FOR GOLFERS LIVING in East Sussex and Kent it is almost as quick to get to the famous old Flemish city of Bruges, as it is to get to North London. And, as well as avoiding the horrors of the M25, within 30 minutes of Bruges it is possible to play one of the great courses of mainland Europe at Royal Zoute Golf Club.
Like so many clubs in mainland Europe the original club, founded in 1899, was largely down to British involvement with Charles Warren becoming the club’s first professional after returning from fighting in the second Boer war.
Situated close to the port of Zeebrugge, the Bruges Golf and Sports Club ran until 1909 when the two clubs separated and an English services officer, one Captain FT Bacon, became club captain of the Knokke Golf Club.
Probably the most significant English involvement, however, came in the person of Cambridge law graduate and Sunningdale Golf Club secretary, Harry Colt, who had already made a reputation for himself with his design for a links course at Rye on the Kent coast. He set out the Zoute course against a backdrop of sand dunes in 1907.
Sadly, during World War I, the Germans took over the course and installed defensive bunkers for 280mm guns to protect the nearby port, before it was restored prior to being awarded its Royal status in 1925 by King Albert I. Tragically the club took an even more severe pounding during World War II.
The Championship course we play today and a shorter ‘Executive’ loop of 18 both date from restoration work undertaken during the post war period although there is still much of Colt’s original design to enjoy.
The par 72 Championship course has a very similar feel to Royal Lytham & St Anne’s; it remains a links although there is no sign of the sea, and there are also a number of mature pine trees that were planted after the last war.
This is a course laid out in a totally natural setting without a weak hole on the course. We are straight into the action with a long par four that swings gently right, although the first thing a visitor notes is the first class condition of tee-boxes, fairways and greens. There are no tricks just subtle bumps and borrows together with some punishing rough, all of which are made so much tougher when the sea breeze gets up.
Unusually for a links layout at Royal Zoute there are two loops of nine with the back nine certainly being the most challenging of the two. Stand out holes include the long, stroke index two, par four 13th hole, with bunkers all down the right hand side and a green that is surrounded by sand; and the 167 metre, par three 16th which plays onto a sloping green with a monstrous bunker that greedily devours ball to the right.
The Championship course is most definitely no place for beginners, but with a well stocked clubhouse with a wide variety of local beers plus an excellent menu it is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon whilst enjoying a long weekend sampling the culinary and architectural delights in nearby Bruges.
A number of golf tour operators now run packages to the club although do remember to take a handicap certificate with you.