To the northeast of Eindhoven lies Golfbaan Stippelberg, a wonderful new addition to the Dutch golfing scene. Architects Michiel van der Vaart , Philip Spogaard and Gerard Jol made the most of the dream landscape for their first new project when they set out the twenty-seven holes at this modern golf complex.
Complemented by a 1,913-metre 9-hole executive layout, the Championship course at Stippelberg is routed across a sandy soiled landscape where eye catching aquatic hazards are built into several of the holes, most notably at the short par four 9th, which leads to an island green.
A round at Stippelberg begins in rather unusual style as two of the opening three holes are configured as par threes. Such is the severity of the green contours at “Van del An,” the 175-metre 1st, and “Milleke,” the 155-metre 3rd, that golfers are well advised to ensure their putters are fully warmed up before stepping onto the first tee.
Only 7 years old, but already high up on many 'must play' list of golf fanatics in the Netherlands (and Belgium). Although I'm not overly enthusiastic about the endless repetition of the inland links-type concept used for new courses, de Stippelberg is my favourite one in the Netherlands and I try to visit the track at least once a year. Stippelberg organises a Stippelberg Open every summer.
Despite the fact that a lot of earth moving took place for shaping the holes, Stippelberg has a very natural feel to it, which is unusual for such an inland links-type design.
The start of the round is rather peculiar (par3, par5, par3), but the design of the holes are all of very good quality. Stippelberg is a mature Championship course staring you in the face from your first till your last shot. Fairways have a true links feel, are not very wide, and strategic bunkering al the way up to the greens. In summer the rough can be penal. Given its young age, not overly long from the back-tees (6.114 mtrs), but man it's a cracking course if you decide to take on the whites! To give you an idea of the difficulty: from the back tees the playing handicap is +4 strokes.
Stippelberg could be a serious contender for a top 10 position in the Netherlands, if they decide to upgrade the greens. Green complex designs are great (both bunkering and undulations), but the greens are too slow for proper putting (and they don't hold their line that well either). I understood that is has been decided to cater to the complaints of the members about the difficulty of the course.
I jumped in the car excited as always at the opportunity to hit the links on a workday. I do have to admit I was a little more sceptical than normal as most of the courses I travel to play are rather well known, today’s course is a relative baby still in its 2nd year after opening. Now if I were to find myself in Scotland that might guarantee a fantastic course was in the planning, such as Castle Stuart or Trump International, however, this is The Netherlands and here, with good reason, we still hold the “Old 9” courses as by far the best with a couple exceptions.
The navigation read 1 hour and 35 minutes to destination Stippelberg Golf Club in Bakel (30 minutes Northwest of Eindhoven in the province of Brabant) and the clock read 7:01 am. Admittedly my days normally begin a bit later but oh well, the things we do for golf. My host for the day was Michiel van der Vaart, who together with his partners Philip Spogaard and Gerard Jol, designed Stippelberg.
Michiel clearly has many very Dutch characteristics including his name, he arrived right on time, in fact, 30 seconds early for our tee time. He literally stepped out of the car and smashed a 260-meter drive down the middle of the 10th fairway on one of the more difficult driving holes that was playing straight into a stiff wind. He then told me he was about an 8 handicap and played once every two weeks!
I’d characterize Stippelberg upon first impression as an inland links type course with the added benefit of several very unlinks like water hazards, a few extending the entire length of the holes. We played the back 9 first although after seeing the entire course I would have certainly preferred to start on #1 and ease my way, relatively speaking into the round. I’m a classic slow starter so I don’t just come out firing on all cylinders.
Stippelberg has a great mix of challenging holes, such as a 185-meter par 3 to start with. Not ideal for your slow starters. It’s also really a course for players with excellent short games. Had I not known better I’d say fans of Pete Dye designed it with dynamic undulations found on many green complexes.
My favorite holes on the front 9 were 3, 5, 6 and 7. The par 3 165-meter 3rd has some beautiful shaping and they’ve done an exceptional job of blending in the aesthetics of the countryside with the hole. Visually the hole blends in perfectly with the adjacent field and natural grasses and shrubs make it look as though the hole was literally just placed there. The green has some aggressive lines on it, with a couple different levels and some great pin-positions including a blind run-off swale back right.
The par 4, 5th hole is a 430-meter (405-meter medal tee) mammoth that played into the prevailing breeze. Only the longest hitters are going to reach this green in two, so it takes some great course management to play it smart. Normally I’m not a huge fan of extremely long par 4’s but I enjoyed this one because the course has a great mix of short and medium par 4’s as well. The green was very large with nice contours and protected by a bunkers on the front, left and back right. Basically set up with a hazard for every pin position.
The par 4, 6th hole at 362 meters (334 meters/medal tees) is a medium length hole playing downwind requiring an accurate drive to the left or right of a bunker in the middle. The green is raised and protect by a large bunker front left.
The par 3, 7th hole plays to 202 meters (172 meters/medal tees) into the prevailing wind crossing from left to right. Visually on the tee box you are tricked into thinking you have to carry all the way or you end up in the deep grass or bunkers protecting the green. However when you walk up the green you see there is considerable space both short and left front allowing for a tricky chip onto a large green that slopes back to front and has several undulations.
The front 9 at Stippelberg doesn’t leave much to be critical about. If anything I think the course is quite tough and the average club player will struggle around the greens as well as with the distances of the holes and the open exposure to the elements. Some of the angles are on the very aggressive side, so when they speed up the greens to anything above 8, putting and chipping will be very difficult and I’m certain the result will be a lot of 3 and even 4 putts. The bunkers, which have some nice shapes and rough natural styles, contain the wrong kind of sand. This is something they are aware of at the course. This results in a lot of plugged lies unless your ball rolls in softly. The last critique would be in the 9th hole; in and of itself there is nothing wrong with it however it plays to an island green, which just doesn’t fit at an inland links style course. This was apparently a pre-requisite in the design. I certainly wouldn’t have done it myself.
The back 9 is the tougher of the two 9’s in my opinion and that’s not saying the front 9 was easy by any means. My favorite holes being the 10th, 13th, 15th and 17th. The The 10th is a very tough par 4 playing into the prevailing wind which requires a drive of 185 meters to hit the fairway from the back tees. At 421 meters (385 meters medal tees) it requires almost everything you’ve got to reach in two into the wind. The hole has a sharp dogleg to the left and anything short of a perfect drive flirting with the left side bunkers leaves a long and difficult approach to a green heavily protected by undulations and bunkers not to mention water on the right that comes into play once the hole doglegs through to the green.
The par 5 13th at 486 meters (473 meters/medal tees) and the par 5 17th at 475 meters are two excellent holes that run in opposite direction along water on the right and left respectively. Hookers and slicers beware as they’ve taken both groups into consideration. Both of these par 5’s offer risk reward scoring opportunities for longer hitters depending on the wind of course. The 13th runs fairly straight and favors a long drive placed to the left side of the fairway to avoid a forced lay up due to a large sharply angled undulation forcing a shot with a lofted club on the right side. The 17th requires a placed long drive into a narrow fairway with water left and bunkers and rough right. A successful drive will allow for a go at the green in two however due to the sharp dogleg this shot will require a carry all the way over water to the green which is raised and narrow from this angle.
The 15th is my favorite of the short par 4’s. At 271 meters (256 meters/medal tees) it’s hard to stand on the tee and not want to go for it yet trouble lies waiting everywhere in the form of bunkers and swales and run offs. Miss in the wrong spot and par will be a far off dream.
In retrospect I really have to say this course surprised me quite a bit, it’s far better than I had anticipated, perhaps a little rough around the edges in some areas but it’s only in it’s second year of operation. If it’s taken good care of it will only get better. Lastly I’d like to mention the club house as well which fits perfectly into the landscape with it’s thatched roof and large raised terrace with a great view of the 18th green. David Davis