do it for fun. I go out there, try and hit it as hard as I can and that’s about it.
“It’s nice to be with Michael, when we are back over the summer, and to be here with him today is great. We will try and have a nice day.”