The 27-hole golf complex at Golfclub Heelsum is a new millennium design by Hans Hertzberger which lies to the north of the Nederrijn River, close to the city of Arnhem. Occupying a very interesting geological site of around 175 acres, the course is divided into three 9-hole loops, named Airborne, Sandr and Helsum.
Much of the landscape in this part of the country is metres deep in sand, formed during the last Ice Age, but it’s covered in a relatively thin layer of topsoil that has supported agricultural land use for many years. In an ongoing renovation scheme, removing and/or reshaping this earth to expose tracts of sand is having a profound impact.
The project has two main objectives – to improve the golfing interest and playing strategy of the original layout and restore the degenerated heathland habitat, with the inspiration for the work coming primarily from the ‘dry dales’ glacial melt water channels that now act as key strategic features on a number of the holes.
Architect Steve Marnoch, who is carrying out the upgrade, kindly supplied us with this exclusive quote:
What a success story this has been! From the initial reconstruction of all three nines on a really low budget, the club has now retained me until 2025 as the guardian of the vision for the course redevelopment into a heathland classic.
I’ve worked on all the three nines from the outset, starting the much-emulated ragged bunker trend in The Netherlands. We’re currently re-bunkering on the Helsum nine with other works planned to bring that arguably weaker loop up the standard of the Championship course.
At the moment, the bunker sand is being changed and we’re re-edging the bunkers. Large amounts of heather are brought in annually as well as propagating our own stock. There are also plans to upgrade the original tees.
It’s been quite an amazing project as we’ve re-bunkered and brought in heathland species to change the character of the course and add strategy. None of the greens have been altered from the original course and only a few tees have been added.
It just shows what you can achieve on a large site
with a limited budget without making huge and expensive alterations to the
actual playing infrastructure.
To be honest, I was a wee bit taken aback when I saw this new entry appear in The Netherlands Top 25 chart back in January of this year. I like to keep an eye out for golfing developments in this country and I must confess that I didn’t see this one coming! It was only after engaging in an email exchange with architect Steve Marnoch that I realized just what has been going on here over the last ten years.
Situated close to Arnhem, on the east side of the city, Heelsum has embarked on a program to effectively convert its course from parkland to heathland, which is something that might never have been attempted anywhere else before now! The 27-hole layout only opened at the start of the new millennium but the original design philosophy has been superceded by a renovation plan to remove and re-contour the landscape to reveal what lies beneath.
Sand lies metres deep below the level of the top soil, formed during the last Ice Age, and the idea now is to expose as much of this natural topography as possible, enhancing the playing areas with the introduction of heather that’s grown on nearby sites and within the club’s own nurseries – astonishingly, 1.5 hectares of heather on the course has, within a very short time, been expanded to 4.0 hectares!
Re-bunkering and tree removal programs have also been implemented and it’s intended to refurbish the irrigation system and overhaul the teeing areas. All of the recent improvements have been accomplished really quickly – the latest 3-year construction program was completed in two years – and on a tight budget but the results speak for themselves, with the 1300 club members benefitting from the transformation of their course into one that now operates on a much higher level.
The Sandr and Airborne nines form the 18-hole course of first choice and that’s where most of the renovation effort has been placed so far. The most striking natural aspect here is the “sand river” or dry dale that runs through several of the holes on these two nines. It’s partially covered up in places (such as in front of the Sandr 6th green ) but I’d fully expose every inch of this unique feature to display it in all its glory as it should be fully celebrated and not just partially exposed.
I really liked the tough par five 3rd hole on the Airborne nine, played from an elevated tee in the eastern part of the property, along with the short par four 3rd hole on the Sandr nine, with its split fairway doglegging left and up to a raised green. I also noted the installation of two artificially sodded bunkers on the Sandr 7th which might in time be rolled out elsewhere if they prove their worth.
It was a real pleasure to be shown round the course by Steve Marnoch when my colleague Brian Ward and I visited last week and I sincerely hope the club continues to support his leadership. A lot has been done but there’s still much more to do and I only hope the drive and enthusiasm of the architect can be sustained going forward as this rough diamond of a course deserves to become more of a polished jewel.
Heelsum has improved a lot with the years and the ambition is really paying off. Starting as a dull, open course it has become more and more challenging and aesthetically pleasing. It has the character of a modern inland-links with rough edges (large waste area's, bushes, sharply cut bunkers and contoured, undulating greens).
The Helsum-nine is also a lot of fun to play. You can play here year round thanks to the sandy soil. Give this course a few more years to mature and I think it can continue to improve. I do think the course plays best when it has the hard and fast conditions, which I know some members have disliked, forcing the greenkeepers to slow down and soften the greens in previous years.
If you really want to treat yourself, have dinner at the neighbouring restaurant De Kromme Dissel! MO
Some lovely holes at Heelsum and even some movement in the land!
Is a bit like Nunspeet in that they could have made a very good 18 holer, rather than aiming to squeeze 27 out of the property.
If the members are calling for softer conditions, they should respectfully be ignored