Dutch entrepreneur Sander van Gelder – who ruled the roost at the Portuguese resort of Vale de Lobo for three decades until he sold out 2006 – was originally the man behind the development of this golf facility at Cromvoirt in the North Brabant province.
After van Gelder withdrew from the enterprise, everything stood still for a few years until 2016 when another even more successful businessman, Robert van der Wallen, stepped in to finish what had been started five years previously.
Additional land was acquired then architect Kyle Phillips (who co-designed the well-regarded Lage Vuursche course near Utrecht at the start of the new millennium) was brought in to oversee what had now become a big budget project.
The fairways lie on an ancient sandy plain so scraping back the top few metres of dirt revealed a sandy sub strata underneath. After mining this subterranean layer, the vacant space left behind was filled with the excavated top soil before the extracted sand was then spread over everything, effectively swapping the two seams.
To accelerate the ageing process, many acres of native heather were transplanted to fringe tee boxes and soften transition areas around green sites, quickly establishing a real heathland feel and gaining an overnight maturity to match that of the specimen trees dotted around the course.
Water comes into play at several holes, most notably on the front nine where a couple of lakes feature prominently at the 2nd, 7th and 8th. A deep, wide ditch also exits a smaller pond on the 17th and runs alongside the 18th before cutting diagonally across the fairway in front of the home green.
Bunkers are the most visual element of the design, both at
the edge of fairways and around the greens, with large, ragged-edged sand traps sculpted into little ridges to help protect par around beautifully contoured putting
surfaces. Aesthetically stimulating, these steep-faced bunkers are "proper" hazards that not only look great, they play much tougher than players might think.
Bernardus is actually divided into three inter-connected “compartments”. The first of these areas contains the futuristic clubhouse complex, an enormous practice facility and eight-room lodge, all of which lie close to holes 1, 9, 17 and 18. The other two sections of the course are then split equally, between the more aquatic holes (2 to 8) and the remaining holes in the northeast portion of the property (10 to 16).
Shortly after a soft opening in the summer of 2018, it was announced that the club would host three editions of the KLM Open on the European Tour from 2020 onwards, allowing elite professionals, on site spectators and a large television audience the chance to see just what an estimated 50 million euro investment looks like.
And for golfers who wish to sample the “member for a day” playing experience for themselves – paying a reasonably-priced day ticket rate to play a prestigious, rather than an exclusive golf course – then Bernardus is worth every cent of the visitor fee currently being charged.
I saw the partially built course at Bernardus last year when quite a few holes had still to be shaped so it was a real thrill to return last week to see all eighteen holes in action. The course is accompanied by a stunning, multi-level clubhouse/restaurant plus a massive short game area and driving range comprising the finest practice facility in the country.
It’s easy to see that this place has been built to a very high standard, with no expense spared either on or off the course. I understand there’s a small membership of only a hundred (and a waiting list of around 120) and the expected number of rounds per annum is anticipated to be only around ten thousand, which will probably just about cover the running costs.
Fescue has been planted throughout, with heather transplanted around tee boxes and greens to accentuate the layout’s heathland credentials. Greens have plenty of contour – though there’s nothing too outlandish going on in that important area – and the irregularly-edged bunkers are just a visual delight, set into the edges of many fairways and around most of the greens.
Several holes on the front nine bring water into play (holes 7, 8 and 9 in particular) as fairways are routed around a couple of large irrigation lakes. The toughest of these holes is the par five 7th, doglegging right to an elevated green that’s separated from the water hazard by a long, rather intimidating bunker.
Holes 10 to 16 on the back nine occupy their own distinct “compartment” and collectively they form the strongest section of the course for me. The par three 13th might appear a little constricted because of the enormous waste bunker, narrow ditch and line of trees that all run along the right side of the hole from tee to green but it’s a great short hole that was worth squeezing into a tight space along the edge of the property.
It’s refreshing to see Bernardus buck the trend of recent new high-end courses in The Netherlands by not becoming an exclusively private operation. For a substantial, but not outrageous green fee, visitors can pay and play at what is undoubtedly one of the best golf facilities to open in recent times on the continent of Europe and the club is to be commended for allowing access to serious golfers.
As the KLM Open is due to be played here in two years, now’s the time to see what the top professionals will be up against when they tee it up at Cromvoirt in 2020. For sure, Bernardus will soon be regarded as yet another top class design in the extensive, high-quality portfolio of architect Kyle Phillips.