LOCATION: The Hague, Netherlands
DESIGNER: Colt & Alison (1938)
The Netherlands has a flat reputation for good reason. Almost a quarter of its land mass sits below sea level and of the remainder, half is less than a metre above. Ideal for cyclists and farmers, less helpful to golf course designers. So it’s ironic this ‘Low Country’ is home to the course in our Top 100 Golf Courses in Europe with the most dramatically undulating topography.
Royal Hague – Koninklijke Haagsche, in Dutch – is the most southerly of three seaside courses sitting on a strip of coast between Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The Kennemer is at the top close to Haarlem, Noordwijkse is 10 miles away in a remote spot, and a further 10 miles south is Royal Hague, on the northern edge of the influential city of The Hague.
Royal Hague Golf & Country Club was founded in 1893 but its original course was destroyed in World War II. Its members found this new home two miles from the sea in the 1940s when they acquired from businessman Daniel Wolf the course he’d built for himself in 1938.
The wealthy Wolf – who lived nearby – hired Harry Colt, who is revered in perpetuum by the Dutch, but by the late ’30s his health prevented him from travelling widely. So he left the 10th and last Dutch design by his rm in the hands of his trusted associates John Morrison and principally Charles Alison.
Within two decades it was showcased to the world when Byron Nelson played Gerard de Wit in a 1963 episode of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. It is available on YouTube and, in spite of the modest picture quality, makes for fascinating viewing, not least in how much Royal Hague has changed; back then the course sprawled with glorious lack of inhibition over the dramatic linksland with a notable lack of trees.
In the five decades since, a myriad variety of trees have flourished, especially on the back nine, so that while the turf retains its linksy characteristics and the trees sprout from enormous banks of sand, there is now a different look to the one on the grainy lm. It is one we are not really familiar with in Britain, and the best likeness might well be Le Touquet’s Mer course in northern France.
Indeed, this is a distinctive course in more than one respect. “Royal Hague is strikingly different from the Netherlands’ other Colt courses,” leading architect Frank Pont tells Golf World. “A major part of this difference is the distinctive, dune landscape. But Alison’s share of the difference is markedly expressed in other areas. Not only is the bunkering larger, deeper and bolder than on the other Colt courses – a mere 19 were used, including one on a fairway – another clear difference is Alison’s routing and the significantly more adventurous green locations. One could even say the green complexes are extreme, in comparison to what Colt had designed in his Dutch work to this point. For these reasons, and others, Royal Hague remains an important gift to golf.
“What is still quintessential Colt & Co are the devilishly difficult, deceptively at-looking greens, the beautiful shaping of humps and hollows around the greens and, of course, the in nite variety and superb strategy of the holes.”
Pont is well placed to comment. His reputation as sympathetic to Colt’s philosophy saw him commissioned by the club after the turn of the Millennium to enhance its heritage in tandem with the necessary rebuilding of all greens as a result of the clay bed on which they were founded becoming impenetrable. The work enhanced the course, not least in the eyes of our Top 100 panel, to a level accordant with its eminent history.
Bestowed its pre x by Queen Beatrix in 1993 to celebrate the club’s centenary, it hosted the first two Dutch Opens – in 1972 (Jack Newton) and ’ 73 (Doug McClelland) – and a further in 1981 when Harold Henning edged out Nick Price and Ray Floyd. It also held three Senior Tour events from 2010.
A distinguished experience is thus expected as you crawl along the tree-lined driveway and it duly begins in the clubhouse, a sumptuous affair of deep leather armchairs, grand paintings adorning tartan-papered walls, intricately-carved replaces and stout bookcases. There is a colonial hue to the interior design as well as a feeling of robust homeliness in this ‘country club’, where the old-money lawyers from The Hague mix with well-heeled businessmen from Amsterdam.
The authentic yet fresh feel is easily explained; the clubhouse burnt down in 2002 and had to be totally rebuilt. A year earlier, its twin Royal Mid Surrey had suffered the same fate. On hearing the news from the Netherlands, the English club returned the letter of sympathy they had received from their Dutch cousins 12 months previously, with the heartfelt, handwritten addition of ‘Same to you’.
But while this weekend sanctuary for high iers shares many characteristics of our traditional clubs – the pre x to its name, the unobtrusive luxury, and its insouciant atmosphere – one notable difference is the proximity of the 1st tee to the clubhouse. At our old clubs, the 1st tee and 18th greens are routinely just a few yards away but at Royal Hague while the last green is overlooked by distinctive red parasols on the vast clubhouse verandah, the 1st is nowhere to be seen.
A short walk up a winding path between gently swaying pines is required to reach your opening shot, owing to Wolf’s preference for the clubhouse not being visible from the links.
Starters here need thick skins, for they must be used to having conversations with distracted golfers, so much is there to take in from the 1st tee. It is clear what lies ahead for the golfer from this lofty vantage point, the eye absorbing the exciting sandy terrain created by centuries of prevailing westerly winds that have incrementally deposited sediment to form this spectacular landscape.
The nature of the topography means the course is almost inevitably exacting and while describing it as a rollercoaster seems twee, it is accurate. To suggest it is Perranporth adorned with bushes and trees is not totally ludicrous.
Much of Royal Hague involves threading your ball along narrow paths of land that plunges and rises across natural mounds, hollows and ravines. It means often there is tangible difference between a really good drive and a decent drive, or a decent drive and a modest drive; a clear view of your next shot is usually the reward. The penalty for straying off the short grass is often severe too, with bushes, trees and tall fescue grasses in wait. The greens are generally of a good size but the false fronts and run-offs to the side and back combined with their crowned nature mean there are often relatively small ‘safe’ landing areas. This premium on accuracy is accentuated by the rm turf throughout that neccesitates a crisp strike with every type of shot.
When putting, subtle borrows are exacerbated by the rapid surfaces. It may all sound like laborious work, and although no monster by modern standards at 6,882 yards and with fairway bunkering restricted to the 13th, as a general rule this is probably a course strong players will relish more readily. Nevertheless, off the blues (5,800 yards) higher handicappers can cope with and enjoy the undulations of Royal Hague.
Part of that enjoyment comes in the uncommon variety to the style of holes. Such is the diversity, it takes stringent recollection afterwards to ensure the correct order and description is applied to each hole – and to pinpoint favourites.
After the gentle par-5 opener and two stellar two-shotters comes a memorable downhill par 3 whose tee offers the only view of the sea from the links. Other highlights on the front nine include the long par-4 6th (see left) and the sporty 7th, with a blind tee shot over a post on top of the dune. The 10th is a sumptuous three-shotter with pine trees lined up with military precision on the horizon of the hill all the way down the left like an army of troops preparing to enter battle.
You exit the trees to play the more open 12th – a terri c par 3 to a domed green – while the 14th might be the pick of the lot, part of a strong closing run.
It ends with a lovely hole, albeit one that happens to be out of character with the rest. After an elevated tee shot the rest of the sheltered, tree-enclosed hole is extremely at. It is a reminder after hours of clambering breathlessly over and around muscular dunes that one of Continental Europe’s nest is actually in the famously at Netherlands.
Royal Hague Golf & Country Club
Wassenaar, The Hague, Netherlands
t: +31 070 5179607 w: khgcc.nl
Green fees: €150. Mon-Thu (before 11am & after 2pm) and on Friday before 11am