BRUSSELS hasn’t been a name on so many people’s lips since oh, probably June 1975, the last time the British people were asked an opinion of being members of the European Union. Before that? Quite possibly a full 200 years, when that Napoleon chappie got his come-uppance just south of the Belgian and EU capital, at a little place called Waterloo.
Much has changed, both since Wellington’s famous exploits and 100 years on when Belgium’s beautiful verdant countryside formed a bloody stage for some of World War 1’s worst military tragedies.
A snapshot of Enghien
Across the fields of Flanders and Walloon where once lay cesspit trenches, Britons, Germans, French – and yes, local Belgians alike – can barely turn a corner without finding a lush, manicured golf course.
As unknown golfing destinations go the region around Brussels, just a comfortable drive from the Eurotunnel hub at Calais, is a delight waiting to be discovered.
And for golfers who want to experience a different country and culture, yet forget about airports and be able to throw the clubs in the car and head off, it really does tick all of the boxes.
Overlooking Mont Garni
I left home in York at 11.15am on a Sunday. By 6pm I had driven around the northern outskirts of Brussels and was checking into the beautiful Hotel du Lac on the banks of Lake Genval, south of the city.
Straight down to Folkestone, the simplest of drive-on-drive-off trains under the Channel, and a smooth cruise to the destination. There literally is an abundance of choices in terms of courses, including l’Empereur – named after old Bonaparte himself, in the idyllic Waterloo area, close by the site of the battle.
Golf is far from being a new pastime either, as Capellenbosch near Antwerp claims to be the continent’s second oldest course, founded in 1888. One of the best ways to sample them is via the tried and tested Martin’s Golf Pass, a partnership between 14 of the very best courses in Flanders and Brabant-Wallon, and Belgium’s premier independent hotel group.
John Martin, an Anglo-Belgian with homes in both countries, has long been a keen promoter of the region and began the Golf Pass concept 17 years ago. It has grown to the point where guests at any of Martin’s six hotels can take advantage of a variety of packages that include 14 golf clubs. These can be tailored to include all-inclusive, personalised packages that include preferential green fees and various luxury touches like details of local sight-seeing opportunities between hotel and golf club, pubs and restaurants worth visiting, and full access to the hotel’s gyms and spas.
Chateau de la Tournette
This 120 hectare club, set in superb countryside, offers two magnificent challenges to players, both experts and novices. The American course, designed by Bill Amick, and the English course, designed by Martin Hawtree. Two distinct styles, whose finishing touches were applied in 1995 by the renowned golfers and architects, Peter Allis and Clive Clark.
In a rural setting, at the edge of the Lauzelles woods near Wavre, this fairly physical course was designed by J. Dudok Van Heel (Dutch) in 1989. A very open course set on a gently undulating site.
Designed by Dutchman J. Dudok Van Heel in 1992 and located in open countryside in an area full of tradition south of Waterloo, the 'Championship' course at Pierpont surrounds a farm dating from the 17thcentury and covers an area of 67 hectares.
The very highly regarded Sept Fontaines (Seven Fountains) features two 18-hole tracks, Le Chateau and Le Foret, in wooded countryside, designed by architects Capart and Rossi.
Housed on the site of the ancient Hulencourt farmlands, the American-style course was designed in 1988 by the French architect Jean-Manuel Rossi. Opened in 1991 and used by the European Challenge Tour for some of its competitions, "Le Vallon" is a 60 hectare championship course which offers remarkable playing quality all year round thanks to its integral drainage.
Designed in 1989 by Marcel Vercruyce (Belgian), this course embraces the ancient fields and pastures not far from the Lion’s Mound in Waterloo. It offers a complete change of scene, far from the hustle and bustle, where flora and fauna have been magnificently preserved.
This Paul Rolin course opened in 1981 at Villers-la-Ville and has hosted numerous nationals competitions.
One of the more established courses in the region, in the superb wooded environment of the private Bercuit estate, this prestigious championship course, selected many times for the European Tour and the European Ladies Masters, was designed by the American architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr in 1965 and inaugurated in 1967.
Chateau de la Bawette
Irish architest Tom McAuley laid out this undulating course in 1986 and it is considered a very good test for low handicappers.
Located in the heart of the historic Arenberg Park, the 27 holes of Enghien take full advantage of the old trees that are the pride of the place. The club exudes a welcoming atmosphere, friendly and bilingual.
A wonderful old clubhouse is the centrepiece of the friendly and challenging Mont Garni, with its three loops of six holes, another product of Tom McAuley.
Very handy for the Brussels-Antwerp highway and Brussels airport, this is a beautifully landscaped location.
The 17th century castle of Winge forms the backdrop, Pete Townsend created this course in 1988.
As the name suggests, opened in the year 2000, the course continues to build an excellent reputation via its championship course and 9-hole pitch and putt facility.
Chateau du Lac – 5-star luxury hotel 20 minutes form the centre of Brussels.
Grand Hotel, Waterloo – again handy for the city, the Eurostar terminal and both local airports.
Martin’s Brussels EU – in the heart of the European district, the most cosmopolitan in Brussels.
Martin’s Klooster, Leuven – a 4-star hotel in the historical centre of Leuven, 30 minutes from Brussels.
Martin’s Patershof, Mechelen – If it’s history you’re looking for, this stunning location in the Friar Minor church is perfect.
Martin’s Red, Tubize – Due to open shortly, the Red, named after the Belgium football team, is on the site of the national football centre, but accepts guests (sporting or otherwise) and accommodates conference and events.