Royal Golf Club de Belgique, or Ravenstein as it is better known is laid out on regal land. Founded in 1906 and redesigned by the flamboyant Englishman Tom Simpson, Royal Belgium is one of the most important courses in the country.
Ravenstein takes its name from its inaugural owner, Philippe de Cleves, Squire of Ravenstein. Involvement from the King ensured that the stately trees, which flank the fairways, are of the highest standard and they include a variety of rare species that were taken from the arboretum near the “Bois des Capucins”.
A number of changes have been made to Simpson’s original design but the Old course at Ravenstein remains true to the original architectural principles.
With King Albert II as the club president there is no doubt that this is a well-heeled club, which simply must be sampled. You can spend the most agreeable day here at Royal Belgium Golf Club and play 27 holes thanks to the addition of a super nine-hole course called the New, which was laid out in 1951 by Philip Mackenzie Ross, shortly after he had put the finishing touches to the wonderful Ailsa course at Turnberry.
When tracing my roots I discovered that many years ago a Branch from my family tree had once excelled at The Belgian Open. He was possibly the only relative ever to hit 2 consecutive straight shots and was likely adopted.
It was this accident of history that brought me to Royal Club du Belgium. And one thing you do get at Ravenstein are families of trees: A great variety in all shapes and sizes. This is pure parkland golf and a round here is like playing in a King’s back garden. It’s an impressive setting for a game and driving slowly up to the beautiful 17th century clubhouse only adds to the expectation that you’re indeed about to enjoy a right Royal round.
On the elevated first tee you’re met with an inviting drive as a short Par 5 unveils itself before you. It sets a pitch perfect tone for what follows: beautifully framed tee shots and surprising elevation changes. Hole variety and routing here also hit the right notes - doglegs stray both ways, long ones, short ones, and the par 3’s playing to all three points of the compass - as you leisurely explore the regal property.
The bunkering wasn’t as striking as the other Tom Simpson tracks I’ve played. Positioning was good but it just wasn’t as visually impressive or distracting. The club itself isn’t too sure who designed the course - suggesting Seymour Dunn - so perhaps it either isn’t a Tom Simpson course, or his influence has been diluted over the years. Regardless of this provenance though, the course would benefit from the sort of bunkering seen at the likes of Royal Antwerp or Royal Des Fagnes.
Some of the views and shots were unfortunately obscured by excessive tree growth - the bush that obscures the right hand bunker on the Par 3 third being a typical example. They could cut back much of the vegetation, it would detract nothing, and it would instantly improve the course. I wonder why they haven’t - perhaps some of the rare specimens have Royal protection. The green sites were engaging and the greens rolled very true and were a joy to put on. To my surprise, internal contours were conspicuous by their absence.
I’ve played a handful of the better courses in Belgium and Ravenstein is a must-play. It offers a welcome distinction to the country’s forest/heathland tracks, and is different again to the Royal cousins at Zoute & Ostend. It surely wouldn’t take an extensive renovation to really elevate this place to one of the best courses of its type in Europe. It’s possibly that already and delivers a special golfing experience. As I walked off the 18th green sodden after a downpour of biblical proportions, there was a smile on my face and a desire to return. Meanwhile up in Yorkshire, my dear ancestor was turning in his grave