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Top 20 Golf Courses of Belgium 2018

17 January, 2018
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Top 20 Golf Courses of Belgium 2018

Organised golf in Belgium dates back to 1888, when Royal Antwerp was founded, which makes this club one of the oldest on the European continent. The club moved to its current site in 1912, engaging Willie Park Jnr to set out its new course. This layout was later fashioned into the one that’s in play today by Tom Simpson, an architect who looms large in the fortunes of all the leading Belgian clubs.

Another figure to play a large part in the early development of golf in Belgium was King Leopold II. He didn’t participate in the game himself but he understood the economic benefits that could accrue from promoting the game at the outset of the 20th century. The King ensured prime property became available for new courses bestowing royal patronage on these sporting enterprises, and this support from the monarchy towards the golfing fraternity is still in existence today.

Unfortunately, some might feel the prevailing protocol of adding a “Royal” prefix to a club’s name when it reaches fifty years of age is maybe a step too far in the modern era, devaluing the prestige and status of such a title as more and more clubs automatically acquire it. Indeed, as if to prove the point, more than half the clubs in our revised Top 20 for Belgium now use the “Royal” title in their name.

And so to the latest edition of our rankings for Belgian, the fifth time we’ve updated the listings since they were first published in 2008.

Only one course has remained in the same position over the last decade and it’s the national number 1, the Championship course at Royal Zoute Golf Club, which is located close to the North Sea coast, next to the busy port of Zeebrugge. A Harry Colt layout that was set out in 1907, it fell into disrepair during World War II but was revived by Lieutenant-Colonel Freddie Allen before he returned to his work in the insurance industry when his military duties ended. The course fell eleven places in our recent Top 100 for Continental Europe, which is a sign that its position at the top of the national chart is perhaps under threat. However, the famous professionals who've lifted the Belgian Open trophy at Knokke in modern times, including Darren Clark (who won his first professional title here), Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood, may all argue that Royal Zoute is still the nation's premier course.

Snapping at the heels of Royal Zoute, and retaining the runner-up position in the chart, we have Fred Hawtree’s early 1970s layout at Royal Limburg, which lies close to the border with The Netherlands. The club’s original 9-hole course debuted in 1967, but it took another seven years until a full 18-hole layout was operational. Some commentators believe that Limburg's green complexes lack character and if renovated the course would be a World Top 100 contender. Limburg rose four places to number 33 in our new European listings last month, two spots behind compatriot Royal Zoute, so who knows what may happen when we next carry out our biennial review for Belgium?

Also holding onto its position at number 3 in the table, the Old course at Royal Golf Club de Belgique – commonly known as Ravenstein – is situated less than a 30-minute drive from the centre of Brussels, on the fringes of a large forest. First laid out over a hundred years ago by Seymour Dunn, the tree-lined Old course was redesigned by Tom Simpson in 1928 then renovated by Martin Hawtree during the 1990s. With a clubhouse dating back to 1748 and a complementary 9-hole short course designed by Philip Mackenzie Ross in 1951, the 27-hole golf facility in Tervuren is certainly one to savour.

Advancing three places to number 4, the course at Royal Golf Club des Fagnes in Spa makes a conspicuous move in the right direction within our reappraised standings. Another Tom Simpson design from 1930, this layout was mentioned in the 2017 update of Tom Doak’s Confidential Guide to Golf Courses book when the author had this to say about a recent visit: “With five par threes and five par fives, it plays even shorter than what the scorecard says, but it’s still hard to score: every time there is a downhill approach shot, the green falls away to the back and to one side.”

Making an even more impressive leap up the chart, from number 9 to number 5, the course at Royal Golf Club du Sart Tilman is yet another Tom Simpson design, this time from 1939. It’s laid out in forested property just outside Liège, where, according to the club’s website, they had to clear around twenty acres of trees and remove fourteen thousand stumps during construction. In the 2017 update of Tom Doak’s Confidential Guide to Golf Courses book, the author has this to say: “The stretch of holes from the 3rd through the 8th is a wild ride, with some strong topography cut up by several sharp drainage swales, and greens full of natural tilt that make it very difficult to get a short approach shot close… The last five holes are not up to the prelude, and the club really needs to work on tree management if these contours are going to shine, but any golfer with a spirit of adventure will love this course.”

The first of our two new entries appears at number 10 and it’s the brand new Championship course at The National Golf Brussels, which opened its doors for the first time on 5th June last year, with the local mayor cutting the ribbon to declare the new facility open. Top Belgian professional players Nicolas Colsaerts, Thomas Detry and Thomas Pieters were all in attendance at the launch to give their backing for a modern golf complex that should go a long way towards helping young players develop their golfing skills with their use of the wide range of facilities on offer.

If you’re concerned about any aspect of our Belgian rankings then by all means let us know. It could be that we’ve omitted an obvious contender or we’ve included a course that doesn’t deserve to be there. Maybe there’s a particular layout that’s placed too high or there’s one lying too low? Whatever you’re thinking, please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top or bottom of this page to let us know your opinion.

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To view further details of the Top 20 Golf Courses of Belgium click the link.

Jim McCann
Editor
Top 100 Golf Courses

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