- Four flourishing golf courses in Flanders
Four flourishing golf courses in Flanders
Four flourishing golf courses in Flanders
Six months ago, Golf in Flanders beat sixty other worldwide contenders to the “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year for 2018” award at the International Golf Travel Market in Cannes. A joint initiative between the Flemish Golf Federation and the Flemish Tourist Board, Golf in Flanders actively promotes the northern region of Belgium as an alternative golf destination to the international golf and travel industry.
Already well known for its culture and gastronomy, Flanders is something of an unknown quantity when it comes to golf but, with more than fifty courses to choose from, a round of golf is never far away from a good bite to eat and a great beer. The vibrant cities of Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges are all within striking distance of these 9-hole and 18-hole layouts and Flanders is set at the heart of western Europe, so it's easily accessible by land, sea and air.
Respected architects like Willie Park Junior, Harry Colt and Tom Simpson have all had a hand in laying out some of the old classic courses in this part of the world (Royal Antwerp, Royal Zoute, Royal Belgium) whilst contemporary Belgian designers such as Paul Rolin, Bruno Steensels and Dimitri Van Hauwaert are responsible for many of the contemporary layouts to have opened for play in the last twenty years or so.
Last month, Belgian-born Jo Maes, President of the European Golf and Travel Media Association, organised the GolfinFlanders Media Challenge around the European Tour’s Belgian Knock Out event at Rinkven Golf Club, giving journalists the opportunity to experience golf across a number of different platforms, starting at Royal Antwerp (formed in 1888), one of the oldest clubs in Continental Europe, and ending at Beveren, one of the region’s more up-and-coming new clubs.
First up on the press trip was the 18-hole Tom Simpson course at Royal Antwerp Golf Club, a heathland track that was originally laid out by Willie Park Junior in 1912 when the club moved to its present location deep within the Kapellen woods, to the north of Antwerp. Tom Simpson then redesigned the layout in the 1930s and local architect Dimitri Van Hauwaent has been upgrading this old masterpiece over the last decade.
Dimitri told us: “We have done quite a lot over the last ten years, changing bunkers, introducing heather, cutting a lot of trees and from this year on we will remove many more. We will do more in the next few years to get that open heather feel back on some of the holes while other parts will get a more closed character. The biggest recent changes were made on hole 14 with a professional contractor, and the result is very good as nobody can now see the work. Hole 15 was also done last year by a good shaper.”
A hundred kilometres to the southeast of Royal Antwerp, close to the small city of Genk, lies the course at Royal Limburg Golf, where Fred Hawtree set out the fairways for the membership in the mid-1960s. Bordering the Tenhaagdoornheide nature reserve, the layout occupies a fantastic heathland tract with many of the holes playing through huge swathes of heather which are said to be a delight to see when they’re in full bloom.
Architect Bruno Steensels is a long standing club member (and multiple Club Champion) and he has just overseen the renovation of each and every bunker on the course during the winter of 2017. Conducted in-house by the club’s greenkeeping staff, the completed project is a stunning success story that can only reinforce the claims of those who have asserted for some time now that Royal Limburg is the number 1 course in the country.
On the other side of Brussels, half an hour’s drive south of Ghent, the 36-hole Golf & Country Club Oudenaarde sits within beautiful parkland surroundings on the north bank of the Scheldt River. Here, two terrific Harold Baker-designed courses, the par 71 Kasteel and par 72 Anker, fan out from Petegem Castle (completed in 1847), the fabulous old clubhouse which is at the heart of all the activities on the estate.
One of more than a dozen golf clubs currently promoted by Premium Benelux Golf Courses, Oudenaarde organises many competitions across different categories for its 1,300 members but there’s always room for casual green fee play on one or other of its two 18-hole layouts. Non golfers can also use the restaurant and there are rooms available in the clubhouse for seminars, meetings, team building sessions and networking events.
The final port of call – quite literally – on the media visit to Flanders, was to Golfclub Beveren, situated in the dockland area of Antwerp, where a little club has functioned for just over 25 years. Having just played a couple of esteemed Royal courses and dropped in on a highly-regarded 36-hole venue in previous days, it was really refreshing to discover grass roots golf thriving in what was once such a harsh environment where you’d never image in your wildest dreams a golf community might exist.
Starting out with only three holes on an old industrial site adjacent to the docks, the course has evolved over time into a 9-hole “inland links” layout which is currently being redesigned by Dimitri Van Hauwaent to maximise the full potential of a somewhat restricted parcel of reclaimed land. New holes are being added, along with a 4-hole short course and practice areas alongside the multi-functional clubhouse.
While national and international governing bodies in golf talk about ways to make the game more inclusive, Beveren are streets ahead of them, motivating youngsters and women to become members, encouraging senior players to retain their enthusiasm for the sport, and welcoming the general public to get involved in the club via the driving range and/or the excellent dining facilities.
It’s always good to finish a press trip on a high note and Golfclub Beveren was the perfect example of how golf is flourishing in Flanders, providing a real life endorsement for the Golf in Flanders motto of “Visit. Play. Enjoy.” While others bemoan the worrying decline of golf as a participation sport, this club proves that a wholehearted willingness to reach out to the local community really does work.
Sponsorship thanks are extended to Hertz for transportation and to Van Der Valk Hotel Beveren and Crowne Plaza Antwerpen for accommodation.
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