"There is no such thing as a bad beer. Some are just better than others."
This was a comment I remember from years ago by friend about his favourite passion. It came to mind while overlooking a stunning valley of pine forest and fairway, from a Belgium chateau, enjoying a cold cherry-flavoured local beer and excellent fillet steak and chips lunch.
I realised the same observation applied to my favourite passion. There’s is no such thing as a bad golf course, some just play better than others.
I was in Southern Belgium for four days to play six courses and experience what Belgian golf has to offer visiting golfers. It was the third day and to be fair the course we had just played was not the best, in either condition or layout.
I didn’t care, I was already hooked on Southern Belgium as a golf destination.
My only recollection of previous visits had been driving along tree-lined motorways, across flat, dull countryside on my way to Germany. How wrong I was to pre-judge the country. In this French-speaking sector small country the locals’ hospitality and willingness to speak English was immediately apparent. This avoided having to use my embarrassing ‘Allo ‘Allo schoolboy efforts.
Most of the golf clubs were extremely friendly, with the clubhouse staff polite and helpful. In the bar, members would enthusiastically approach us and ask our opinions of their course. Hardly the approach overseas visitors might expect in England.
Our journey had been via the EuroTunnel, then driving up through France towards Brussels. Off the motorway we used quiet roads through villages that have stone built homes full of character surrounded by spectacular scenery. Hotels varied from ancient – chateaux and farmhouses with cobblestone courtyards and trees - to modern functional buildings typified by Best Western. Each was well appointed and comfortable. As for the food, it has been described as "French cuisine, with substance." In my opinion the remark does not do it justice – most meals were outstanding in presentation and flavour.
Our first stop was at Royal Waterloo, where despite pouring rain we battled the front nine.
Despite having hosted several Belgian open championships on The European Tour ( the latest in 1991) and boasted champions like Henry Cotton, Eamonn Darcy and Per Ulrick Johansson, it needed some TLC. Though attractive in its parkland setting the long hot summer had taken its toll and the rough fairways demanded preferred lies.
We stayed at the Chateau de Limelette, impressive and comfortable. I was introduced that night to Chimay beer, one of a multitude of nectars brewed by Trappist monks and to incredible strength. I went to bed, drunk as a monk.
Sept Fontaine was our next destination, set around a chateau with great facilities. La Foret is a gem among its three courses, (Le Chateau, and the 9-hole Le Parc are the others) with every hole on this short but spectacular woodland course, matching most clubs’ ‘signature’ offerings.
Tight-tree-lined fairways were its main test with greens framed by magnificent Chestnuts trees. If I had to be picky the only drawback was lack of distance for those whose main attribute is long driving. Le Chateau, apparently, is a better examination for big-hitters.
Sadly, despite a splendid lunch washed down with a cloudy, white Hoegaarten beer, the clubhouse appeared the least welcoming of those we visited. Arriving late for our tee time on what was usually ‘Ladies Day’ didn’t help our cause!
In the afternoon we travelled on to Falnuee, a course built around a 17th century farmhouse with clubhouse bar and restaurant converted from stables, complete with concrete mangers lining the walls. The multi-arched brick ceiling created a room that was so inviting, I would recommend this venue, just to have yet another Hoegaartens beer in the bar.
The course, however, was disappointing and had a ‘municipal’ feel to it. We stayed that night in Namur, driving into town along the river Maas with scenery reminiscent of the Rhine. The hotel, Les Jardins de la Molignee, is based on an old farmhouse around a lovely cobbled courtyard - an image somewhat spoiled by it’s ultra modern interior. The food, however, was superb.
The town’s Rougemont Golf Club features another chateau, though in need of renovation. Our bus had to weave its way up massive inclines and the prospect of golf after our intake of local beers looked daunting. We were grateful for the buggies supplied.
One hole was an acute, almost 360-degree, par-4 dogleg where the green was literally only 140 yards left of the tee but screened by 100-foot trees and protected by a vicious slope. Former Tour pro Justin Griffiths had three cracks at it with an 8-iron, while the rest of us took the up-and-back orthodox route.
Other holes were deliberately tricky and the consensus was that it is poorly designed. The views were terrific, however, and so was the fillet steak, chips and cherry-flavoured (Lambic) beer, in the clubhouse. Next stop on this whistle-stop tour wasChateau de Tournette, thankfully flatter and more open than Rougemont, where we walked off our lunch over nine holes.
The course had the feel of a newly-created English resort and needs at least a decade of growth for the trees to mature. Its greens were its saving grace, undulating and tricky but in good condition. The course as it reminded me of my own home track, The Vale, in Worcestershire.
The Lido Hotel, that night in Mons was typically bland-but-adequate Best Western, though the city’s nightlife was lively and the cordon-bleu food in a local restaurant superb.
These traditional parkland courses, created in the 1930s have everything – huge trees, lining lush fairways but not too tightly packed to spoil every errant drive. Stunningly attractive, undulating greens which are well-kept, are framed with leafy backdrops and the bunkers are stuffed with high quality sand.
Well co-ordinated holes vary between tricky par-5s, long par-4s and awkward, well-protected par-3s. I fell in love with this Wentworth look-alike and was not alone in our group. I also met an ex-Brit who had moved to Belgium specifically to become a member here.
These were just a few of the many courses in Southern Belgium where during weekdays, especially, they are quiet and reasonably priced. Food and drink also represents excellent value.
So, if you would like to sample some relaxed, scenic golf, with terrific hospitality, great food and a whole range of wonderful beers, in a country that is literally a couple of hours drive from the Eurotunnel, then give Southern Belgium a try.
I guarantee you more surprises than your best ever birthday.
For further information about golf in Southern Belgium contact Belgian Tourist Office (Brussels and Wallonia) 217 Marsh Wall, London E14 9FJ (Tel: 0207 7531 0390)
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