Belgium's Royal Zoute Golf Club is situated on the North Sea coast close to the Dutch border. It lies at the heart of an upmarket seaside resort called Knokke le Zoute (in French) or Knokke-Heist (in Dutch). Golf was first played here in 1899 as an offshoot of the Bruges Golf and Sports Club. Harry Colt redesigned the course in 1907 and the club then became known as the Knokke Golf Club in 1909. Royal title was granted in 1925 and, in the process, the club became known simply as Royal Zoute.
After the ravage of World War II, an Englishman – Lieutenant Colonel Allen – reinstated the Championship course and added a second layout now known as the Executive course. The Lippens family were the driving force behind the development of the club and Royal Zoute matured into one of the best links courses on the continent of Europe before it became a parkland/links hybrid due to the planting and subsequent encroachment of trees.
This now famous Championship course is still ostensibly a Harry Colt design with a traditionally British feel. Appearances can be deceptive at Royal Zoute. The greens are subtle and cleverly protected, and while the fairways look inviting and easy to hit, there are hummocks and contours that can, as on many seaside courses, take your ball to the places you least expect.
Nick Faldo described Royal Zoute as a "hidden gem" and many other distinguished players have played the layout, including Henry Cotton and Arnold Palmer. A number of Europe's Ryder Cup heroes have been successful at Royal Zoute, as it has played host to the Belgian Open on many occasions. Nick Faldo, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Lee Westwood have all emerged as winners.
With two loops of nine holes, Royal Zoute breaks from the traditional out-and-back layout seen at many courses from this era. With no weak holes and a strong stretch from the 5th to the 16th, this natural course will please not only the links lover but also those who prefer the softer aspect of trees (planted after WW2) which flank a number of fairways. The natural aspects of the course are its primary defences and the rough can be punishing. When the wind blows, you will need a wide range of shots and tactics to score well.
No trip to Belgium would be complete without playing one of the country's premier golf courses. Fortunately, visitors are warmly welcomed and the Club President, also the mayor of the town, is renowned for his cordiality. In addition to the main Championship course, there is also an 18-hole par 64 called the Executive course with small and tricky greens which simply adds to the enjoyment of Royal Zoute.
I’ve had the Championship course at Royal Zoute on my hit list for a long time now. It’s a course that once occupied a Top 10 position in the Continental European rankings (from 2008 to 2016) so my expectations were admittedly pretty high. Tempered against this, I’d be advised by a few people in the know that the course wasn’t perhaps quite as good as some would believe so I arrived here with my eyes wide open.
The routing is very interesting, with all bar five holes laid out around the perimeter of the property so technically there’s out of bounds to the left on thirteen holes (though it doesn’t feel like that when playing). The landscape’s pretty flat, with only minimal movement in the fairways, and the course is largely surrounded by discreetly screened off housing with the Knokke Strand less than a kilometre away.
It's a solid track with no weak holes as such but I was expecting a lot more. I anticipated it would play rather firm and fast due to its proximity to the coast but it appeared to me to be more set up as a soft parkland track. Green conditions were fine, even if one or two of the greenside bunkers looked a bit tired. I can usually gauge how much I’ve enjoyed playing a course by the number of photos taken during my round and I took way fewer than normal here.
One thing that really irked right from the off was the centre of the plastic holes on the greens which were so worn that many of the flagsticks would not stand up properly when placed in the hole – something you might find at your local municipal but not at one of the supposed best courses in all of Europe!
I’ve since found out the club’s order for new golf equipment is more than four months overdue so that’s the reason for the current situation. It might appear a trivial and rather petty thing to comment on but, at the time of playing, it gets you wondering what other aspects of the golf operation might not quite be up to scratch if something as basic as the holes are in a poor state.
I liked the run of holes from the 5th to 7th – my notes have them as “more heathland-like” – and the par three 11th was a wonderful short par three but, I’m sorry, this was the big disappointment of my recent 10-course trip to Belgium. Clubhouse facilities and staff were excellent but that sadly offered no compensation for my lack of love for the course – maybe I had been spoiled by the totally unexpected pleasure of playing at Royal Ostend earlier in the day?
Royal Zoute sits minutes away from the Belgium coast in the well known town of Knokke.
Royal Zoute plays extremely firm and offers elements of links golf as many holes play relatively open. However it also has some classic parkland holes. Although it is a fairly old course, it can be played from different tees ranging up close to 7000 yards. The course sits on a great peace of property which is overall flat but is quite hilly.
The course plays absolutely beautiful. It is definitely my favorite course I played in terms of the blend of holes. They all complement each other so well and besides #1 I say the course does not have a weak hole. It is absolutely flawless golf which plays great to both the skilled and medium handicapper. However the greens play brilliantly firm which make the balls really hard to stop. The course was in top shape especially considering for the month of May and the dry weather conditions lately.
I absolutely adored the course. I think it´s so effortlessly great and that even without offering any spectacular or mind blowing golf design elements. It deserves every rave it gets and should definitely appear in every list of the top 50 golf courses in mainland Europe.
Addition: The club house is fantastic and adds to the great atmosphere of the club.
Overall the course played very nice, however it was not worth the price. I thought that it was fairly well-maintained but there were some patches on the greens that were rough and if you didn't keep it in the fairway then you could be hitting off of hard dirt, even if you only missed the fairway by a few yards. Definitely worth a play if you're in the area but I wouldn't anticipate having an exceptional round.
During the past two years significant efforts have been undertaken to restore the course. That paid off and I believe Royal Zoute is recovering its position as one of Belgium's finest golf clubs.
I played Royal Zoute last week and I have to say that we were very disappointed by the condition of the course. It was not well maintained and the greens were terrible. Slow and bumpy and not good at all. Not a tidy maintenance golf course and really not numner 1!!!!
Oh dear, what a disappointment. This should be a wonderful course but it is in appalling condition. The fairways have been totally lost. The tees and greens are poor. And, it is not cheap at 105 Euros. It is very sad to see, what is a great course, so neglected. Unforgiveable but it can be reclaimed and restored with some effort and TLC. Such a shame as there some wonderful holes here.