Golf was first played at Le Zoute in 1899 as an offshoot of the Bruges Golf and Sports Club; Henry Colt redesigned the course as the Knocke Golf Club in 1909. The owners, Compagnie du Zoute, built a clubhouse on the highest dune which, because of the climb to reach it, became known as the Monkey House.
During World War I, the Germans occupied the course, installing 280mm guns for the defense of Zeebrugge and the Scheldt Estuary. Once the war ended, a new course, the Zoute Golf Club, was built, and a second course, Lekkerbekm, was added closer to the sea. In 1925, the King of Belgium bestowed the royal title on the club.
Le Zoute saw more action during World War II, when 40,000 German troops were stationed here because it was thought to be an alternate invasion point for Normandy. At Hole 13, you can see their brick-lined trenches. The Germans shot down a British plane at the sixth hole, killing six British airmen. Bombing destroyed the seaside course, and it never reopened.
The par-72 Championship Course incorporates the natural topography and dunes. There is also a par-64 Executive Course for higher-handicapped players to learn the game. I played the Championship with the club president, Count Leopold Lippens; the club captain, Jean Croonenberghs, a retired Boeing 747 pilot; and John Louis Lindekens, vice president, North America for Brussels Airlines. There was a sense of history to the game — Count Leopold’s family founded the course and stayed involved for 113 years. Maurice Chevalier and King Leopold, who had a 4 handicap, played here.
Hole 1 | 422 yards, par 4
We waited for Count Leopold at the first tee box; as mayor of Le Zoute, he was attending a shopping center opening. You might have thought this was the European Tour judging by the tee shots: three decent drives and one exceptional drive from John Louis. Unfortunately, my drive, which looked fine from the tee, found one of the trio of fairway bunkers on the right. It took two more iron shots to reach the green. Beyond these bunkers is out of bounds, so a left-center drive is the best plan of attack. My partners walked away with bogeys, I with a double.
Hole 3 | 148 yards, par 3
I took an extra club and showed my European friends what an American armature can do. My shot landed on the left of the green, avoiding the bunkers and uneven lies in the rough my teammates found. Leopold and Jean gave me a “Well played,” and I thanked them. I had a tricky putt downhill to the hole and walked away with a respectable par.
Hole 5 | 479 yards, par 5
Note the house built by a British colonel who spent most of his life in Punjab, India, and retired here. This dogleg left has countless moguls which can make for an uneven lie. My second shot went left in the rough on the side of a steep mound; I chipped and came up short to the left bunker. The green is elevated and challenging.
Hole 6 | 418 yards, par 4
The most difficult hole on the course scattered our team. The captain shot off the tee right and under some trees. I drove right into the rough, avoiding the right fairway bunkers. The correct play is down the middle left for the best approach to this difficult, slightly elevated green. The homes around this hole are some of the most expensive in Europe.
Hole 13 | 448 yards, par 4
This second-most difficult hole plays long, as you have to drive your shot on a slight upslope to the fairway and a dogleg left. Take a moment to view the German trenches and imagine thousands of troops here some 70 years ago.
But that is history past, and we were here for history in the making. Following my partners’ perfect drives, I made a high shot to the right rough. The play is to aim straight, avoiding the narrow opening and vegetation on the left. You almost need to play this like a par 5 and hope for a single putt for par, but the hole does open to a wide fairway. My second shot came up short of the green on a hill. I was overzealous with my lob wedge and bounded off. A nice chip, and I recovered with a bogey.
Hole 15 | 484 yards, par 5
The course’s signature hole is difficult to master. It is a short par 5 but very narrow, with lots of places where your ball can stray. I drove my best ball of the day down the center of the fairway, following two equally good shots from Jean and Leopold. Jet lag was taking hold of John Louis; he hit to the left, rolling into the rough and a wooded area. I was in position “A” and hit a 3-wood within a short chip to the green for par. Watch the two bunkers about 10 yards from the green which give the illusion of a false front.
Hole 17 | 548 yards, par 5
This is a bruiser of a hole, requiring three long shots to land the green in regulation. The tee box is intimidating, as you have to clear a path where golfers cross and avoid a few natural obstacles before the fairway opens up. I drove nearly out of bounds, hugging the left side of the rough, affording me the luxury of admiring the beautiful homes lining the fairway. Your second fairway wood shot must clear the hill for the best approach to the green. I hit my 3-wood solidly and took a lot of distance off. From here, position your ball to avoid the two traps that protect the front of the green.
Hole 18 | 385 yards, par 4
If you rank a course by its finishing hole, Royal Zoute will not disappoint. Dense vegetation occupies the 50 yards off the tee box and again appears 150 yards out on the right. The captain said a drive left center of the fairway was the best play, and I followed the captain’s orders. I was left with a 150-yard shot, landing squarely on the right of the green. My partners approached the green differently, some in regulation and some landing after their third shot. Several traps along he right of the fairway catch fades off the tee, and five traps guard the green from every possible approach. We headed to the clubhouse to enjoy a bottle of Le Petit Cheval 2002 and local gray shrimp on toast while chatting about local history and our conquests of the day.
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