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.
July 12, 2012