My first round abroad since september 2020 was one I’ve looked forward to for a long time and also one to remember. Having heard and read rave reviews about the drastic renovations that have taken place in Kapelle, on the (now a little less) wooded outskirts of Antwerp, my expectations were high but the course still surprised me in positive fashion.
Distance will not be the problem for most golfers playing RAGC. The routing calls for a great variety and rewards the shotmaker, not particularly favoring a certain shot shape throughout the course. Patience is key. As the course is a par 73 with 5 par 5s which are not too long, the player knows that’s where advantage must be taken to post a good score, which in itself adds to the pressure. Trouble lurks when you find one of the hazards or find yourself shortsided on or next to one of the contoured greens with steep runoffs. This is most apparent at the par 3 16th, a heavily bunkered ‘short hole’ with a green sloping back to front and left to right, with run offs on the back half of the green, not leading to a valley of sin but flattening out and making the shot back even more challenging. Good luck getting the ball back on the putting surface if you manage to miss the green. You could use any club in the bag to pull that off depending on the exact location (don’t recommend the driver). I’m sounding very nostalgic for a still sub 30 y/o man, but hey, they don’t make them like that anymore! When they do, it is in most cases overdone and unnatural looking.
The Simpson original design shines in all its glory, which is characterized by the endless variety of green complexes, strategic bunkering, deception and optical illusion by the placement of the hazards and the subtle contours of the land. Often, it may look like the approach you’re about to hit is no more than a PW, while in fact you’ll need a full 6 iron or vice versa. Such design features had me in awe for the majority of the round. It’s very impressive given the land on which the course is built, which is perfect for golf topographically and lovely wooded, heathered and undisturbed by road noises or other distractions. Then again the land is relatively flat and just not that spectacular if compared with most of its fellow golden age Continental Europe and Surrey peer golfcourses. It even lacks the subtle movement that the also flattish Hilversumsche is known and famed for. That is solely made up for thanks to the sheer quality of the architecture, and the quality of the renovations and maintenance since.
In its current form, Royal Antwerp is nothing less than the best golf course in Belgium I’ve played (Royal Belgium and Sart Tilman still on my to do list). It’s indeed a monument to the golden age of golf course architecture and Simpsons design philosophies, and rarely you'll find it in such obvious form to see and admire. Any (aspiring) golf course architecture student from the low countries should rush to visit Royal Antwerp.
Date: July 12, 2021