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.
In this edited extract from the book Golf Courses of the World author Geoffrey Giles writes: “King Leopold seems to have had a pretty good idea of what was required for outstanding golf courses and at Tervurun he donated a royal hunting park plus a collection of magnificent trees from his nearby Royal Arboretum to make possible the creation of the Royal Club of Belgium.
There is no record in the club’s archives of who designed the original course but it is thought that it was at least ‘inspired’ by Seymour Dunn, who laid out several courses in Europe and was known as ‘the architect of the kings.’ The course was then redesigned by Tom Simpson in 1928. What is certain is that this is a thought-provoking course in an Idyllic setting.
It is not a long course, with few par 4s over 366 metres in length, yet it is a gloriously strategic course, with the rolling ground used to maximum effect and many a dogleg cleverly set up to ask questions. In a way the course is summed up by the 9th, a mere bagatelle of 307 metres. Its curling, downhill fairway directs drives into many bunkers and the green is, again, tightly bunkered.”
Martin Hawtree advised the club on a 10-year improvement plan for the Old course in 1990.
Had the opportunity to run around this neglected gem of a course yesterday. A Tom Simpson routed parkland gem that has been left alone and not kept up for far too long. It's a property full of beautiful trees but they have grown way out of hand and taken over the course which is a shame both for the trees as well as what could be a wonderful course.
It's a wonderfully rolling parkland property that Simpson strongly routed. With a bit of loving this place could be awesome but it really needs to set up a strict long term maintenance plan, remove thousands of trees which will greatly improve turf and greens which are full of diseases. It would also bring out the brilliance in the design. Bunkers need to be redone as well. A few changes were made at some point, perhaps by Hawtree, most of which were mistakes. Shame really, but the potential there is so good. I'd love to see the club treat what they have as it should be treated and start being proper caretakers to what is a true piece of golf history with a Royal background on top of it all.
My favorite holes on the front 9 were the par3 3rd - which played about 145 meters up hill to a raised and interesting shaped green guarded by deep bunkers on the left side - and par 4 9th which is a dogleg right playing slightly downhill flanked by some well placed bunker on the left side and OB further to the left.
Due to the poor maintenance some of the holes currently lack definition, namely the par 4, 4th hole and par 4, 8th on the front 9. These holes in current state are only average but could be improved with renovation so that the features were more readily apparent from the tee.
On the back 9 the 17th was my favorite hole with was a tough par 4 that played downhill then doglegged right and played back up the hill to a long green guarded by bunkers on the left side that might of been the highest point of the property.
There are some changed greens on the back 9 which while ok are slightly out of context which fits inline with Hawtree's renovation work I have seen at other courses.
The par 4, 15th had previously been a par 5 with an interesting tee shot with OB right, the tee was moved forward and it was made into a par 4. I'd consider this another renovation mistake as the green is much more fitting of a par 5 and an uber long long hill par 4 is out of context with the rest of the course again. The good news, this can easily be fixed.
In the end, this course has great potential, there is a wonderful classic Simpson masterpiece just waiting to come out.
The big question is, how is it possible to help the club to understand what it is they have here, what a wonderful potential exists and how poorly it's being treated and maintained.
I agree with these comments - a wonderful environment for a round, but feeling a bit cramped now. Holes 17 & 18 were the two that felt less claustrophobic. Who would you call in to do the restoration?
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