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.
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.