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Tee time: Take a tour around Wallonia’s golf courses
When Brussels-born Nicolas Colsaerts emerged a few years ago to snatch a place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team, it helped put his nation’s golfing talent on the map. But for real connoisseurs, the country’s credentials were already well known: Belgium has a deserved reputation among both amateurs and professionals for its courses, with a broad range of styles and environments.
Some of the oldest and finest courses in Europe are in Wallonia and Brussels, where the passion for the game has deep roots and where the geography is particularly well suited for lush yet challenging settings. Indeed, one of golf’s pioneering course architects, eccentric Englishman Tom Simpson, spent much of the 1920s here designing some of the world’s most innovative and exciting courses, including the Royal Golf Club des Fagnes near Spa, the Royal Golf Club du Sart-Tilman near Liège, and the Royal Golf Club du Hainaut near Mons.
Many courses are honoured with the Royal prefix, a title granted once they turn 50, but they live up to their majestic billing, offering luxurious clubhouses often converted from old castles and manors.
Despite these aristocratic associations, green fees in Belgium are reasonable, and cheaper than in many other European destinations – and outside visitors are usually welcome throughout the week. Indeed, if golf in Wallonia and Brussels does have a characteristic, it is its openness to visitors, whether vacationers or businesspeople: many courses have meeting and conference facilities, smart restaurants and even hotels.
Some of the clubs may have strict rules about attire: it’s worth checking if tracksuits and training shoes are allowed, if collared shirts must be worn, the correct way to wear shorts and hats, and using mobile phones. And most courses follow established etiquette on replacing divots, repairing pitch marks, raking bunkers and avoiding slow play.
With a such an array it’s hard to decide which to mention in any selection of Wallonia‘s courses. But here is a non-exhaustive list, by province.
Château de la Tournette: South of Brussels, in the Ittre and Nivelles countryside, this is one of Belgium’s most appreciated and respected golf clubs and boasts three courses. The English championship links-style classic course designed by Martin Hawtree and opened in 1988 is a tree-lined parkland. The American, another 18-hole course, was designed by Bill Amick and is more technical, with water challenges in typical ‘target golf’ style. The training facilities include the nine-hole Orival course and Tournette Golf Academy. All lead to the magnificent 16th-century castle, with its grand clubhouse, welcoming bar area, restaurant and terrace with breathtaking view. 21 Chemin de Baudemont, Nivelles
Royal Waterloo Golf Club: Founded in 1923 on the Blaret farm in Rhode-Saint-Genèse, the Royal Waterloo Golf Club moved to Lasne in 1960. One of the best-known clubs in Belgium, it features two 18-hole courses and one nine-hole course. Recently renovated, La Marache is a classic championship course designed by Martin Hawtree, with an imaginative layout in mature woodlands that has staged many Belgian Opens. The smaller Le Lion course is equally tricky, and plays within sight of the Butte de Lion near the Waterloo battlefield. The recently renovated clubhouse includes juniors’ space, gym, bridge room and pro shop, and the terrace offers a view over six holes. 50 Vieux Chemin de Wavre, Lasne
Golf de Rigenée: Near the ruins of the Villers-la-Ville abbey, Golf de Rigenée has a reputation as one of Wallonia’s more convivial and dynamic clubs. Designed by Belgian architect Paul Rolin in 1982 over flat terrain, it includes numerous strategically placed hazards like ponds, bunkers and trees, while wicked crosswinds can blows shots off course. Rigenée also has one of the most thriving youth academies and a successful academy for beginners, headed by Florence Descampe, as well as a modern restaurant with banquet facilities. 62 Rue du Châtelet, Villers-la-Ville
Golf Club of Hulencourt: Founded in 1988 on a 17th-century manor farm in Vieux-Genappe in the heart of Walloon Brabant, Golf Club of Hulencourt (pictured) has the acclaimed Le Vallon championship course, designed by Jean-Manuel Rossi, and the smaller Le Verger nine-hole course for beginners and younger players. The club’s creation involved planting more than 25,000 trees and other flora, along with fauna like storks and Canadian and Egyptian geese. Corporate facilities include meeting rooms for groups of up to 180. Its Jérôme Theunis Golf Academy was set up by the former Belgian junior champion and coach to Nicolas Colsaerts. Route de Lillois, Genappe
Golf de Sept Fontaines: With two 18-hole courses and a nine-hole course, a huge practice facility and superb clubhouse whose terrace has views over the forest, Sept Fontaines has everything a golfer could ask for. Of course, the setting helps: the Château l’Hermite estate stretches over 100 hectares of deer-filled forests and rolling vales. While Le Chateau’s course offers trees and strategically placed bunkers, La Forêt’s course is more integrated into the natural setting of woods and plants. Sept Fontaines also has exceptional infrastructure including a driving range, chipping greens and swimming pool, plus a beautiful clubhouse in the neo-Renaissance Château l’Hermite, with conference facilities and a 250-capacity restaurant. 1021 Chaussée d’Alsemberg, Braine-l'Alleud
Golf du Bercuit: The only Belgian course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr, Le Bercuit is unforgivingly hilly with narrow fairways, tough sloping greens and treacherous bunkers that can frustrate even the biggest of hitters. The renovated clubhouse includes a rotunda and two new seminar and meeting rooms. Host of Belgium’s 1988 Men’s Open (won by José Maria Olazabal), it has also been a regular venue the European Ladies’ Masters. 1 Les Grottes, Grez-Doiceau
Golf de Pierpont: Designed by Dutch architect Johan Dudock van Heel and opened in 1991, the Great Pierpont south of Waterloo is a tricky 18-hole course laid out over former farmland and seamlessly integrated in the landscape. Beginners will appreciate the newly opened nine-hole Little Pierpont. The 20-room Hôtel Golf de Pierpont and the restaurant are in a 17th-century farmhouse – site of some skirmishes between French and Dutch soldiers during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – which also includes modern conference facilities. 1 Chemin du Grand Pierpont, Bons Villers
Golf Club Enghien: With its 2015 extension overseen by architect Bruno Steensels, Enghien has now graduated to a full 18-hole championship course. Laid out around the historical Arenberg park lined with glorious 200-year-old trees, the holes take in water hazards like the Warelle, Odru and Canal ponds and brooks. The clubhouse is an old hunting lodge, with a charming restaurant and conference facilities. 4 Chaussee Brunehault Parc Chateau, Enghien
Royal Golf Club du Hainaut: Created in 1933 on the estate of Prince de Croÿ in Erbisoeul, the Royal Golf Club du Hainaut features three nine-hole courses in a rustic environment surrounded by heather, broom, silver birch and pine trees. The original layout, designed by Tom Simpson, was an 18-hole course combining the tight Les Bruyères and Le Quesnoy loops. Les Etangs, the third nine-hole, designed by Martin Hawtree in 1989, is much longer, with large greens and broad water obstacles. 2 Rue De La Verrerie, Erbisoeul
Golf du Mont Garni: Designed by Irish architect Tom McAuley and located between Mons and Tournai, the 6,331m, 18-hole course is one of the longest in Belgium. While the classic, oak-trimmed Anglo-Norman clubhouse, a former home of SHAPE commanders, suggests tradition, the tone is informal. 3 Rue du Mont Garni, Baudour
Royal Golf Club Sart Tilman: Designed by Tom Simpson in 1939, this is regarded as Belgium’s fastest and toughest course. After the original thatch-roofed clubhouse burned down, it was replaced with a flat-roofed modernist building which opened in the 2014 season, offering copious facilities, including conference rooms and a220-capacity restaurant run by chef Michael Van Eysden. 541 Route du Condroz, Angleur
Royal Golf Club des Fagnes: Close to Spa, the Royal Golf Club of Fagnes has roots reaching back to 1883, and a first attempted course in Sauvenière, which is now an airfield. The current course was designed by Tom Simpson in 1928; although in the Ardennes, the 18-hole course is relatively flat with narrow fairways, punishing rough and well-defended slick greens. Commonly referred to as Royal Spa, the wooded, heathland layout recalls classic southern English courses lined with oaks and birches. The sumptuous clubhouse has a well-regarded restaurant run by chef Pascal Goosse. 1 Avenue de l'Hippodrome, Spa
Royal Golf Club Chateau Royal d’Ardenne: First opened in 1895 in a prestigious hunting and fishing park built by golf enthusiast King Léopold II, the Royal Golf Club Chateau Royal d’Ardenne in Houyet, near Dinant has since been expanded and improved many times. Centenary trees, some of them representing very rare varieties, line the fairways on the naturally uneven landscape, which offers superb views for miles over the surrounding countryside. The restaurant, on the first floor of the Tour Léopold, offers stunning views of the course and the surrounding Lesse valley, while 19th-century vestiges like a chapel, esplanade, fountain and statues are scattered around the park. 6 Tour Léopold, Houyet
Golf de Rougemont: Located in Profondeville between Namur and Dinant, Rougemont opened in 1986 and has charming and challenging course with magnificent views of the Meuse valley. Each hole has a name (Le Loup, La Poire, Le Potager…), with the seventh, Les Pins, particularly well known for its spectacular water hazard. The cosy clubhouse in the Rougemont castle includes the hearty Spoon brasserie. 45 Chemin de Beau Vallon, Profondeville
The Five Nations: Designed by South African golfing legend Gary Player in 1990, this par-72 course on a 110-hectare domain in the undulating foothills of the Ardennes offers spectacular holes and views as far as 40km. The course facilities are at the Château-Ferme de Grand Scley, which dates from 1714, and include the Cinq Epices restaurant, an elegant 250-capacity banqueting hall, private dining salons and conference rooms, a pro shop, and coaching sessions overseen by former Belgian captains Agathe Verlegh and Catherine Pons. Ferme du Grand Scley, Méan
Golf Blue Green Durbuy: Designed in 1991 by Fred Hawtree, Durbuy’s 18-hole Les Hazelles course is on the edge of the thick Ardennes forests, and takes visitors on tricky climbs through narrow fairways to elevated greens. Durbuy also has a much-admired academy and youth system, offering an easier nine-hole course for newcomers. 34 Route d'Oppagne, Barvaux-sur-Ourthe
Photo: Golf Club of Hulencourt
This article was first published in the Wab magazine, summer 2015