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The Netherlands – a golf destination of high quality

26 June, 2017

The Netherlands – a golf destination of surprising high quality

We spend five days visiting some of the old (and not so old) Dutch Masters

In June of 2016, three of the UK-based Top 100 Team joined our Nordic correspondent Jan Nordstrom for a very entertaining week-long tour of top golf courses in Sweden, based around Malmö in the south of the country. This year, our International correspondent David Davis invited the same group to The Netherlands, his adopted country, to sample several of the old Dutch Masters that aren’t widely known beyond the polders of the Low Countries.

We were scheduled to play the current top seven courses in the country, all of which are ranked in our Continental Europe Top 100, so we suspected we were in for a golfing treat even before we touched down in Amsterdam, where we were based for most of the trip. The Netherlands doesn’t promote itself as a golfing destination via any of its tourism websites – though you’ll read plenty about food, arts & culture, cycling etc – so you really need to dig deep to find what you’re looking for.

First up on the itinerary was David’s home club at Noordwijkse, which lies on the North Sea coast, around 45 minutes south west of downtown Amsterdam. Although the club is more than a hundred years old, the course is less than half that vintage, having been set out by Frank Pennink through towering dunes and a woodland of pine trees in the early 1970s. It was displaced at the head of the Netherlands national rankings when we re-sequenced the chart at the start of last year but that fall was all about other courses improving, rather than Noordwijkse deteriorating.

Next stop was the current national number 1, Koninklijke Haagsche, situated 20 kilometres further along the coastline. The club dates back to 1893 but the course is a little younger, having been laid out in 1939 by the famous architectural firm of Colt, Alison and Morrison for Stuart Wolf, a wealthy merchant. Royal Hague acquired the property after World War II and brought in Sir Guy Campbell to ready the course for play again. It’s a thrilling roller coaster of a golf ride from start to finish and one that will last in the memory for a very long time indeed.

Day two of the tour saw us move inland, to Utrecht and then to Eindhoven. We were joined at Utrechtse Golf Club de Pan in the morning by architect Frank Pont, who was kind enough to walk most of the front nine with our group, pointing out a number of course improvements that he’s made recently. Another late 1920s design from Colt, Alison and Morrison, the course occupies a compact tract of wooded heathland, where only a masterful routing would have allowed an eighteen-hole course to be set out in such a comfortable fashion. For so long an unheralded track, de Pan is now talked about by those in the know as one of the best in Europe.

In the afternoon, we took the opportunity to play Frank Pont’s Championship 18-hole layout at Golfbaan de Swinkelsche and this modern course, which only opened for play five years ago, certainly provoked lots of discussion along the way – especially at the short par four 11th, which offers multiple routes to the green over or around a large sandy waste area facing the tee box. Because the landscape in this area is relatively flat, most of the bunkers are big and bold, adding visual interest all the way around the course. Golfers with an open mind who come to play here will find the course thoroughly engaging, of that there is no doubt.

It seemed like a good idea to take something of a break half way through the schedule, so the following morning was spent on a visit to the latest Kyle Phillips design that’s still being constructed at Cromvoirt, to the north of Eindhoven. Dave Smith, Kyle’s shaper of many years, and Graeme Rutjes, the project manager (and former defender with the Netherlands football team at the time of Italia ’90), showed us around the site on a couple of buggies. The fescue fairways are being built on sand, heather is being extensively transplanted and no expense has been spared with a multi-million-euro budget. The clubhouse and practice facilities also look like they're top spec, so expect to hear quite a bit about this place when it opens next year – and remember where you read about it first.

Fifty kilometres to the south, on the other side of Eindhoven, lies Eindhovensche Golf Club, our next golfing port of call in the afternoon. According to the club’s “caddie book,” the wide expanse of heathland named “Nederheide” was purchased by Mr and Mrs Philips-de Jong in the late 1920s. The Colt, Alison and Morrison design company was commissioned to layout the course and the inaugural golf games were played in the autumn of 1929, with the club officially founded the following year. Nothing much seems to have changed since then, which is not to say the track is stuck in a time warp as it’s under constant revision, but there’s a real feeling of stepping back in time when you tee it up here.

The penultimate day of the golfing excursion was spent close to the media city of Hilversum, with an early start at Golfsociëteit De Lage Vuursche. It’s a very modern layout, officially co-designed by Kyle Phillips and Robert Trent Jones Jnr (though there’s a story behind why RTJII is on the architectural credits) with a chic clubhouse to complement the water-laden 18-hole course. Conditioning is second to none here, leading some to possibly think it looks and feels like playing a top-end track in the sunshine state of Florida – that’s not to be dismissed as a disparaging statement, instead it indicates the very high quality of a golf facility that’s not short of members prepared to pay a considerable joining fee and substantial annual green fees.

In the afternoon, the short 15-minute drive to Hilversumsche Golf Club transported us to a completely different landscape, even though it was located only ten kilometres away. The course is laid out on rolling heathland, with tree-lined fairways arranged in two distinct tracts of land that are located in adjacent provinces. The course was extended to an 18-hole layout by Colt, Alison and Morrison in the late 1920s then modified by Sir Guy Campbell thirty years later. Kyle Phillips has carried out some modifications in recent times to strengthen the challenge and ensure it’s fit for purpose in the modern era.

And so to the final day of the trip and it was back to the seaside, where it had all kicked off four days earlier. Kennemer Golf & Country Club is situated just outside Zandvoort, close to the famous motor racing circuit, and the club has operated here since 1927 when (yes, you’ve guessed) Colt, Alison and Morrison Ltd. set out two 9-hole circuits in the sandhills surrounding the clubhouse. Frank Pennink added a further 9-hole loop in 1985 (using a routing designed by Harry Colt from sixty years earlier) so the club now offers twenty-seven holes of fabulous links golf to members and visitors alike.

The names Colt, Alison & Morrison Ltd., Pennink, Pont and Phillips all loom large in the courses visited on this trip and that’s not a coincidence. The former company shaped most of the Golden Age layouts in the Netherlands which endure to this day whilst the latter three are responsible for building many of the modern-day designs in the country, or remodelling the old classic layouts to keep pace with play in the new millennium. It stands to reason that if you want to see the best courses then these architects will all feature at some point during your tour.

Looking back to twelve months ago, venturing north to Sweden in search of great golf was a wise decision and the Netherlands this year has at least matched that wonderful experience. The question now is where should we be heading to in 2018 to top those two countries? Is there a case perhaps to be made for the likes of Belgium, France or Germany, or maybe one of the emerging central European nations like Poland or the Czech Republic? Suggestions gratefully received, so please fire away by using the “Respond to this article” link at the top or at the bottom of this page.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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