UTRECHT DE PAN GOLF CLUB - 18 points
Tucked away in the forests outside Utrecht is one of the finest parkland golf courses anywhere on the planet. Utrecht de Pan Golf Club really is that good. I had an inkling of what was to come from the recent Top 100 Golf Courses in Continental Europe ranking from Golf World Magazine which had catapulted Utrecht up to the number 2 position, behind only Morfontaine. However, truth be told, I wasn't prepared for quite how great Utrechtse Golfclub 'De Pan' (to give it its Dutch name) would be.
The course is a Harry Colt creation dating back to the 1920s; a heathland course set in a dense forest with a sandy base. One of my slight worries going into the round had been that the trees might impinge too much on the course - when you look at aerial photos it looks really quite tight. In fact the trees act to frame the holes wonderfully and are only an irritant if you are really off-track.
The dense forest does mean that most of the holes sit on their own and you don't see any of the others while playing - it's a tremendously peaceful place. Only towards the end does the course open out a little - 16 and 17 are open par 4s that run side by side.
You don't need to be massively long to score well here. The course measures in at 6,300 yards from the yellow tees, 6,700 from the back, and precision and tactics are key here. The course starts with a shortish par 5 before a testing par 4 and a delightful par 3 - a great taste of the variety to come. The 10th hole will live long in the memory. It's just an iron off the tee to a slither of fairway nestled in the dunes before a medium/short iron to a well protected green. It's just a delight and the view from the tee is breathtaking.
It's great to see a course which the members haven't tried to trick up or make too punishing, trying to make it the 'ultimate test' in the country. Instead they are nurturing it back to how Colt intended it to be. There had been some unwelcome meddling with the greens and bunkers but, over recent years, the architect Frank Pont has been working hard to restore many of the Colt features and stripping back encroaching vegetation. You can read about his work here in a great interview with GolfClubAtlas.
The only reason to think twice about rating the course so highly was the condition of the greens when we played. At first we put it down to the time of the year but it became apparent as we went through the Netherlands that it was more than that. The Dutch golf federation has started implementing the new European regulation which comes into effect from 2020 which means that pesticides cannot be used on the course. The result was greens which were slow and very patchy. European golf is going to have to find a solution to this as the decline was quite alarming and poses a real threat to the courses' place in world golf.
The welcome we got at Utrecht, like everywhere we went in the Netherlands, was very warm. The course is incredibly difficult to find - some tips below - and Google Maps is no use to you whatsoever. As a result we were pretty late for our tee time but the lady in the pro shop wasn't at all phased by our late arrival. They seemed pleased that we were there to experience the course and after the round the members were all keen to ask us how we had enjoyed the course and had an obvious pride in their club. The food on the terrace afterwards was great and the barman kept the beers coming at a rate I haven't seen outside of Scotland.
What was really amazing was that the green fee was €100 - possibly the best value round of golf I have ever played as a visitor. I cannot eulogise about this place enough. I genuinely believe it is close to Morfontaine for experience and enjoyment, and accessible to all for such a modest fee. Unbelievable. My advice would be to get on a plane to Amsterdam and play this course as soon as you can!
BOOKING THE COURSE
There was no online booking anywhere in the Netherlands and all the clubs we played were set up much more for the members than visitors. However, tee times are available Monday-Thursday. There wasn't a huge choice of tee times on the day we wanted to play (it had to be after 4pm) but they were very responsive to an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The green fee was an amazing €100.
The Netherlands may be one of the best kept secrets in world golf. There are four courses within an hour of each other, all ranked in the top 12 in continental Europe.
As I said above, Utrecht de Pan Golf Club is not an easy place to find. Not easy at all! Google maps leads you to a dead-end which may be pretty near the golf course but not at the entrance! You want to approach it from the south and get on the N237. Keep your eyes peeled for signs for the club that will take you onto a small road that runs parallel to N237. Then you need to spot the one small sign to the entrance.
The course is only 20 minutes from the centre of Utrecht, a pretty University town, which is a good stop for the night.
I have written a blog here which details our trip to Holland with some tips on an itinerary - how to get to the best courses and where to stay etc. The only tricky thing with a trip to Holland is that most courses will only let you play during the week (they keep the weekend tee times for the members) so you will need to make it a weekday trip. However it is well worth the effort - you will find some great golf and wonderful hospitality awaits you!
Golfclub Utrechtse 'de Pan'
3735 LJ Bosch en Duin
Telephone: +31 (0) 30 6969120