Cross Channel Golf - France & Belgium
Within easy reach of Britain are two of the finest cities in Europe. To travel hopefully is good. To arrive in Paris or Brussels is better. And on top of that, you can even play golf.
Charles Dickens was writing about London and Paris when he penned A Tale of Two Cities, which began
with the best of times as its opening line and ended with the worst of them, with the hero being guillotined. It has to be said that (thankfully) nothing quite so dramatic as that occurs in golf, where professionals instead try to make the cut, but in this story there is a Waterloo.
That place, however, is in Belgium. We begin this journey in France, with the GOLF NATIONAL facility some 20 miles southwest of Paris. The Albatross Course (very thinly disguised as L'Albatros in French) was the host venue for the French Open for many seasons until this one, when the tournament was moved to Bordeaux.
Designed by Robert Von Hagge, an American, and Hubert Chesneau, a Frenchman, it combines elements of traditional European golf, with hard-running fairways and links-like mounds around the greens, and American influence apparent in the number of lakes that are in play.
Around Paris in general, the newer courses - which tend to be the ones that are easiest to get on to - often feature water in anything ranging from an adequate to an abundant supply. At the old favourites, like the celebrated CHANTILLY and sublime MORFONTAINE, which are both north of the capital, a mention of water usually means the Perrier.
The championship cou known as The Albatross, at Golf National near Paris.
The PARIS INTERNATIONAL layout is also north of the city, not far from Charles de Gaulle airport, and was designed by Jack Nicklaus. It, too, features water, albeit selectively and tastefully (although not as tasteful as Perrier) and has some splendid holes. The 13th is a short par-three where you aim something like a 7-iron at a gorgeous old chateau, and the closing hole is a rumbling par-five where the drop from tee to green would not disgrace an Olympic downhill piste. But it is downhill and the view from the crest of the fairway is truly stimulating.
Back to the southwest, and despite fairly heavy competition for the accolade (if indeed that is what it is), the design at COURSON has been described as "the most American course" in the Parisian region.
Boasting 36 holes, and again the work of Von Hagge, the Lilac nine in particular is resplendent with ponds, although quite a few of them are more decorative than punitive. Closer in towards town, JOYENVAL also has 36 holes set amid open but nevertheless attractive terrain. As is frequently, and rightly, the fashion in France, the course is generous in terms of space. The average standard of golf in France is not as high as in the UK or the USA, and golfers need some room to breathe. The courses come as a welcome contrast to the perils of driving around the Peripherique.
Brussels has a ring road of its own, though it's not generally quite so hazardous to circumnavigate as its neighbour to the west. Its golf courses are not devoid of hazards, though. And, with a formidable inference of liquid deterrent, perhaps the finest course in Belgium is ROYAL WATERLOO.
In French history, Waterloo is known as the "cheerless plain", which would be neither kind nor accurate when it comes to talking about the golf course. Built by the British course architect of some repute, Fred Hawtree, it is stringent in its demands on accuracy but not too arduous in terms of length. Trees are invariably in play. Perhaps oddly, water is not.
Waterloo is around 12 miles from the centre of Brussels, to the south of the city. RAVENSTEIN is almost in it, just to the east. This one was created by another British architect who famously plied his trade on the continent, Tom Simpson, who was handed the commission by King Leopold II. Oak, birch, cedar, elm and willow tress flank the fairways, so again its a case of arboreal splendour that can soon lead to woody dismay. The trees may be pretty to look at, but they can drive you barking mad.
Close to the very heart of the city of Brussels, Ravenstein was designed by the renowned British course architect, Tom Simpson.
There are several other courses within easy striking distance of Brussels, but Waterloo and Ravenstein are unquestionably the best of the bunch. However, there is an exquisite experience to be savoured up on the Channel coast at the quaintly named Knokke-Heist. Take the Ostend autoroute out of Brussels and you'll be there in next to no time; or in fact in absolutely no time at all if you drive as quickly as many of the natives.
The ROYAL ZOUTE GOLF CLUB has hosted European Tour events, and even at first sight there is no mistaking its quality and championship potential. This third course we have featured in Belgium was designed by a third British architect: Harry Colt, the man who in the opinion of many is not only the best Britain has ever produced but the best, period.
The course winds its splendid way between dunes and trees. The fairways are undulating rather than flat, and to stray from them is to court punishment in the rough, which can be very penal. There is, of course, invariably the wind off the sea to contend with as well. The course presents its hazards fairly, almost proudly, not seeking to hide bunkers that you're unaware of until you see your ball in them, and as is customary on coastal courses, the greens are firm and true, and in this case pretty well contoured to boot.
While Belgium does not attract visiting golfers to the same extent as France - not least because of the weather differences - in Brussels it does have (though whisper it quietly to William Hague) the capital of Europe. Well, sort of. And one thing that the capital, and Belgium in general, is famous for is its beer. On the weekend of September 10-12, Brussels will host the annual beer festival, at which several breweries will be offering extensive samples of their produce.
Earlier than that, on July 1, Brussels stages a festival known as Ommegang, during which the famous Grand Place will be the setting for a colourful historical re-enactment of historical pageantry dating back to the court of Charles V. All the participants will wear authentic period dress.
No one will be guillotined.
Golftoday Golf Course directory -
Golf Courses in Belgium