Travel Guide: The Netherlands
To say that the Netherlands in particular and the Low Countries more generally have played an important part in the history of golf would be an understatement.
In fact, depending on who you ask, it may well have been the Dutch who invented the game, or at least one like it, long before it was first heard of in Scotland. Archie Baird is a Scottish historian and curator of a small but famous golf museum that adjoins the professional shop behind the 1st tee of Gullane No 1. So he knows a thing or two about the development of the game.
“The Dutch played a game like golf way before we did,” he said.
“I have evidence going back to 1300. There is no mention of golf in Scotland before 1450. But the Dutch neither developed the game nor did they keep it going.
“It died out totally by 1700 because they couldn’t make good clubs; the shaft was hazel, which was far too whippy, and they had no hardwood, so the heads were made of lead.
“But they didn’t need to hit the ball a long way. They always played on the ice and to a stake. Luckily the Scottish wool merchants went across and picked the game up.
“The Dutch did teach us Scots, however, to make the ball.”
It was not until the late 19th century that the country’s first recognisable course was built – a three-hole layout in The Hague.
Following shortly after were the famous Kennemer and Hilversumshe courses but it was after the war that these, and several more, were transformed into the classics that stand today.
A triumvirate of great British architects, Harry Colt, GH Alison and JSF Morrison, was largely responsible.
Their work has left a collection of courses with a distinctly British flavour. They include genuine links courses that have shades of the Lancashire coast – Noordwijkse, the work of Frank Pennick, and Koninklijke Haagsche, a Colt and Alison design, both look uncannily like Formby in places.
Kennemer, which has hosted the Dutch Open on several occasions, is perhaps more reminiscent of Hillside.
Elsewhere, in the shape of Hilversumshe and Rosendaelsche, there are classic heathlands where you could be forgiven for thinking you were playing at the likes of Swinley Forest, The Addington or even Sunningdale.
Another joy of holidaying in such a small country you never have to travel too far – perhaps the best example is Noordwijkse, arguably the country’s finest course, a seemingly remote links yet within half an hour’s drive of Schipol airport.
In short, there is proper golf to be found in the Netherlands, and courses that will fascinate those with a love for culture and the history of the game.
YOUR QUICK GUIDE
When to go: Any time between March and November – think of the British season but with an extra month on either side
Time difference: GMT +1
Must-play courses: Noordwijkse, Hilversumsche, Koninklijke Haagsche