In and around Bruges: Paul Trow and friends visited one of Belgium’s oldest towns and discovered a treasure trove of golf in the surrounding countryside.
The Br-entrance, by car, was almost as complicated and elusive as Brexit is turning out to be. After circling Bruges on the R30 for more than half an hour, we still hadn’t found our way in. The miracle we were seeking - a single-file conduit not signposted ‘Toutes Directions’ - appeared at last, just as we were contemplating a reluctant retreat back towards Calais. Naturally, we pounced. We were staying next to the main square, dominated by a 13th-century belfry which houses 48 bells, so surely there’d be no problem finding it now?
Wrong! Our problems were just beginning. The sat nav, state-of-the-art in all other corners of the globe, spluttered into gibberish.
As we grappled with throngs of shoppers and tourists, spilling ad hoc in front of us from the narrowest of pavements, we were directed time and again into one-way streets from the wrong end. Of course, Bruges wasn’t designed with sat navs in mind, but more than a thousand years of progress later it remains a labyrinth of meandering, cobble-stoned thoroughfares and sunken canals.
Perplexed by conflicting instructions from half-a-dozen well-meaning locals as sunlight faded to dusk, we finally chanced upon the medieval cul-de-sac that led to our hotel’s underground car park. EU-reka! Needless to say, Bruges - a cornucopia of fine dining, exquisite chocolates, lace boutiques and blonde beers - was well worth the wait. Prices compare favourably with London, not least in its restaurants where no fewer than 36 chefs recommended by Michelin, GaultMillau or Bib Gourmand showcase their skills.
After our group had checked into Martin’s, a 3-star hotel, which puts many 4-star establishments to shame for service, luxury, food and beverage, we shopped, drank and dined that night till we dropped.
Ditto the other three nights we were there, come to think of it. But creature comforts and culinary self-indulgence were not the sole reason for our visit.
We had some important business in hand - namely our golf clubs.
According to the Royal Belgian Golf Federation, there are 56,000 golfers in this flat country and 89 affiliated clubs. During our stay we played at two of them and another course just across the nearby border in the Netherlands. First up was Damme Golf & Country Club, about five miles east of Bruges.
The main 18 holes of this pleasantly wooded nature reserve were crafted from irrigated farmland in 1987. There are no blind shots and the task on each hole is clearly framed from the tee. One member of our group, a keen ornithologist, had hours of fun identifying the different breeds of bird that inhabited the numerous copses and ponds where he kept losing his ball. Other facilities at Damme include an indoor driving range, a recently opened 9-hole academy course and a stylish
Our next port of call was a course I’d wanted to play all my golfing life. Located near the seaside resort of Knokke-sur-Mer, about ten miles north-east of Bruges, Royal Zoute is not a links but possesses many links characteristics, along with a touch of Harry Colt bunkering.
Its heyday was probably in the 1990s when it hosted the now-defunct Belgian Open on the European Tour. Its pedigree was impeccable, as the identity of its six winners around that time - Nick Faldo, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood (twice), Miguel Angel Jimenez and Robert Karlsson - testifies. What a shame the local panjandrums couldn’t attract enough sponsorship money to retain the tournament’s viability Golfclub Oostburg, a couple of miles of Schengen-ing into Holland but Belgian to its fingertips, dates back to 1986 when it was coaxed from the verdant gardens surrounding an old stately home.
The 19th century clubhouse (known as Domein de Brugsve Vaart) has had an extensive modern facelift, though most of the original features have been retained internally. And the course was a gem - like a stroll round a palace garden with some sublime golf fitted in for almost incidental amusement between the regal avenues of trees and lily-decked ponds. In short, it was wonderful and not to be missed.
Other recommended golf in the vicinity, which lack of time prevented us from sampling, included Koksijde Golf ter Hille, a new, 27-hole links between Ostend and Dunkirk, Palingbeek, dating from 1992 and set in farmland just south of Ypres, and the exclusive Royal Ostend, a blend of woodland and links laid out by Tom Simpson back in 1903.
Almost as old (1909) is Royal Latem, an 18-hole parkland course on the western outskirts of Ghent, about half an hour’s drive south of Bruges. Originally named Les Buttes Blanches after the broom growing on its ancient dunes, it was remodelled in the 1970s by Fred Hawtree.
It was a pity we were there for just three days. A week would probably have done greater justice to the region and its delights. Just don’t rely on your sat nav to get you there!
Paul Trow drove to Bruges via EuroStar www.eurotunnel.com
The hotel and tee times were booked by Fields Fairway - www.fieldsfairway.co.uk
For further info, visit: www.visit-bruges.be
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