The beginnings of today’s Royal Zoute Golf Club date back to 1899, when golf was first played in Knocke-sur-Mer (French name). The Flemish name of the place is Knokke-Heist. At first, it was part of the golf and sports club in nearby Bruges but then in 1909, the clubs parted ways and the Knocke Golf Club was founded.
From the beginning, the club was strongly influenced by the English. Both its first captains and its course architect came from the British Isles whilst in 1907, it was redesigned by the famous Brit Harry Colt, who at the beginning of the 20th century designed not only some world-famous golf
courses in England, but also in continental Europe. In Germany, too, he has left his mark on several clubs: the Hamburger Golf Club Falkenstein is just as much a part of this as the Frankfurter Golf Club and the Golf- & Landclub Berlin-Wannsee.
After the First World War, when the Germans used the course as a military site, it became necessary to build a new course which was given its present name Zoute Golf Club.
Subsequently, in 1925, it was made a ‘Royal’ by the Belgian King. After the Second World War when the course was occupied by the Germans, the course had to be renovated. The English Lieutenant Colonel Allen designed the layout for two 18-hole links courses, which resulted in today’s par 64 Executive Course and the par 72 Championship Course.
The club hosted a total of six Belgian Opens between 1912 and 2000 when winners included Miguel Angel Jimenez, Darren Clarke, Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood, who won twice (1998 and 2000).
It couldn’t be more central
The various imposing club buildings are placed around a circular courtyard which boasts a huge steel figure sculpture created by one of the most renowned sculptors and conceptual artists of our time, Frenchman Bernar Venet, who is highly acclaimed internationally.
The complex includes a hotel with ten modern, well-equipped rooms and certainly, the spacious junior suite where we are housed is extremely comfortable. From the balcony, we enjoy the wide view over the restaurant terrace, to the starter’s cottage behind it, the first tees of the two courses and the driving range in the background.
The hotel interior is extremely elegant with dark wood that harmoniously complements the modern tiles on the walls and floor that also feature at the reception. The electronic scoreboard provides information on tee times and players on both courses whilst the bar is reminiscent of a traditional English club.
Before we turn our attention to the golf courses, we would like to get to know the city. Of course, this includes a walk along the long sandy beach and a stop at one of the numerous beach clubs. In the shopping streets of Zoute, the northernmost district of the seaside resort, we come across numerous boutiques of the finest designer labels and art on virtually every corner. More than 60 galleries alone offer art lovers a rich selection. In addition, there are huge sculptures scattered all over the city.
In case the shopping bags get too heavy, a large electric golf cart is available to chauffeur shoppers through the city’s shopping streets silently and free of charge.
We round off the first day with a delicious dinner on the clubhouse terrace. The menu is varied and the dishes extremely tasty. The recommended prawn croquettes impress us just as much as the baked sole.
Links and parkland course elements combined
The club is embedded in an untouched, slightly overgrown landscape with pines, hawthorn hedges, birches and poplars. The two pure links courses have been turned into a combination of links and parkland courses due to plantings after the Second World War. Heathland course elements can also be found here, though the courses run largely through flat terrain and light dune landscape.
We start with a round on the 18-hole par 64 ‘Intérieur’ – or Executive – Course. It is a perfect opportunity to practice one’s short game under real conditions.
With its eight par 3 and ten par 4 holes, it has a length of 3,564 meters from yellow tees and 3,261 meters from red tees. The longest hole is 286 meter long whilst the greens are well guarded and have it all. We particularly like hole four, where a group of trees has to be taken on in order to hit the green. Unlike its big brother, this course is also open to non-members at weekends.
The Championship Course
The next day, the par 72 “Extérieur” – or Championship – Course, awaits us. From the Championship tees, it has a length of 6,241m so we play from yellow and red tees that give us 5,880 metres and 4,795 metres respectively in front of us. With four exceptions, the holes run along the outer left edge of the terrain. They are lined by old trees, which are repeatedly interrupted by the neighbouring residential houses.
The first tee offers plenty of space on both sides whilst the next holes are also mentally moderate. The course becomes more attractive from the fifth hole onwards and from there, develops its charm and more and more its links elements come into play. You can see St. Margaret’s Church on
several holes, such as the sixth, the most difficult hole. The par 4 with a length of 363 metres (yellow) is laid out as a dogleg and ends with an ondulated green that rises sharply towards the back.
From the ninth, the links character of the course comes into its own. It does not end at the clubhouse, but in the middle of the course.
Behind the green, the two courses intersect at the unique halfway station. The thatched cottage and its inviting decoration is just as extraordinary as the delicious, freshly prepared snacks. We liked the avocado mousse with shrimps and the pasta salad with cashews. Anyone who passes by here without stopping in is missing out.
Relaxed and refreshed, we set off from one of the various elevated tee boxes for the second nine holes. From the green of the tenth, you can see the typical adjacent development, with the tee box of the 11th, an attractive par 3, directly behind it. Its green is well guarded by no less than five bunkers.
The course also has pot bunkers, such as on 16, a slightly downhill par 3 with a length of 145 metres from the yellow tee. Two huge ones await on the left and on the opposite side, it is protected by an even steeper monster.
The 18th tee is then another challenge. It has to be played from an elevated tee through a narrow alley into the fairway. The course then opens up and ends with a large green in front of the starter’s cottage.
The Championship Course does not have a dull hole and water hazards do not come into play. We like its varied layout and the absolute tranquillity.
We enjoyed the trip to the Belgian coast with golf, shopping and art. Two rounds in the best weather on the different courses of the Royal Zoute Golf Club were worth the trip alone. We will gladly repeat them when the course has recovered from the drought of the past months and presents itself in a greener state. Then its real character will certainly come to the fore even more; the quality of the greens and bunkers already convinced us during our first visit.
We are already looking forward to this, as well as to the overnight stay in the beautiful clubhouse, to the great gastronomic offering and to the warm friendliness which we received in all areas in one of the leading Belgian golf clubs. Le Zoute – we will be happy to come back.