Occupying more than two hundred acres of former farmland, which is bounded on three sides by woodland, the 27-hole Swinkelsche golf complex is a wonderful example of just what can be achieved through modern construction techniques for a relatively modest cost.
Architect Frank Pont and his team of shapers, led by Conor Walsh, have somehow managed to transform what was a largely flat and featureless property into a natural looking heathland landscape – and one that’s as fit for golf as you will find anywhere in the Netherlands.
Five of the Championship holes are routed through the adjacent forest and little, if any, shaping was required to bring them into play. For the remaining holes though, over half a million cubic yards of sandy soil was shifted – along with the installation of wetland areas, a meandering stream and several water features – during the formation of these fairways.
Overall green sizes range from 6,000 to 9,000 square yards but large areas around the putting surfaces have been finished with green mix, extending the total greenside area around many of the pin positions to as much as 16,000 square yards.
Pont’s “experimental” short par four 11th hole – which is almost as wide as it is long – certainly causes something of a stir with those who tee it up here for the first time. Standing on the tee, facing the enormous sand pit that lies in the middle of the fairway, there has to be at least four different paths to consider en route to marking a potential “4” on the scorecard.
The following edited extract by architect Frank Pont is from Volume Seven of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected].
“The project was uniquely satisfying for me as a golf architect, for three reasons. The first reason was that the client gave us full creative control of the design. The client, brothers Harry and Hendrik Swinkels, stated early on they hired me because they knew little about golf and fully trusted my judgement. Our reference material included visits to several classic Dutch courses and the brothers indicated they were happy to see a course emerge with similar classical and strategic design ideas incorporated.
The second reason was that the client gave me a site that consists of pure sand, with an expansive extent of 250 acres. Furthermore, the property possesses a low water table and, in many areas, is bordered by beautiful mature pine forests. The large site permitted the possibility of many different routings, allowing us to create a sense of space for the players when walking the course. We created strikingly different landscapes throughout the site: from undulating heathlands, to a large lake bordered by some holes, to a number of traverses through the forest.
The third reason pertains to preparation time. Given the lengthy lag between the start of the design and the actual course building, I had a lot of preparation time to deeply consider all design elements of the course, such as the routing, hole-strategy, bunker-style, green designs and what kind of landscape to create on the flat agricultural land. The routing underwent much iteration before we happily settled upon the final configuration of holes, whereby the key was ensuring lively changes of direction.
Swinkelsche’s sizeable greens are generally undulating
and possess a mix of ball-collecting and ball-repelling shapes. This means that
many approach shots finish next to the greens; something we anticipated by
building much larger green surround areas. Regarding bunkering, in order to fit
the big scale of the landscape it was important to make the bunkers
substantial. The bunker shapes are irregular, supported by fescue-laced edges.
And heather-laced too, in places, making them fit nicely into the newly created
Swinkelsche is a very nice addition to the top end of Dutch golf. The course is very enjoyable from begin to end, with a few stand-out holes of staggering design quality which will only become better with time. The lay-out is indeed a potpourri of design ideas and focuses primarily on providing many strategic options off the tee and playability for every level of golfer. Not every hole succeeds at that approach however, for which the level of maintenance can also be blamed – the course needs to have the greens softened and rolling at stimp 8, as intended by the architect. Otherwise they do not hold, and become unplayable for most players.
My favourite holes included the par 5 2nd, using the natural features on the edge of the course effectively; the heavily bunkered, but somehow driveable par 4 3rd, the minimalistic par 5 14th, thanks to its wonderful approach shot with the bunkers providing wild visuals and a great green complex, and lastly the beautifully heathered par 3 17th.
The rest is equally interesting, for example the par 4 8th which gives the option to hit a heroic shot over the lake by tempting the player with an extended peninsula to land the drive on, leaving a pitch shot instead of a long iron into the green if executed well. The par 4 11th is a controversial hole. It’s almost as wide as it is long and the idea is that it provides 4 different routes to the hole. The more favorable route depends on the pin position, however the right side of the green is the easiest to hit. It was a bit of a shame that the wasteland in the middle of the hole was not penal at all, so I took the dumb approach, went for it and just hit a bad drive straight into the wasteland and my short pitch shot onto the green with relative ease. I imagine that’s not how the hole is intended to be played.
It’s impressive what has been achieved by Pont’s team for - allegedly - a low budget. It would have been nice if the minimalistic approach had been extrapolated a little more instead of creating over the top drama here and there, which feels a little artificial. The par 4 13th comes to mind with its crazy tabletop green, as does the par 5 18th which criss crosses through the wetlands.
These critical notes do not take away from the overall experience though. This course resides in my Dutch top 15 and has the potential to improve over time. The design is refreshing, strategic and fun. I hope this will be recognised by the average Dutch golf-Joe (probably called Jan), and whets the appetite for more quality strategic designs and renovations of existing sub-par courses built around 30 years ago. Looking forward to return!
After lining up a 36 hole day at Haviksoord & Swinkelsche, you would be forgiven for thinking I was off for a game of Quidditch with a couple of minor characters from Hogwarts. However, Swinkelsche is a golf course and a decent one at that. The property has fewer of the natural charms of a Haagsche or De Pan, so the golf on offer is laid bare - more blue print than oil painting - but it delivers. Typified by striking bunkering, funky greens, and a variety of design ideas, it is not a boring round. You will need to engage the grey matter here as you will face choices. Much of this is due to the angling of the greens together with the pin position of the day, so follow Lee Westwood’s famous advice (not having your wife caddie for you, the one about playing the hole backwards in your mind).
A favourite hole was the short par 4 3rd. An attractive half par that will be driveable for those of you who can hit enormous fades on demand. Hole 15 was quite typical of the dark arts defending the course, with a drive closer to the watery boggarts left sets up an easier second shot. Sod that - dry quaffles for me so bail out to the right - only to face a more difficult line in over a protective bunker tight to the shallow green. Hole 16 seemed to be a not so gentle nod to the 10th at De Pan, and hole 17 is a very attractive Par 3. Occasionally the features are a little too much - like the raised green on the 13th, or the split fairway on hole 11. Generally though, no two holes are the same and the options you are faced, coupled with the greens, make for a fun & thoughtful round.
On this visit the voluptuous basilisk greens might have been under the spell of Emma Watson because they were suspiciously firm, liable to frustrate, & and leave a sense of rejection. A shame because the contours and angles on offer might be the course’s best feature. I’d left my trusty wand at home and they made a muggle of me. Despite wilting as if kissed by a Dementor, my playing partner admittedly embraced this challenge and was playing with Harry Putter’s magical touch. Stopping a ball with a full shot did bring to mind that Jack Nicklaus comment about landing balls on car bonnets though, and shots around the green remained challenging. Cursed by the bat bogey hex, my only birdie - Felix Felicis - came after a chip in on the 9th. The greens seemed as though they were in need of some irrigative alchemy (and a draught of peace for me).
Memory does serve us well though and having played here before, I know that the greens have always been a playable pleasure. Turns out they have since fixed a problem with the irrigation (Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandu), so presumably the curse is now lifted. Appreciate I’ve written more than necessary about the conditioning of the greens, but they have been very good here and are central to how the course plays. Not everyone is a wizard on the greens, so they do need to be looked after. Swinkelsche has plenty of charms, and on a fairly pragmatic property, delivers an engaging high quality playing experience that you’ll want to repeat. It also won’t cost you untold galleons compared to competitors. Comfortably in my Top 15 NL favourites - with potential to rise as it matures - Swinkelsche is a course I’d recommend to anyone
A delightful read as always. A BB golf course review is always worth consuming, even if I’ve never heard of the place, or in this case, I can’t even pronounce it. I hope you enjoyed many a post-round butterbeer (or Dutch equivalent) and thanks for putting another Netherlands gem onto my radar.
BB's reviews are entertaining but his yips are excruciating...like watching the cruciatus curse.
Without doubt a nice course. The design and variety of the holes is a bit eclectic though and as a result the track lacks balance. It's like the architect threw Colt, Simpson, MacKenzie and Trent Jones Sr. in the sorting hat with no clear answer in which house the course belongs.
Thanks for the comment TP Dean. Being held prisoner in Holland could mean that I’ve come down with a bout of Stockholm Syndrome (i.e. become irrationally fond of the Golf Courses here).
However, I still feel that with its variety & ideas, Swinkelsche will be an interesting & worthwhile round for anyone interested in GCA.
Martin does make a good point on the balance that is achieved. It’s definitely a London Calling kitchen sink than a Let’s Get It On extended smooch-a-thon. Once played a golfer can decide whether it adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Ryan - I found a healing potion for my tips, but have you been spying on me playing out of greenside bunkers?
Located around half an hour’s drive south east of Eindhoven city centre, the new golf facility at Swinkelsche lies within a pretty flat farming landscape so immense credit must be given for the way many of the holes have been shaped to inject subtle contouring into the playing corridors.
What struck me immediately was the quality of the fairway turf, which I’d anticipated in advance to be parkland in nature – not a bit of it as it’s of a free-draining heathland quality that was an absolute joy to play from. Bent grass greens were also a big surprise so hats off to the owners for the very high standard of construction.
The bunkering is exceptional, with rugged, jagged edge sand traps helping to add visual stimulation on flatter parts of the property, none more so than at the short par four 3th hole, which features an enormous bunker complex to the right side of the fairway, forcing golfers to find a narrow landing area on the left side.
Everything progresses rather nicely until reaching the par five 7th, the first of two holes which wrap around a small lake on the most southerly part of the property.
The combination of sand and water hazards is a daunting enough prospect for the ordinary golfer at the first of these holes but the 8th then brings a large sandy waste area into play off the tee before out of bounds hampers approach shots to the left of the fairway as it runs alongside the edge of the adjacent forest to the green.
Any disquiet about those two holes is small beer compared to the short par four 11th, however. With a massive waste area facing the tee box, it seems only logical to aim right or left but the sight lines are far from clear – certainly on a first play – so the hole didn’t really work for me on the day.
I’m all for making golfers think a little harder about where they should be hitting their ball rather than just blasting away off the tee so fair play to Frank Pont for doing just that on this hole. He’s also established a few interesting wetland areas around that part of the course which no doubt boosts the club’s eco credentials.
I loved the split fairway approach to the par five 14th, the bunkers lined along the right side of the 15th fairway, the routing of the short par four 16th heading back into the woods (even if the gap through the trees is a little too tight), and the raised green on the par three 17th.
Just a pity the round ended in anti-climactic fashion for me at the rather confusing 18th. It’s obvious the home hole must progress to the right of the small ponds and wetland areas that lie ahead of the tee but the fairway is poorly defined and it’s not at all clear where the safe landing areas are as you tack your way round towards the home green.
There are good and not so good aspects to the Championship course at Swinkelsche but one thing’s for sure when you tee it up here, if my 4-ball group’s experience is anything to go by – the course is bound to provide an entertaining round of golf with lots of talking points along the way!