Ranking Belgium’s seven best ‘Royal’ Golf courses

Royal Antwerp Golf Club

At last count there were just 91 recognised golf clubs in Belgium – but, to be fair, you’d be hard-pressed to find the land to build any more right now.

It is just as well then that there are plenty of excellent layouts in Belgium with most of the top courses being awarded the recognition of the Belgian Monarchy.

Belgium’s ‘Royal’ golf courses shouldn’t be confused with the 64 courses that carry the patronage of the British royal family.

Rather these courses are recognised by the King of Belgium as among the best in the nation and worthy of his patronage.

Royal Fagnes

The flamboyant English architect Tom Simpson and his associate Philip Mackenzie Ross created the course of the Royal Golf Club des Fagnes at great expense to the commissioners.

Every hole at Royal Fagnes has its own distinct personality, and the two nines – the back nine in the heather and the front nine in the woods – while contrasting, combine to form one of Belgium’s most exquisite 18-hole layouts.

The course is more challenging than its length might suggest so visitors should be prepared and bring their best game.

Royal Sart Tilman

Presently, the pine, beech, and birch forest that envelops Royal Sart Tilman’s tree-lined holes is traversed by fairways that lead to fast, undulating and at times downright wicked greens that are among the most formidable in Belgium.

Notable holes are the 497-meter par five 14th hole, which has three water hazards and a bunker guarding the green, as well as the par fours at the 5th and 11th holes, which are listed as the two hardest on the scorecard.

A fair selection of short holes, ranging in length from 130 to 189 metres, are also present.

Royal Ostend

The course was twice destroyed as both of the World Wars took their toll on the region, but it has risen from the ashes each time and following its most recent renovation in 2006 stands among the best layouts a golfer can find in Belgium.

The course has six par three holes, with the 145-yard 8th being often regarded as the finest. It is played from a high tee in the sand dunes to a punchbowl green that slopes from back to front and has three protection bunkers to catch any short shots. The stroke index may imply that it is one of the easier holes on the card, but when the wind blows – as it frequently does here – a three on the card will be a pleasant sight.

Royal Belgium (Old)

Royal Golf Club de Belgique, or Ravenstein is laid out on land provided by the Belgian royal family and has stronger links to the Royals than most other courses.

Ravenstein derives its name from its first owner, Philippe de Cleves, Squire of Ravenstein. The King’s involvement ensured that the magnificent trees that surround the fairways are of the highest calibre, and they contain a range of rare species brought from the arboretum near the “Bois des Capucins”.

Royal Zoute (Championship)

The Lippens family was the catalyst behind the club’s growth, and Royal Zoute grew into one of the top links courses on the continent of Europe before becoming a parkland/links hybrid as a result of tree planting and encroachment.

This now-famous Championship course was designed by Harry Colt and has a classic British flair. Appearances might be deceiving at Royal Zoute. The greens are subtle and expertly protected, and while the fairways appear welcoming and simple to hit, there are hummocks and curves that, like many seaside courses, may direct your ball to unexpected locations.

Royal Limburg

The layout of Royal Limburg Golf Club is reminiscent of a British heathland course, twisting and turning through lovely woods. It is located in the vast Campine natural reserve to the east of Antwerp, on free-draining land that is rarely flooded, even during the worst rainy seasons.

F. W. Hawtree developed the course in 1966, and it remains a timeless classic, with two nine-hole loops that return to the clubhouse over open heathland. The majority of fairways are surrounded by pine and birch trees, with large clusters of heather scattered across the land that provide considerable beauty when in full bloom.

Royal Antwerp (Tom Simpson)

Royal Antwerp is Belgium’s oldest golf club, having been established in 1888. Willie Park Junior drew up the course in 1913, and Tom Simpson rebuilt it in 1930. It’s one of continental Europe’s golf architectural highlights.

Royal Antwerp has little competition for the sort of course that winds its way through pine and silver birch forests, heather and bushes, and has a character comparable to those found in the magnificent belt of golfing land west of London.