12 Sep 2011 - 11:20:46
Name five famous Belgians! That’s a pub quiz regular. Well, how about Eddy Merckx (five times winner of the Tour de France), Albert Sax (inventor of the saxophone), Georges Simenon (author of the Maigret detective stories), Herge (creator of Tintin the boy detective) and the magical beauty of Audrey Hepburn?
More recently in sport, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin have won Grand Slam tennis titles, Jacques Rogge is president of the International Olympic Committee (thanks for your enthusiasm for London 2012, Jacques!), Jean-Marc Bosman was instrumental in changing pro footballers’ contracts, and Thomas Vermaelen is doing his damndest in the near-impossible job of holding together Arsenal’s defence.
As for golf, Nicolas Colsaerts shows signs of becoming the best-known Belgian golfer since Flory van Donck, twice runner-up in the Open (to Peter Thomson in 1956 and to Gary Player in 1959).
Colsaerts, 28, came to this year’s Open on the back of success in the Volvo China Open and third places in the Volvo World Matchplay and the Barclays Scottish Open. Two days before the start at Royal St George’s, Colsaerts cracked an elbow in an accident with his hired scooter – and that has taken six weeks to heal. It’s back to business this week with the KLM Open at Hilversum, and he’s been chosen for the Continental European team to play Great Britain and Ireland in the Vivendi Seve Trophy match at Saint-Nom-la- Breteche near Versailles from September 15-18.
All this leads up to other famous Belgians – the golf courses. Belgium has become a very acceptable alternative to Northern France. It’s close (Bruges is barely an hour from Calais and Dunkerque, and Waterloo is only another hour farther on the autoroutes), the courses are, in most cases, high quality and well-maintained, the restaurants are good (and the bills are reasonable) – and Belgian beers are legendary.
On a recent trip based at the Grand Hotel in Waterloo with a group of mates, we rated La Marache at Royal Waterloo as our No 1, followed by the American course at Chateau de la Tournette, Royal Zoute, and the English course at Tournette (the rough was very penal on the day we were there). We didn’t play Le Lion at Royal Waterloo this time, but members there tell us it’s very nearly the equal of La Marache.
Within a drive of half an hour of Waterloo, there’s Royal Belgique at Ravenstein (now much more welcoming than it used to be), Hulencourt , Bercuit, Rigenée, and Sept Fontaines.
I’m hearing good things about De Palingbeek, near Ypres, which could be combined with Bondues, Brigode and Le Sart, just across the border in France, in an easy-to-reach golf tour. But a word of warning: Royal Oostende, once the pride of Belgium, has been dissected by a tramway and roads and is worth visiting only for its past rather than its present.
For more information on golf in Belgium, give a call to our friends at GolfPlanet Holidays (01277 205656; firstname.lastname@example.org).