Golfing Special: The hills are alive with the sound of... 'Fore!'

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The Independent Online

Golf balls travel faster in Switzerland. I promise you this is true; it has to do with the thin atmosphere at high altitudes and the championship golfers at the Swiss Open (yes, they do have one) have to change their game to compensate.

Golf balls travel faster in Switzerland. I promise you this is true; it has to do with the thin atmosphere at high altitudes and the championship golfers at the Swiss Open (yes, they do have one) have to change their game to compensate.

While indoors, you should not under any circumstances try and test this curiosity for yourself. Swiss holiday apartments are notoriously small and there really is not room to swing a golf club. Foreigners have traditionally been restricted to buying little flats akin to shoeboxes with a habitable space of no more than 100sq metres, about a quarter of the average London suburban semi at what seemed outrageously high prices. But times are changing.

A new law enacted by Switzerland's federal government has doubled the maximum size to 200sq metres, allowing many previously conservative builders to take full advantage by constructing larger, high-specification developments.

The changes have already had an impact on the ski apartment market, but more significantly, for the first time British golfers are starting to buy.

It is not just the space available attracting British buyers. The Swiss franc has weakened in line with the US dollar relative to EU currencies while property prices in Britain have outpaced those in Switzerland, making the pound in their pockets travel further as well.

"The proportion of visitors from the UK has increased a lot over the last four years and they now make up nearly a quarter of the total," said Guy Chanel, marketing manager at Villars Tourisme in the resort of Villars-Gryon, 115km from Geneva airport.

There has been a golf course there since 1922 he points out, although the original was built over by Club Méditerranée in the Sixties and the current championship course was only completed recently after a long battle with the World Wildlife Fund.

It now boasts flat fairways, large greens and proper paths that allow golf carts to trundle around, all set against some spectacular Alpine views. Neither the terrain nor the wildlife conservation issues involved make the Swiss golfing environment suitable for the sort of villas beside fairways that are found in Southern Europe and the US.

And, of course, playing times are restricted to the summer as you can easily find your favourite fairway under a covering of snow from November onwards.

Simon Malster, of Swiss specialists Investors in Property, advises: "Villars is proving so popular with the British because of its proximity to Geneva - only an hour and a quarter away - and its role as a year-round resort."

Spacious, two-bedroom apartments in Villars's well-placed Amber building start at £250,000. At Crans-Montana in the Valais region, the home of the golf course where they play the Swiss Open, a three-room, ground floor apartment measuring 78sq metres with a private garden on the edge of a forest in a complex including a swimming pool is for sale at SFr310,000 (£135,000).

Throughout the country, more golfing opportunities are attracting larger numbers of British buyers, says Roland Minder, Deputy Director of Leisure Marketing at Switzerland Tourism.

For those interested in combining a golf residence with a ski home, Switzerland genuinely does offer a viable alternative at the moment, with prices that make comparable deals available in the super-heated French Alpine market look distinctly unattractive.

Investors in Property: Simon Malster 07973 735385;

Gérance Service agency: Miguel Ernand 00 41 24 495 35 35;

www.valaisimmobilier.ch/sierre/english.htm

www.golf-villars.ch

www.valaisrealestate.com

www.verbier.ch

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