An essay composed by our Benelux correspondent on his home club – De Noordwijkse
In order for a golf course to be considered a great course and really belong to the group that makes up the world’s best, there are several things that have to be considered and many requirements that a course has to satisfy. My personal test is to take a quick look back after I have finished my round and see how many holes I can recall. I ask myself how many holes stick out as great holes and then consider what I like to call the “wow” factor. For me the “wow” factor has to do mainly with location, for example, the last 6 holes at Cypress Point, the rocky cliffs, the break of the Pacific and the cypress trees. That’s a “wow” worthy of only the top course in the world. In The Netherlands granted there are some nice courses, however, there is only one course that can possibly provide a certain “wow” in my view. That course is De Noordwijkse.
The moment you turn off the coastal highway and onto the entrance driveway proceeding through the wooded coastal pine forest you realise you might be in for something special and unique. Upon breaking out of the pine forest and entering through the entrance gate the landscape opens up to the purest of links land. That to which any jolly Scot or Irishman would be incredibly proud. Upon arrival in the clubhouse you experience the “wow” factor I’m talking about. It’s a view I can only compare to that of Cruden Bay or even Chambers Bay where you look out from the highly perched clubhouses and first see what lies in wait before you. The view allows you to look out over much of the course and the rugged, undulated dunes land. It’s tough to hold back the excitement from this point.
At De Noordwijkse it’s clear that everything revolves around one thing and one thing only, that my friends is golf. Everything else is understated, the clubhouse is very nice and cozy, a great place to sit inside before and after your round. However, it’s incredibly understated and from the outside looks like something you might see in the dunes in Scotland or Ireland. The facilities are nice and cozy but the only real luxury is the view, that is, until you’re standing on the first tee.
De Noordwijkse starts with a mid-length par 4 with a dogleg to the left, curving around large dunes. The green is protected by bunkers front right and on the left side, it has a false front and a runoff to the back forcing a decision to run the ball up to the green or fly it on.
Although a fine hole in and of itself, it is one of the few points of the course where I feel I can be critical. What’s not so good about this as a starting hole is that the elevated tee looks out over the driving range which big hitters can easily reach if they hit it straight off the tee instead of with the dogleg. Incidentally this hole is going to be replaced and moved to the left into the dunes as part of a major renovation of the whole course. While the new hole is possibly two years away, I won’t be going out on a limb by saying that the landscape of the new hole is phenomenal, adding a semi blind first tee shot into rolling dunes with an elevated green. It will be the best starting hole in The Netherlands by a long shot. It will also clear up the only major criticisms I could offer regarding the routing of the course.
The new renovation of hole 1 will also free up space for a new driving range that will be placed under the dunes in front of the current women’s tee thus out of sight from the clubhouse and out of play from the 1st tee. The length of the new driving range will be increased to close to 300m, eliminate crossfire danger of people on the practice range hitting over the dune into the 2nd fairway and aesthetically it will remove this rather ugly building from the driving range area and move it under the dunes completely out of view. With the addition of practice bunkers and grass tees the practice facility will be among the best in the country as well.
The 2nd hole is a classic par 5 characterised by an extremely difficult blind second shot up over a dune. I do have to mention that the drive most often faces a right to left wind as well and while the fairway seems fairly wide it’s one of the most difficult driving holes you are going to run into. There is a small pond, in fact the only water on the entire course right of the fairway exactly in the landing zone of many an errant drive, on the left side is gorse so you really don’t have much margin for error. The trick about the blind second shot is that the fairway at the top of the hill is narrow and if you don’t reach the top of the hill you are left with an extremely difficult blind approach of 150 meters or more to an elevated and undulated green with two levels and a ridge running through the middle of it. The green also has a steep false front punishing short approaches by sending them 20 meters plus back down the slope leaving a tricky chip. This hole has an index rating of 5 however, I believe it’s far tougher than that.
The 3rd hole is a tricky short par 3. The new design will add a bunker on the front left of this hole making it visually even better. It plays from an elevated tee through a small valley to a two level green with a steep ridge in the middle. The green is protected on the right by a large dune and on the left by trees and another dune. When the wind is blowing which it literally always is, and the pin is placed on the top ridge of the green, this hole becomes an extremely tough par.
The 4th is a tough stroke index 1 par 4 that doglegs to the right and plays up hill most of the way to an elevated green with a false front. One unique characteristic of this hole is that it starts a stretch of tree-lined links holes that are simply fantastic. This hole is rightfully the toughest hole on the course, especially from the back tees. The drive is narrow and very challenging and has to be long in order to have a decent shot at hitting the green in two. Missing left is fatal while missing right and short ends up in the pine trees. From the medal tees it’s possible to reach a plateau with a right miss that should still provide a nice line to approach the green from. The green is undulated and protected by a steep slope in front and a bunker left.
The 5th is another very tough tree-lined par 4 with a sharp dogleg right that goes down the hill. This is another hole that requires a perfectly hit drive to the left side of a highly undulated fairway. The landing area is very narrow and your second shot will be blind unless you hit a very aggressive drive that flirts with the end of the fairway. The wind plays havoc with the drive as well as the approach on this hole, but you do have the option to fly the green or play a low runner. The green is currently a little too flat but will receive some added undulations as part of the renovations.
The 6th hole is a tight and visually intimidating par 3. The green is protected at the front by trees and dunes on both the right and left, a bunker on the right side and a sharp but rough down slope to the left. The green is very narrow, about 12 paces across. A par here is a great score.
The short par 4 7th has a very narrow tee shot to a fairway that sharply doglegs to the left. This hole is always challenging and a good drive will clear the dogleg and allow a straight shot to one of the larger greens on the course protected by a bunker on the right front and a run off to the left side. This is perhaps the only architecturally questionable hole on the course, mainly due to the narrowness of the tee shot with the dogleg. It doesn’t leave many options and is not highly playable for various levels of golfers. The current plan, as far as the renovations are concerned, is to clear some of the trees out of the dogleg to the left and add a bunker. Also, more undulations will be added to this large green.
The 8th is a 325-meter (369 from the highly elevated back tee) par 4 with a sharp dogleg left up the hill and then down around a large dune to the left with a blind tee shot. The medal tee allows a great risk/reward drive opportunity up over the dune leaving a very short iron to a lightly undulated green guarded by bunkers on the front right and on the left side. Notable is the view from the back tee, which is very high up on a dune, worth walking up to the top just to take in the scenery. The drive from the back tee requires a long carry in order to avoid a blind approach to the green. In the wind it’s one of the tougher drives on the course.
The 9th is a great par 5 running back towards the clubhouse and normally plays into the prevailing wind. The tee shot plays to a severely undulating fairway short of a sand dune ridge running across the left side. Any shots to the left face a blind second shot. The two-tiered green slopes back to front, is elevated with a false front and protected by bunkers left and right.
The 10th is another stern par 4. The fairway is visually very narrow and the shot needs to be played a little more left than what the eye tells you. The landing zone is in a deep swale leaving a blind approach to a green with a false front, falling away to the left and back. From the back tees a good drive require about a 200-meter carry in order to enjoy the extra yardage gained by running the ball down into the swale.
The 11th hole is a very short (457m from the back tee) but beautiful par 5. The tee is highly elevated and the back tee is one of the highest points on the course with a fantastic view of several holes looking back at the clubhouse high on the dunes. The drive is rather tricky and the fairway slopes from left to right with two pot bunkers waiting to catch shots missed slightly to the right. Longer hitters can have as little as an uphill 7 iron to the green making this hole simply too short for good players, especially since the prevailing wind is helping the golfer. This hole is also going to be changed during the renovation, which will see the hole lengthened by 35-40 meters and the green moved higher up in the dunes. This will be a big improvement in terms of making the hole more challenging for lower handicappers and more playable for all other levels. It will still be reachable in two but there will be a considerable risk/reward present for those that dare to go for it.
The 12th is a short but very tight par 3. The tee is again elevated and plays through the trees to a green guarded by a bunker front left. On this hole there is really only one safe shot and that’s on the green and straight. The renovation will see this green moved another 15 meters further away, having a false front, back and right side. The tee box will be widened and some trees will be cleared out of the way.
The par 4 13th is one of the tougher driving holes playing back out of the trees and into the open dunes. Anything slightly left or right is likely to be in danger. The approach is to one of the most difficult greens on the course with a steep false front that slopes to the left where there is a large deep pot bunker waiting to catch anything short. The choice must be made between a low runner to the right side or trying to fly and stop the ball on the very shallow green.
The 14th is a par 5 with elevated front and back tees. The back tee is up on the same high dune as the back tee from the 11th hole. You can once again enjoy the beautiful view. The fairway has a double dogleg first to the right for the tee shot requiring a fade or risky high draw over a couple of lone trees, bushes and dunes for longer hitters. The fairways slopes right to left. The second shot has a blind landing area and the approach is also blind and up and over the hill to a long green protected by a small valley to the left and a dune to the right, a bunker on the right and a dune to the front left. Normally playing into the prevailing wind this is almost always a good three-shot par 5.
The 15th is a short risk/reward par 4 with a completely blind tee shot over a large dune. Since the fairway doglegs off to the right rather sharply, this hole plays tricks on anyone not knowing the course. Aiming in the middle of the fairway will most often result in trouble. A well struck drive that clears the dune and subsequent valley to the right will leave an approach of 100 m or less to a undulated green protected by deep bunkers on the left and right, landing in either one will make par a certain struggle.
The par 4 16th is one of the most difficult two-shot holes on the course. It’s played from elevated tees normally into the prevailing wind from the left. The fairway slopes from left to right, so a solid drive to the left of center is ideal. Most of these shots run down to the right and leave a semi-blind to blind approach shot to one of the more difficult greens to hit on the course. It’s characterized by a very steep false front running diagonally away to the left side and protected by dunes on the left and right. Perfect judgment of the wind and your distance is required on this testing approach. The green slopes from back to front severely and has gentle undulations.
The 17th is the best par 3 on the course and a links style classic that plays up hill to a raised green nestled in the dunes. The green is tough to hit, especially in the wind and has a severe false front, dropping anything a little short a good 5 meters below the green and leaving a very tough blind chip up the hill. The safest tee shot is to the left side of the green where the false front is less severe. The green is also protected on both the right and left by the dunes and rough. A long tee shot will leave a nerve-racking putt due to a back to front sloping green where long will see you rolling back down the hill and starting all over again. This hole has ruined many a good round.
The 18th is a par 4 that doglegs around two pot bunkers and severe rough then runs back up to the clubhouse for the approach. It’s an excellent finishing hole where the drive narrows at the level of the bunkers. A strongly hit drive right down the center can run out of fairway and end in the gorse, so there is a fair bit of decision involved in order to play it correctly. Hold up short of the bunkers and be left with a 140-meter plus uphill approach, or take on the bunkers and the rough and be rewarded with a shorter more direct line in. This green also has a false front and the left side runs off down towards the parking lot, which may well be a rather tempting choice after 17 holes of being beaten up by this great course. In the upcoming renovation, the back tee of this hole will be moved another 15 meters back bringing the bunkers back into play for the longer hitters as well. It’s also worth mentioning that the prevailing wind is left to right here further complicating matters and making those pot bunkers and the deep rough a happy backstop for anything but an excellent drive.
The 19th hole, high up on dunes overlooking the course, provides the ideal backdrop to breathe in, or perhaps drink in the fact that you’ve just survived the most brutal course in Holland. Naturally I mean that in a good way. De Noordwijkse will test you constantly and never lets up until your clubs are tucked safely away in the back of your car. The back tees present the most challenging test in the country and the course has also been called unforgiving at times. Miss the fairway in the summer, even by the smallest of margins, and the knee-deep rough might just make you wish you’d played that 3rd provisional. However, as I’ve learned the hard way, as long as you are straight, long, on top of your game, showing sublime touch around the greens, have a red hot putter and have Lady Luck on your side, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, you’ll need to be able to laugh at yourself, accept the punishment and enjoy the ride.
Many of the best courses are undergoing or have undergone renovations in The Netherlands, these are to be expected and most old courses have to go through them at some point as clubs look to modernize, lengthen and make their courses playable for all levels and maintained for future generations. It’s extremely important that clubs, especially with classic courses and links courses, take these renovations extremely seriously when looking how to bring their courses up to date. A poor renovation can literally make or break a great course. Think about continuity of greens as a perfect example. De Noordwijkse has commissioned the firm of Mackenzie & Ebert for the upcoming renovations. These designers completed some unbelievable work at Turnberry ahead of the 2010 Open Championship, so rest assured, De Noordwijkse is in good hands.
De Noordwijkse is as close to golfing perfection as you will find in The Netherlands. It’s the only course with 18 excellent and memorable holes that maintain continuity and are still unique, presenting different challenges. The wind and elements always play a factor and the course rarely plays the same two days in a row. It’s certainly a course that takes some time to get to know if you want to play it well. Even a little breeze finds a way to breakdown the strongest golfers. The average green size is roughly 400 square meters. Trust me they are very small… think Pebble Beach small. Most shots require a stance that’s uneven in some way with up, down and side lies and you are always required to make choices of how to approach the greens, be it by running the ball on or flying it in and then trying to stop it. These are great characteristics of a true links course.
The location and picturesque setting are simply rare and almost unimaginable to find in one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Standing on the terrace looking out over the course and beautiful Nature you find it hard to believe there are around 10 million people living within a 50 km semi circle of this paradise. There are certainly no signs of it here. Apart from a single white radar mast there are no highways, low flying airplanes, ugly factories, fairway-side housing or apartment buildings polluting the view. You have to really search deep and be extremely critical to find weak aspects of De Noordwijkse and once the renovations are finished every single aspect of the course will be top drawer, even when compared with the best courses in the world. David Davis
All photographs courtesy of Arjan Bor
08 December 2011 Respond to this article