You don't get permission to build a golf course on heathland in Germany. Unless you've just won the war, in which case you can do whatever the hell you please – which is exactly what the Royal Air Force did in the 1950s.
They built a base including an airport and golf course in the middle of nowhere but, more importantly, neighbouring the Dutch province of Limburg, which is known for its glorious heathlands.
The nearest railway station was in Brüggen and so the RAF Germany Golf Club Bruggen sprang into existence in 1955. When the Royal Air Force had no further use for the base, it was handed over to the British Army in 2002 to become Elmpt Station, Javelin Barracks.
The RAF Bruggen golf club morphed into the West Rhine Golf Club, which in turn closed shop in 2015, when the British military left for good. The golf course was then handed over to the newly founded German club "Elmpter Wald" and so, thanks to this early "Brexit", Germany is now one heathland course richer.
One of the most notorious events in British history took place in 1984, when a nuclear warhead, eight times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, fell off a transport truck, while being lugged around the base.
Interestingly, this story has since been declassified, whereas the origins of the golf course – who built it and under which circumstances – are still shrouded in secrecy. Rumours are aplenty, with perhaps the most entertaining one being that sappers were sent out to build "18 emergency landing strips with areas of sand to put out any fires".
Be that as it may, the days of secrecy are over for good. Elmpter Wald is open to all, even though the logistics to get there – through miles of rotting military installations – are still a bit involved. But it is worth the effort, especially for the front nine.
Despite being a bit on the short side, it must rank as one of the best in Germany. It has strategy, quirk, sandy fairways and heather galore. The stretch between #3 and #7 is epic: "driveable and blind par 4, majestic par 5, driveable par 4, majestic par 3, spectacular par 4".
The back nine has another great sequence from #11 to #13, which reads "short par 3, short risk/reward par 5, monster par 4". There are some filler holes here and there, but overall this is a true heathland experience and as such a complete rarity in Germany..
I‘ve been a member here since just before the military left. The club is very welcoming, the course is in perfect isolation amongst the pines, oaks and heather found at the far end of the former RAF base.
There is still some oldy-worldly British charm to the place in some of the staff, the creaky old clubhouse and the trophies and honors boards on the walls.
If you are a group and ask nicely in advance, a full English breakfast may be ordered, however the day-to-day kitchen is German.
The course is well laid out and provides a good mix of holes, it’s all in front of you, you just need to play good honest golf shots.
As the reviewer below mentioned, some work needs done, for example the 6th and 13th greens have become too sloped for their size over the years and thus borderline regarding fairness.
However the overall quality of the layout is strong, the views are also highly picturesque, with most holes fully insulated from adjoining fairways leaving a quiet and relaxing atmosphere until the hot-head in your group misses a putt!
I‘ve given a three ball rating however, as the course condition has been consistently poor for a few years now.
We added a boar fence which solved that particular issue, but the overall greenkeeping Standard is just quite basic (for instance think cambered tees and permanent bald patches on greens and approaches).
It’s a real shame, as the course is better than the other tracks nearby in every way except maintenance.
If the club gets on top of that (a big if), it would be the best course in the region and a contender at Germany level.
With a little bit of money this could be a Top 10 course in Germany and with a lot of money it might even challenge a few of the heathland greats in England. The little money should go into preservation of the heather (for starters: how about routing the footpaths around it instead of right through! What blasphemy!) and a little bit of shaping on the weaker holes.
The first of which is actually the 10th, so the front 9 is absolutely fine as it is. But please, let's get rid of the ridiculous pond on 17 and do something - anything - to the featureless 18th. The big money, should a benefactor ever emerge, has to go into redesigning green complexes to make them a bit more interesting. Some of them are old-style cool like the 6th, which you drive over from the 7th tee (see picture), so those can't be touched. But most of the others don't have a lot going on, which is a shame considering the ground game potential of the site.
As for the long game, there's a lot of variety and generally very little mindless hitting involved. But those few spots on the back 9 do stick out like a sore thumb, so the big money (or perhaps medium money considering the sandy soil) should go into some shaping and perhaps a few bunkers here or there.
The course itself sits peacefully in the middle of nowhere, there is nothing but nature and a few golfers for miles around. It's hard to find a more serene and down to earth place and the slightly involved logistics certainly help to preserve the hidden gem status. (UM)