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Koninklijke Haagsche Golf & Country Club

23 November, 2011

Koninklijke Haagsche Golf & Country Club

Our Benelux correspondent takes a long hard look at De Haagsche

November 2011
All photographs courtesy of Koninklijke Haagsche Golf & Country Club
If you’ve ever wondered how a golf course receives the designation of Royal (Koninklijk) all you have to do is pay a visit to Koninklijke Haagsche (De Haagsche) Golf & Country Club and you will quickly understand. Truth be known, in the Netherlands the title Koninklijke (Royal) is a title that must be requested, for sport clubs it can only be requested by a very special anniversary. In the case of De Haagsche this request was made and bestowed upon it in 1993 when the club celebrated its Centennial (100-year) anniversary.

The US country club idea is for some reason a concept that hasn’t really seemed to catch on in Europe perhaps that’s due to the fact that it brings with it much higher membership fees and creates a lot more work for the facilities or perhaps it’s just a matter of history and the fact that many of the courses far outdate the concept all together. In any case, De Haagsche comes as close to this concept as I’ve yet to see on this side of the pond. Beautiful tennis courts, a complete fitness facility and an enormous, warm and inviting clubhouse that just gives the feeling you need to stay for dinner and later gather around the fireplace for drinks. All this and I’ve not even started on the golf yet.

Right out of the starting gate it becomes abundantly clear that a round of golf at De Haagsche is truly like a wild roller coaster ride. Literally, this may well be the most undulated course I’ve ever experienced. Hands down by far the most undulated in The Netherlands otherwise known to be the flattest country in the world. The landscape moves like the swales of the North Sea on a windy day. This makes the importance of a few extra meters on your drives often tremendous and the difference between hitting a blind 4 iron and a pitching wedge approach on many different holes. Another challenge as you might be able to imagine is that this also means that flat lies are pretty rare and blind shots on approaches abundant.

One of the other special features of De Haagsche are their green complexes, a large part of the renovation made by Frank Pont in an attempt to restore De Haagsche back to how Colt/Alison had intended it to be played. Personally I found them enormous for Dutch standards on average 25-30 meters deep. I do have to note that nearly all the greens have false fronts and sides on them and many seem to be crowned so that the ball is always rolling back off the greens, over the greens or off either side, of course that might have just been me as well. In any case it left me asking myself how I could possibly miss a green taking up 750 square meters of space from 130 meters out. Visually the greens really play tricks on you if you don’t know them. Once on the greens, if you make it that far, there are plenty of subtle undulations making reading lines rather challenging, especially with 30 meter putts.

The layout of the course is nothing less than spectacular, that being said it’s a course really designed for strong players, I’d even go as far as to say single handicappers. With few exceptions, single handicappers from most clubs will quickly understand that not all golf courses are created equal as are not all golf course architects. Some are just plain devious and sadistic, not satisfied to tire you mentally but yearning to see you break down physically as well. Rumor has it that may have been Alison’s/Pont’s doing here at De Haagsche since that’s not a typical characteristic of Colt’s courses.

The course does allow you to ease your way into the game which is something I’m growing to appreciate (incidentally a characteristic of many Colt Courses) more and more especially when hitting the first tee without warming up. Similar to De Pan (another Colt gem in The Netherlands), De Haagsche starts with a relatively short par 5. However that doesn’t make it easy, as many of the greens, it takes quite a shot to hold this green if you go for it in two. Fly the greens here with mid to low irons and you will almost certainly roll off them someplace and playing a links type shot to roll the balls onto the greens will not always work do to strategically placed hazards. Such is the case with the first hole that has an inviting bunker with a rather strong gravitational pull right in front of the green. All roads lead to the beach which seemed to be a theme for the start of my round.

The theme of the 2nd and 3rd holes was stay left and hit it far. The 2nd fairway slopes drastically from left to right then plays to an elevated green protected by bunkers. The 3rd hole requires a forced carry ranging from about 160-200 meters over a small valley with a dog legged approach to a back-to-front sloping green with a false front and large drop off on the right side with stories of 5 putts ringing through the air. If you were able to follow that last sentence I assume the hole will not be too much trouble for you.

Personally I think the course really comes alive at the 4th hole. A 202-meter elevated par 3 to an undulated very large green protected by bunkers. If it doesn’t sound challenging enough, just add wind. The 5th is a solid narrow par 5 that is not long but often plays into the prevailing wind adding the necessary extra challenge.

The 6th hole is a monster of a 428-meter par 4, again into the prevailing wind. If the length doesn’t get you, the tricky right to left sloping and undulated green will. Basically you’ve got one chance here and that’s to be on the middle of the green. With a large bunker front left, the fairway and green sloping to the lefts but also having a run off to the right and back your short game will certainly be put to the test.

If you’ve made it this far the 7th hole rewards you with a great blind tee shot requiring a 200-meter carry from the back tees. Extra points if you can hit the aiming pole up on the hill. The fairway is more generous than you realize but you’ll have to wait in order to see that. A good drive leaves a short iron approach to a very large green that is only partially in view from the center to right half of the fairway due to the fact that the right side is tucked behind a dune.

The 8th is another brilliant par 3 from a highly elevated tee once again, playing at 209 meters and protected by a sole bunker on the right front plus run offs all around. It’s no wonder this is the second easiest hole on the course. I digress…

Number 9 is a short par 4 leading back up and down and up to the starter's hut. This hole reminded me of the 2nd hole both in terms of the undulated fairway and the elevated green protected by a single bunker on the front right and while the second hole was protected by 3 bunkers I was grateful to have the opportunity to give the exact same shot another go.

Half way there, trust me, the fun is really just beginning. The 10th is a short par 5 with another roller coaster fairway. It’s lined on the left by an extremely peculiar row of fir trees, apparently planted in the 1920s for some sort of work being done in the south of The Netherlands. Incidentally, they just dare you to hit left and indeed it’s the left side you need to favor on this hole, I took the right never being one to conform. The green is tricky and elevated. The 11th is a great driving hole where all the danger is blocked out by trees giving you the impression the fairway is huge and you can swing away. I did. The approach is to yet another tricky green with run offs all around.

The 12th is a great little par 3 (153 meters) over a small valley to another large green sloping right to left protected by a single bunker on the right front. Add wind and this hole will certainly play havoc. I’d call this a bit of the calm before the storm as once you reach 13 the course starts to bear down on you. 13 is a long par 4 with a dogleg left and a narrow landing area. The approach is extremely tough to a long green of about 45 meters tucked into a dune and protected by a bunker front right.

I believe the 14th receives my vote as my favorite hole on the course. The hole is very beautiful and running up through the valley surrounded by dunes. The tee shot is visually mind boggling requiring you to hit your drive against your better judgment to the right side leaving a tough mid iron approach to a very highly elevated green. I came up a half a meter short and rolled 50 meters back down the hill. It was at this point I believe to have heard Alison rolling over in his grave laughing as I continuously managed to misjudge the elevated greens. The 15th was almost equally enjoyable and running back along the 14th from an elevated tee to a green tucked into the dunes.

The 16th hole was to be a decisive one for me. A challenging drive to a left to right sloping fairway which I managed leaving me 135 meters to a green 25 meters wide x 25 meters deep protected by three bunkers front right. From the first cut I hit a very high 8 iron about 2 meters onto the left front of the green which was probably the best I could do. The ball however managed to roll 20 meters through the green and off the back into the rough. Thus solidifying the pending thoughts of how fair and playable the new green complexes are granted this was a first effort. This green essentially needed to be approached as many at De Haagsche with either a very short iron or a links style land it short and run it up type of shot. However, the bunkering all but prohibits this in many cases.

The 17th and 18th are great finishing holes. The 17th another great little par 3 protected by bunkers, an undulated green and severe run offs on the front and left sides. As you approach the 18th you believe you’ve left the dunes behind for a parkland course and what faces you is one of the most visually intimidating drives on the course from a highly elevated tee. The majestic clubhouse and wonderful 19th hole only a par 5’s worth of shots away. In this case somewhere between 5 to 10 shots on average but that’s just my guess.

In summing up the experience I have to say De Haagsche is a great course, steeped in tradition and designed by a great architectural team in Colt and Alison. It’s a must play for sure but having played around 30 Colt courses I personally didn’t leave here seeing many similarities, which certainly doesn’t take away from the wonderful experience. It’s a course that I would definitely say is suited to stronger single handicap players and quite difficult for anyone else.

My only criticism would be in the new green complexes and a couple bunkers that I question are appropriate for a Colt/Alison design which left me wondering what they might have thought had they joined me for this round. The greens are tremendous in size, undulated and in some cases bordering on too difficult and unfair due to the fact that they are very hard however not really allowing for traditional bump and run approaches due to the bunkering and severe slopes. It is also mentionable that even though they are large, as a result of all the run offs (false sides/fronts), they don’t allow for much variety in pin positioning. My opinion has been based on a day when they were rolling quite slow, catch them in the summer cut down and running around 10 or more on the stimp meter and they will just be too challenging. In my experience I just can’t place that by other Colt/Alison courses. 10+ handicappers will struggle to hold the greens that they hit and suffer severely with the extremely challenging putting and chipping around the greens. What surprises me further is that this difficulty has not been recognized by the Dutch Golf Federation in creating an appropriate slope and course rating comparable to the rest of The Netherlands. I’d be willing to bet handicaps at the club have soared since the changes. That being said, I’m not at all opposed to challenging golf as long as it remains fair and fun.

Slight criticism aside, there is no question the entire experience can best be described as “Koninklijk” or fit for a king, however, playing the course well will be equally as challenging as pronouncing it correctly, for a native English speaker that is! David Davis.


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