Royal Ostend Golf Club was formed back in 1903 when Seymour Dunn – a relation of the famous Dunn golfing family in Musselburgh – laid out an 18-hole course on a narrow strip of dune land beside the North Sea, near De Haan.
The Ostend course and clubhouse were destroyed during hostilities in World War I and World War II but, on each occasion, the club rose like a phoenix from the ashes to ensure that links golf would continue despite all that conspired to prevent it along this stretch of coast.
Martin Hawtree renovated the layout in 1990 to meet the challenges of modern golf, at the same time respecting the original design, and his minimalist approach ensured this fine old links is as good to play today as it was over a hundred years ago. Further upgrading work was carried out in 2006 when five greens (at holes 7, 8, 10, 16 and 17) were replaced as part of a renovation plan that continues into the new millennium.
There are six par three holes on the course and many consider the 145-yard 8th to be the best of them. It is played from an elevated tee in the sand hills to a punchbowl green that slopes from back to front, with three protective bunkers to catch anything short. The stroke index may indicate it is one of the easiest holes on the card, but when the wind blows – as it often does here – a three on the card will be a very welcome score.
The Links at Royal Ostend got my recent Belgian trip off to a brilliant start, even though it all began in a bit of a rush as our 3-ball group was late arriving for our tee time from Brussels airport but the starter did a great job to get us out before a club tie got under way and we were off and running less than five minutes after parking up.
I didn’t find the opening holes exactly “dull” or “weak” as described by another reviewer. Instead, I thought they were fine examples of links holes (even though they had ponds located in the low-lying areas to the side of the holes) offering massive movement in the fairways, huge bunkers and enormous contoured greens with ample runoffs – shades of things to come for the rest of the round.
It’s true the bar is raised a few notches when you reach the 5th tee and next six holes are played in a wonderful little partitioned section, with both par threes at the 6th and 8th absolutely outstanding short holes. The only slightly off-putting visual elements (apart from some of the sand hazards which are defiled with ghastly “ecobunker” plastic) are the streetlights of the coastal road that runs alongside.
The 11th to 16th are solid holes played on the other side of the road, with the latter two holes distinctly lusher than any of those played earlier. After crossing the main road again, the par three 17th plays over a substantial pond close to the other water hazards on the opening holes – obviously not ideal on a links but 100% in keeping with the natural landscape.
The closing hole doglegs right to the clubhouse with the practice area to the right side of the fairway and you have to be careful of stray sliced tee shots coming over the fence! I’ve played more than half a dozen links courses on the continent now and can understand why this one’s so highly regarded and not a million miles apart from Dutch counterparts.
Royal Ostend is a PAR 70 course right at the ocean lying behind the large dunes typical for this coast.
I had the luck to play this links course in perfect weather conditions. It was dry for weeks, the wind was blowing hard and the sun was shining.
The course is generally rather short, but as a Par 70 it definetely plays longer than you might think when you read 5532m.
The course starts extremely slow. #1 and #2 are very dull holes. Also there was water hazard which is irritating to see on a Links course. #3 and #4 slightly better but overall rather dissapointing if you play the course with high expectations. But then.... you cross the street and all of the sudden this beautiful peace of land opens up (holes #5 to #10). You immediately arrive at Links heaven. These holes are so good and so enjoyable to play. On top you encounter beautifull views of the North Sea from many elevated positions.
I would like to particularly point out #8 which is now definetely one of my top holes I ever played. The tee is highly elevated making you exposed to the wind. The green is covered by five pod bunkers and is also elevated. The simplicity and elements of links golf make this hole so amazing. Absolutely loved it
#11 - #14 are also across the street but on an isolated peace of property. which do share the same type of terrain that #5 - #10 do.. They are a little less spectacular but still absolutely great holes.
Unfortuantely #15 - #18 then share the same property that #1 - #4 do. Some of them are true parkland holes which also have very dull design.
The maintenance of the course was ok for May, but not spectacular. However nothing that affected play. Generally speaking the course played super firm whch is most important to me when playing Links.
#1 - #4 & 15 - 18 are for the most part weak holes
#11 - # 14 is links golf as good as it gets
#5 - #10 is world class golf on an amazing peace of land that can easily match all the great links courses on this planet
It´s worth "bearing" with the weaker holes, because the strong holes are as good as Golf gets. Highly recommended!
Royal Ostend could more accurately be called Royal Odds & Ends. It’s a fragmented series of holes patched together to create an 18 hole layout. A routing that crosses more roads than a failed 1980’s British sitcom. Golf might be a good walk spoiled, but here the routing is good golf spoiled. Did I mention about the routing?
Hole #1 is a nice introduction - a short dogleg left on undulating ground next to the clubhouse. Hole 2-4 are a drop in standard, and it’s not until you make your first road crossing that things pick up again. The class of the course then follows from 5-10, with #6 & #10 being my pick of these. Many will surely also be impressed with the drop shot Par 3 #8. At this point I felt the course to be a Doppelgänger of the 9 holer just across the Westerschelde at Domburg.
Holes 11-14 follow after another road crossing, and these are okay. I liked the Par 4 #12, although noted at this point that, despite the necessary spaghetti routing, a few drives still hit back over prior greens, which risks lives (thanks to that assistant pro at Eaton Golf Club). The inevitable happened at #15 as one of our group hooked the ball onto a road and we saw it bounce several times as high as the street lighting. Funnily enough this had also happened at Domburg (hitting a car on that occasion). A final crossing sees you hit holes 15-18 and at this point the landforms alter to resemble a poor relation of Royal Zoute. The final shot into the well-bunkered #18 is, however, a fitting finish.
In the links-poor lowlands, Royal Ostend stands out, and is easily paired with a day at Royal Zoute when based in Brilliant Bruges. During our visit The Proclaimers were giving a concert in one of the many quaint squares. Despite this Scottish link, if comparing Royal Ostend to its tartan cousins, you might be disappointed. As mentioned above, I found it to be more like an 18 hole version of the solitary Dutch Links at Domburg. But routing aside, it’s still solid links and, although I wouldn’t walk 500 miles to play it (let alone 500 more), if in the area again I would look forward to another go
First time playing here and all I have to say that this is a must for any golfer. Only links course in Belgium. The whole maintenance is in outstanding condition with really fast, smooth greens. Tee boxes and fairways are fantastic to play off. Holes 5-10 are beautiful with hole 8 a par 3 at the highest point on the course looking over the sea. All in all this course is one of the best maintained I have ever played and will be back as soon as possible.