When I told people I was off to Holland for a golf trip there were quizzical looks and three basic responses: 1. Are there any decent courses in Holland? 2. There won’t be many hills to climb there and 3. Are you really going for the golf or is it an excuse for a trip to Amsterdam?
The reality is that there are some cracking courses, more hills than you would expect and Amsterdam was saved until the last night.
I’ve had Holland as a target venue for the annual golf trip with my mates for some time. In fact, half a dozen years ago we decided to make the trip but found that the logistics beat us. We try to do the trip over a weekend and we just couldn’t get onto the courses we wanted outside of a weekday.
The quality of courses has been a really well-kept secret, but in recent years word has been spreading. The latest Golf World Top 100 courses in Continental Europe had 4 Dutch courses in the Top 10 - the 4 we visited. I’ve put our itinerary with some notes on the courses below but I know that you're wondering what should you expect from a golf trip to Holland? Well, I'm glad you asked:
The courses are great value
We paid 400 Euros in total for golf on the four best golf courses in Holland at the end of May – tremendous value. Utrecht de Pan is one of the very best courses I have played and it cost us a mere £85 to play. That is simply tremendous. Visitor play is relatively light at these courses and they definitely aren’t trying to fleece you. If you were to look at all the golf trips I have done and consider the relationship between course ratings and green fees, this trip would give you the best bang for your buck.
Come equipped for all weathers
We had great weather on our trip. However, almost every person we met was keen to tell us how very lucky we had been with the weather. I was slightly taken aback as I had assumed the climate here was pretty benign. However, a bit of research showed me that there were more wet days in this part of the Netherlands, in pretty much every month of the year, than at home in Scotland, and the temperatures weren't usually much better either!
So make sure you come equipped for all weathers. The good news is that the wind blows pretty hard at the coast so expect whatever weather you have not to last too long.
Brace yourself for the greens
It became apparent early on in our trip that there was something up with the conditioning of the courses. There is a new EU directive coming into effect which restricts the use of pesticides on European golf courses. The Dutch Golf Federation has agreed to apply this regulation early and this is proving to be a major challenge for the courses. Tee boxes were shabby, greens were running rough and, to varying degrees, looked poor at all the courses we played.
Members at all the courses were really worried about the outlook and there was talk of ripping up the greens at Kennemer and re-laying with a different grass on a sandier base. There's an interesting article here which explains how some Danish courses handled the same challenge. Something will have to be sorted out soon to avoid the reputation of these great courses suffering enormously.
Hire a car – but you’ll need your wits about you
While there is not a massive amount of driving required to play the top 4 courses in the Netherlands you will be best served by hiring a car. Utrecht de Pan is an hour away from the coast and Royal Hague is the best part of an hour south of Kennemer with Noordwijkse in between. Driving on the motorways is a breeze but in the towns you need to be pretty on the ball. There are bikes everywhere, trams galore and we saw 2 accidents in 72 hours. Keep your wits about you.
It’ll take a bit of effort to piece it all together
In many ways the clubs here are set up like some of the old-school British establishments. Visitors are welcome at all the top courses, however times are very limited and there isn’t a massive amount of flexibility around that. For most of them this means playing during the week at times when the members don’t want to play. Kennemer is the only one that will let you play at the weekend which is worth bearing in mind when it comes to putting an itinerary together – although they only allow 12 visitors on the course at any time. Also, there are not online booking facilities. An email or phone call is required to get things going, although I found them all to be responsive, if not flexible. Koninklijke Haagsche also has a further complication in that it doesn’t allow fourballs but we got out early and as it was quiet they were happy for us to go as a four.
You’ll get a warm welcome…
Foreign visitor play in the Netherlands is still pretty light and wherever we went members were really keen to have a chat, find out what we thought about their course and most importantly how we felt it compared to others we had on our itinerary! The clubhouses themselves were really great buildings and we were very well fed and watered. Be aware though that there seems to be a challenge with accepting credit and debit cards, so make sure you have some cash in hand.
Finally, everyone speaks English perfectly, so have no fear about being able to communicate here. They may well put your own grammar to shame!
And so to the courses. Here’s a slight variation on our itinerary which I think would stand you in very good stead. This works for a Monday-Thursday trip. If you want to finish on a Saturday you will need to reverse the routing as Utrecht only allows play Monday-Thursday and you can play Kennemer on a Saturday!
Arrive at Amsterdam Airport. Under 2 hours from pretty much anywhere in the UK with regular flights, this is a cheap and accessible trip. Pick up hire car and drive to Kennemer Golf Club (45 minutes).
Kennemer (click on title for full review)
Host to more than 20 Dutch Opens, Kennemer was an absolute delight. It reminded me a lot of Gullane – this was probably the most classic links course of all of those we played. The ground was running very firm and fast and we could open our shoulders and get a really authentic links experience. There are three 9 holes courses here which you can play in any combination – A & C are the two we played. It’s the kind of course which will put a smile on your face. A lovely clubhouse looks over the estate and there is a particularly welcoming atmosphere.
Overnight accommodation in Zandvoort aan Zee. Zandvoort is a nice little seaside town with plenty of bars, restaurants, coffee shops and a beachfront for bracing walks. It’s likely to be busy in high season and at weekends but don’t expect Blackpool levels of year-round debauchery! We stayed at the Amsterdam City Hotel which had a good selection of rooms, in a good location, at very reasonable rates.
Half an hour south of Zandvoort, Noordwijkse is probably the least illustrious of this quartet but it is still a course that can more than hold its own on this tour. It doesn’t have the polish of some of the other courses and it would probably be fair to say that the course could do with a little TLC. However, the course was good fun – again a linksy feel to it with some holes running through the trees to mix it up a bit. We actually played here the afternoon after Koninklijke Haagsche and this was more fun to play - you can make a score here without having to be incredibly straight. Before playing we expected this to be the ‘weakest’ course on our trip but it was much more than a fourth round filler.
Back to Zandvoort for another night of seaside fun.
Pack up your bags and bid a fond farewell to Zandvoort and head the ¾ hour to Koninklijke Haagsche, just north of The Hague. For many years this course has been rated number 1 in the Netherlands and one of the best in Europe – it’s one of only 2 Continental European courses to appear in the Ultimate Top 100 courses in the world.
I’m afraid though that the course didn’t quite do it for us. The very gnarly rough had been grown in in places to make too many of the fairways unhittable; the greens all seemed to be on upturned saucers with false fronts and run-offs galore; and the dramatic changes in elevation sapped our energy too much. If I had to split 10 rounds between the four courses on the tour this wouldn’t get more than 1 play. Others seem to love it so maybe we just weren’t in the right frame of mind. The last hole was rather lovely though and the clubhouse did a good lunch, so all was not lost!
Following your round at Koninklijke Haagsche, drive the hour to Utrecht. Utrecht is a great university town with a history back to the Middle Ages. We stayed in the NH Centre hotel which was well located and had good rates. This would be a good town to spend a little time walking around and there are plenty of cafés and restaurants to sit outside. Just be careful driving around here. Bikes have right of way, there are bus lanes everywhere, roads are narrow. All round it was a bloody nightmare!
Utrecht de Pan
Make the 15 minute drive to Utrecht de Pan golf club. I say 15 minutes, but leave longer. I have never known a golf course be so hard to find. Forget Google maps, it was useless. I have put some navigation instructions in the course review, but you should still leave plenty of time.
It is, however, well worth finding. The golf course is simply phenomenal. In so many ways it reminded me of Morfontaine and it is almost impossible to give higher praise than that. This is a real Colt Classic. Carved out of the trees, the course feels like a secluded oasis of charm and wonderful design. From what I've read, there has been quite a lot of restoration work done on this course of late and my fears about trees coming into play too much weren’t justified - the tress had been taken back so they framed the holes but were rarely in play. The heather around the fairways was punishing at times but this wasn’t a course where we got through lots of balls. This course really was one of the very best I’ve played. That it is accessible to all for 85 Euros a round is just amazing. I would say it is worth getting on a plane to Amsterdam just to play here.
At the end of your round make sure that you leave some time to sit on the terrace and have something to eat – the barman here kept the beers flowing faster than anywhere I have found on my travels to date! You can then either head back to Schipol (within an hour) for a flight home or head into Amsterdam for one more night sampling what this great country has to offer.
Golf in the Netherlands is a secret to many but I would thoroughly recommend a trip. The golf is fantastic, the cost relatively low and the welcome will always be warm!