ON JUNE 18th it will be 200 years since the bloody battle of Waterloo took place. The battlefield is a fascinating place to visit at any time of the year, but what makes it doubly of interest to golfers who enjoy their history is the close proximity of a superb complex of 45 holes just five miles away at Royal Waterloo Golf Club.
This premier club boasts not only two first class tracks of 18 holes to enjoy but also the most delightful nine-holer that makes the most perfect after lunch diversion. And if the sun is shining there are not many better spots in Belgium to enjoy a lunch than sitting out on the terrace here gazing down over the undulating holes of La Maranche Course that snake their way through richly mature broad leaf woodlands before climbing back up the hill to bring us home.
La Maranche, unlike its much tighter neighbour Le Lion, starts gently over the first two holes and then erupts on the third like the start of a Beethoven symphony. We are off and running as this wonderful sweeping par five descends into a lush valley alive with the sound of birdsong.
The course is breath taking, and that is not just from the occasional climb that we have to endure. There is a riot of colour and a wonderful design to complete the most natural of surroundings. Architect Fred Hawtree was responsible for its creation when the club moved here in 1960 whilst his son, Martin, redesigned a number of greens in 2007.
If this course were in the south of France it would rightly be heralded, as one of Europe’s finest. It really is as good as that with each hole having its own character, charm and challenge. Amongst many highlights the long par four dog-leg 11th hole stands out. It climbs up a long slope to a ridge before tumbling away down another, with a large strategic bunker on the right hand elbow tempting the big hitters to take it on before playing up to a well protected green (see above photograph).
Greens are raised and invariably with one or two traps that the subtle run-offs from the firm, fast surface makes getting the ball close to the hole a matter of genuine finesse and judgement.
Le Lion course can play longer, over 7,000 yards, if one dares to go off the black tees but with three men’s tee boxes to choose from and two ladies there is plenty of choice although neither course is suitable for a novice who should simply enjoy the charms of the par 32 nine-hole Le Bois-Heros course designed by Martin Hawtree when he was still a child.
Le Lion is not quite as exhilarating as its big sister but is still a first class golf course with a most intimidation par five opening hole, that demands surgical like accuracy. Whilst the rough is short, it is exceptionally thick, and can severely punish a shot that is just a fraction out.
And although the 10th and 11th on Le Lion are not the most exciting to be found on the 18 the sensational views of the Lion Monument, built on the spot that Prince William of Orange was wounded in the great battle of 1815 more than make up for any lack of drama.
The town of Waterloo is perfect for a short weekend break with a number of first class places to eat and just some two and a half hours drive from the Channel Tunnel at Calais. For a serious golfing tour look to take a half way break at Bruges or the coastal town of Knokke to enjoy the delights of Royal Zoute. With golf, gastronomy, a huge selection of the world’s finest beer as well as one of the most famous battlegrounds in British history, Belgium can offer golfing tourists the perfect break.