Belgium, beer and birdies.
Belgium, where the beer is but the birdies aren't so obvious.
When around 20 EGTMA members descended on the Flanders region of Belgium, invited by Martin’s Hotels Group, they all expected to be fed and watered and play a few rounds of golf. What they did not expect was the diversity of the hotels Martin’s posesses and the quality of the golf offering surrounding these hotels.
John Martin left the UK for Belgium in the early 1900’s and did what he did at home, he started brewing beer. The family then expanded into hotels by buying up old and disused properties and turning them into 4 and 5* hotels.
Their crown jewel and their best known property is the ‘Chateau Du Lac’ in Genval, a former Schweppes factory turned into a 5* hotel. Our journey around the country took of from there.
On our trip across Flanders, we stayed in the aformentioned Schweppes factory in Genval, a converted Fransiscan Church in Mechelen and a medieval mental hospital in Leuven. We played golf on traditional parkland courses like Kampenhout and Keerbergen. We played in the shadow of a manor house in St Joris - Winge, sampled the last 18 hole course to open in Belgium at Millennium and finished on the tree lined and undulating fairways of Bercuit.
Belgium has undoubtedly a lot on offer to golfers from all over Europe. One can drink all sorts of beers basically all the way through the night. In fact, the famous 'Moules Frites' are best washed down with some beverage brewed by the men of the cloth as it will undoubtedly enhance the spiritual experience. The Martin’s Hotels all provide real value for money and what is more, more of a hotel experience, rather than just a room. This is history and atmosphere combined into one and like no other.
Golf in Belgium also is relatively cheap and with courses predominantly ‘in good nick’, this certainly provides value for your money. As the country, famous for the one that lights up when seen from space, is littered with motorways, getting round it is pretty quick and efficient although I would avoid the Monday AM and Friday PM rush hours.
Good value golf for all to enjoy.
Kampenhout Golf is a flat and pretty straightforward golf course with not too much excitement but nevertheless, a good and easy introduction into Belgian golf. The nearby Keerbergen Golf Club is proud of its hospitality and welcome and was build on an old airfield. The lake which borders the 18th hole was effectively dug out to build the runway and the nearby motorways. It’s a traditional Belgian members club with limited green fee play and squeezed onto a small piece of land. The course provides the golfer with tight narrow tree lined fairways and many doglegs to contend with. Onto the Millennium Golf Club which is the last completed full project in Belgium. I played the course when it just opened, you guessed it, in 2000, and I must say, upon my return I was mightily impressed on how it all has bedded in nicely. The course has very distinct features and is very modern with large undulating greens, the ‘Paalse Plas’ predominantly present as a waterfeature and whispy grass that borders the generous fairways. Defenitely one to consider on any trip around Belgium. That night we stayed overnight in Leuven, Belgium’s main university city and with an amazing historic center. I’d never really been to Leuven and was pleasantly surprised with what I found. The Martin’s Klooster Hotel, a mix between original buildings intertwined with a modern wing delivers on many fronts. It brings you back to the days when this was a hospital, the residence of the secretary of the Duke of Alba and much more. It’s centrally located and within walking distance of the ‘Grote Markt’ where it all happens.
In the middle of the undulating country side surrounding Leuven, one can find a small village called St. Joris - Winge. In the middle of the village stands a small manor house, dating back to 1648 and it forms the center piece of the Winge Golf & Country Club, which is based in the impressive grounds of the castle. The course itself is very technical and requires precission rather than brute force. There is a lot of walking between holes so prepare for a good workout. Winge is currently building a new clubhouse and this will elevate the facilities and make the course flow better. Winge is a club with high ambitions going forward.
We finished the tour on the other side, the French side of the linguistic border. Bercuit Golf Club was built in the mid 60’s by Robert Trent Jones Sr, the only design by RTJ in Belgium. There is an interesting story that surrounds this development and if you have the change to hear RT Jr, he will confirm this. The Belgian businessman and golf architect, Baron Paul Rolin asked RTJ Sr to design the course and during construction, took him to some of the fine Belgian museums. At one stage, they went to see paintings by the hand of Pieter Paul Rubens, the Flemish Master. Something that stood our was that some of the paintings had Rubens’ signature on them and some didn’t so RTJ Sr. inquired as to why that was. The answer is simple, the ones with the signature on were painted by the master himself and the ones without were painted by his pupils under his watchful eye. This gave Robert Trent Jones Sr the idea and the concept to name some holes … ‘signature holes’ and this was then taken over by Jack Nicklaus and now you have Nicklaus Signature courses drawn and built by the man himself. Bercuit is a super course to play, in very good condition, challenging, peaceful, it ooses calmness but has a mean streak when you stray of line. A must play course when in the area.
Make sure to consider Belgium as a destination for your next trip.
Many people know Belgium to be ‘boring’, they know it from having ‘Brussels’ and legislation being heaped upon them. They know the chocolates, the diamonds, the beer … what people don’t know is that there is a lot of good and traditional golf being played in Belgium. There is a lot of golf history in Belgium with Royal Antwerp, Europe’s 2nd oldest club, Knokke Le Zoute, scene of many Belgian Open’s won by Westwood, Clarke, Olazabal, Karlsson and many other greats. Do consider Belgium for golf and for your next trip, you won’t be disappointed. It delivers on so many fronts … great golf, fabulous beer, interesting accommodation and super food. What else do you need on a golf trip … a few good friends !
Martin’s Hotels - www.martinshotels.com
Kampenhout Golf Club - www.golfclubkampenhout.be
Keerbergen Golf Club - www.golfkeerbergen.be
Millennium Golf - www.millenniumgolf.be
Winge Golf & Coountry Club - www.wingegolf.be
Bercuit Golf - www.golfdubercuit.be
Words: Jo Maes, President of the EGTMA.