Belgium is not one of the greatest powers in the world of Golf, but it has made a notable contribution to the European game. None the less, among its dozen courses are several of outstanding qualities: the new course at Waterloo, where Henry Cotton was professional for a while between the wars; the Royal Club de Belgique at Raven-stein, the birthplace of Flory Van Donck, possibly the finest player to emerge from continental Europe; the Royal Zoute, a splendid links by the sea; the Royal Club des Fagnes at Spa, a fine and beautiful examination of golf; and Royal Antwerp at Kapellenbos, which comes close to being a masterpiece of its kind. All those clubs are distinguished by the Royal title, bestowed upon them by Belgian kings. The British monarchy has conferred its patronage on more than sixty clubs in many different lands, but no royal family has taken a livelier interest in golf than the Belgian. King Baudouin has represented his country in international matches, a unique distinction for a reigning monarch, and his father, the abdicant King Leopold, is a true aficionado.
The choice of a single course from this excellent company is difficult but Royal Antwerp, twelve miles from the seaport, makes so favourable an impression that it takes pride of place. It is also the oldest club in the country, founded in 1888-the year that the St Andrews club in New York became the first in the United States. Like most of the oldest continental courses Antwerp was formed by a few members of local British settlement there. The course at first was laid out on an army training ground. It cannot have been a particularly sympathetic site and soon after the turn of the century an area of woodland was bought some seventeen miles north of the city. Willie Park was called upon to make the new course and it was in play several years before World War I. It remained as Park designed it until, in the late 1920s; Tom Simpson created what became the ten middle holes of the main course. Within its confined nine shorter holes, including some of Park’s original work, remain for those seeking relief from sterner pursuits.
In all Europe, including Britain, Antwerp has few peers for the type of course that wends its way through woods of pine and silver birch, heather and shrubs, and it has a character similar to those on that fine belt of golfing country west of London. At first sight it might appear easier than Sunning dale, Wentworth and their brethren. Its level changes hardly more than a yard or so; rarely do the trees threaten peace of mind, even that of a golfer. Yet it’s very flatness calls for fine judgment of distance, and the unusual disposition of some 6,700 yards makes the strict par of 73 severe even for the good player.
Few courses anywhere have so high a proportion of good long par-fours. Only the 336 yards, with its uncommonly billowing fairway, and the 378 yards, where the drive must be placed for a clear shot to pin, are drive and pitch holes. On most, even the first class golfer will be using longish irons to the greens or occasionally wood, depending on the strength of the wind and the pace of fairways. The course is noticeable for its economy of bunkering an admirable precept of the architects of old. The 186 yards, with a smooth hump protecting the line to the pin and ground falling towards a single right-hand bunker, is a beautiful short hole. The 164 yards has an extra bunker instead of a hump, threatening the safe way home, but the second is the stiffest of the short holes. It is a big shot, with a fold of ground making it look less than it is. Again there is only one greenside trap. Then only memories remain and they will linger; every hole is so attractive. Always the silver of birches leavens the blackness of pine; rhododendrons bloom in the spring and in the late summer the healthier is a purple glory, if a constant menace to those who stray from smooth fairways.