By Jeff Stein of Stein Golf
What is the first thought that comes to mind when you think about the Dutch? Windmills, clogs, cheese, maybe Amsterdam. How about golf? If you examine a map of the Netherlands you will notice a coastline enveloped in dune land.
Within these dunes lie a cluster of links that could easily rival some of the best in the world. Namely Noordwijkse Golf Club, Kennemer Country Club, and Royal Hague. If you come to visit the Netherlands make sure to bring your sticks and discover the beauty, quality and depth of the golf experience in Holland.
Noordwijkse Golf Club
Less than a one hour drive from Amsterdam’s city center is the coastal town of Noordwijkse and the Noordwijkse Golf Club (established in 1915), laid out by architect Frank Pennick in 1972. Upon arriving to the clubhouse, situated on a promontory above the golf course, you will immediately be taken in by the wild beauty of the dunescape.
Brown and golden grasses wave in the ocean wind which is constantly blowing over the adjacent (and massive) sand dunes. If this isn’t a moment that causes you to brace your golfing soul then you will certainly need to hold onto your hat (literally) as you take on a golf course which climbs and churns in every direction before heading back to the clubhouse. Pennick routed a fine course which takes advantage of considerable undulation and variety.
The 8th hole (pictured above), a 386 yard par four, features a blind uphill drive over a dramatic dune. Upon cresting the hill golfers can view most of the holes they have just played and take a sneak preview of those to come on the back nine. The second shot is no bargain as it continues to spill downhill to a green guarded with bunkers to the left and right.
The back nine also bristles with a variety of memorable and challenging holes which only mother nature could provide.
The short par four 13th requires a precise drive to avoid a patch of long rough, directly in the line of play, waving at you from the tee. The placement of the long rough at this point in the round becomes a thought provoking hazard and a nuance of the design as it becomes animated in the wind and all the more intimidating.
The par five 14th that follows is one of the best on the course and a true three shot hole travelling 562 yards to a perched green. A picturesque tee shot invites golfers to cut the corner over the dune but keeping your ball in play should be your first thought considering the next two shots ahead. If you can manage to get reasonably close for your third it will be much easier to approach the small green obscured by a fronting bunker and a small dune.
On the way home you will traverse several more varied and rolling dunes on the way to the 18th tee. Your last drive squares you up to the clubhouse for one last push up the hill. If you can manage to avoid two lurking fairway bunkers and muster a solid mid-iron second shot you will be happily on your way to a comfy chair and a panoramic view of the golf course.
Kennemer Country Club
In Zandvoort, just 30 minutes North is another one of Holland’s fine links. Established in 1910 the club commissioned golf architect Harry Colt to design 27 holes (the final 9 holes were built years later by Pennick, Holland’s preeminent golf architect at the time). The challenge of this site was clearly how Colt would intertwine the three loops among sharp sand hills and equally flat terrain. Depending on which combination of holes you play there will be three distinct golf courses.
Although the holes have not been moved since their original construction an interesting fact of history is that during WWII the facility was significantly damaged by German bombing operations and are dotted with abandoned bomb shelters throughout the layout. To this point some of the original Colt features have been lost through time and renovation but do not detract from the overall experience.
A stand out hole on the `A’ loop is the sixth, requiring both distance and accuracy but measuring only 345 yards. The tee is slightly below the fairway and separated by a deep gully. After successfully shooting the gap, the fairway disappears from view until arriving at a ridge line 250 yards from the tee.
If you have managed to drive your ball over the ridge a steep decline will have taken your golf ball into scoring distance. The green is pushed up against a hillside sloping heavily from back to front and lies sharply to the right. A scoring opportunity will be awarded should you hit a big drive, however anything in the rough could spell b-o-g-e-y or worse!
The `C’ loop has a stretch of closing holes on gentler terrain with some more strategic playing options. By its nature, the playing corridors are wider and more forgiving to miss-hits, however tall rough still stands as a punishment for poor drives.
The 450 yard 16th is one of the best challenges on the golf course requiring a booming drive and a solid second shot to carry a gaping sand trap just short of the elevated green.
Today the golf course hosts the Men’s Dutch Open with narrow fairways, tricky doglegs, and tall rough. Add some wind to the equation and a stern test will be a certainty for any playing ability. Make sure you play the correct tee, otherwise you will be searching for golf balls all day.
Royal Hague (Koninklijke Haagsche)
If we travel back to the south of Holland’s vast dune region, Royal Hague awaits. Ranked #1 in the country and also one of the best in Europe, the golf course proved to be even more fascinating upon closer inspection. From a broad view the recognizable features of the golf course duck in and out of sight on this tumultuous piece of land.
The tees and greens are often placed in elevated locations while most everything in between traverses one of the more interesting landscapes in golf. Naturally bold contours ensure the type of randomness and strategic play necessary to negotiate these links without ever finding a flat lie! You will never have to hit the same shot twice and will constantly be presented with a new challenge.
The 1st hole cascades down hill to a fairway that looks more like a giant motor cross track in its undulations than a golf course. Once down in the fairway the golf course gives way to a slightly more intimate feel, signaling a special golf course lies ahead.
If the word `special’ or `magnificent’ hasn’t left your lips by the time you get to the 6th tee, brace yourself. Measuring 470 yards this little hole is called a par 4 but its really more like a five. If you can escape with a bogey, you have done well after placing your drive in a fairway saddled between two dunes and slapping your next shot somewhere close to a green which is more turtle-backed than it is putt-able.
For golf architecture aficionados this is heaven on golfs green earth. For others its just maddening. The crowned greens are found throughout the course and if the challenge is not embraced you will not get the golf experience at Royal Hague.
Much like the genius of Donald Ross’s putting surfaces at Pinehurst #2, only the most expertly played approaches will hold the green while a deft short game will save your score. Many different challenges await off the tee, with only 18 formal bunkers throughout the layout, but it’s the putting surfaces that steal the show.
When planning your next golf holiday ask yourself, where can I find the best links golf? Certainly Scotland and Ireland have this reputation. But the Netherlands might be your next best option.
With all kidding aside experiencing Dutch culture is a real treat and they really do have good cheese! Add some beautiful golf to the equation and you have got an unforgettable international experience.
Jeffrey is an aspiring golf architect and has recently worked on golf courses in Uruguay, Nebraska, Oregon and New Zealand. In between projects Jeffrey spends his time travelling to golf courses around the world to expand his understanding of what makes a golf course great .
To find out more about Stein Golf Construction follow this link www.steingolf.com