Golf Course Profiles

Royal Antwerp Golf Club, Kapellen, Antwerp, Belgium

"this is an iron hand in a velvet glove. The remarkably intelligent layout, highly strategic bunkering and the presence and use of trees and heather are an example for all modern designers." Peugeot Golf Guide 2008/2009

PROJECT - Restoration - Parkland/Heathland

ORIGINAL ARCHITECTS - Willie Park Jnr, 1888 (18 holes 6,140m) Tom Simpson, 1929 (further 9 holes 2,264m)

Willie Park Jnr Tom Simpson
Willie Park Jnr Tom Simpson

17/20 in Peugeot Golf Guide 2008/2009


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Restoration and upgrading of a historic course

From 2002-3 I worked at Royal Antwerp in remodelling Hole #14 as a G&M Ltd project. Now I am lucky enough to be still involved at Royal Antwerp as consultant architect to Dimitri van Hauwaert of Diamond Golf Architects in a major programme to re-build 65 bunkers on the Championship course completed in 2008.

Works have included the removal of redundant bunkers, re-shaping of bunkers, fine finishing, turfing, sanding of bunkers and reinstatement of heather areas including dunescaping.

Originally designed by two great architects, initially Willie Park Jnr and then in 1929 Tom Simpson who extended the course by nine holes. It is the 2nd oldest golf course on the continent, after Pau in France.

All the holes at Royal Antwerp fit perfectly into the surroundings. Tom Simpson saw his work not solely as an art, but also as a science which is quite interesting I feel as I think a lot of architects nowadays would suggest perhaps the opposite.

The idea behind the re-modelling of Royal Antwerp or restoration was to create a "classical" style but at the same time be mindful of reducing unnecessary maintenance. There were very few bunkers which could be said to be original but it was this style which we wanted to recreate but in recreating this style there can be conflict between the classic and maintenance friendly and we have tried hard to resolve this issue.

The first step involved an in depth study of all the bunkers on the course. Each bunker was photographed and finally the proposed shapes marked on the ground and photographed for our own information and reference. Whilst marking out the bunkers great consideration was given to the shapes, the style, the base and access points for the maintenance equipment, the desire to use native heather on some of the banks, the integration of small pot bunkers as well as other bunkers to influence the strategy of the hole and in adjusting some greenside bunkers the possibility of enlarging some greens to provide new and very exciting pin positions.

Whilst formulating the proposals we were totally mindful of the status of Royal Antwerp and the importance of getting this project absolutely right -first time and this can be quite nerve wracking. A full and elaborate study of each hole was produced giving a hole by hole vision with a detailed report on the bunker shapes and position as well as the strategy of the hole. We even provided a photomontage of the styles to be produced.

At Royal Antwerp the existing bunkers had completely lost their shape and form with several being totally out of position penalising only the poorly hit shot and being a constant drain on resources in having to maintain them. They had lost their shapes through minor adjustment and normal edging maintenance over the years so that the actual sanded area had expanded or exploded outside of what was the original bunker edge. This meant that they also lose their relationship with the surrounding topography including the relationship to the putting green and the influence they have on the pin positions and the strategy of the hole.

In losing the bunker style or identity, the overall character of the course was lost impacting on the overall harmony. The bunkers had become bigger and bigger, the outside of the bunkers were now built up with sand, in such a way that the soft rolling balls would not roll into the bunkers anymore. Nevertheless the course was still voted number 1 in Belgium, in 2007, together with Royal Zoute Golf Club (Peugeot Guide) thus reminding us of the importance of getting this project right first time.

For the new bunker shapes the sanded areas are much smaller and we believe sit very well within the landscape character of the site.

As part of the bunker renovations during our investigations we discovered fantastic areas of traditional shaping just off the edges some greens which had been lost due to the ingress of undergrowth and trees over the years.

Trees and vegetation growing into the golf course is an ongoing issue on many courses and should be constantly monitored and kept under control with a long term management strategy. Great heathland/parkland courses have had lots of the wonderful heathland element lost due to the uncontrolled, even unnoticed growth of trees.

At the great St George's Hill in The UK trees were a real problem where I was involved some years ago with putting forward a programme alongside the New Zealand pro Greg Turner to remove the trees in order to re-establish the true fairway widths and re-discover the shaping and sometimes bunkering and shaping which had been lost due to uncontrolled tree growth.

Coming back to Royal Antwerp, it was very important to get the actual shapes of the sand right. Being ever mindful of keeping maintenance levels to a minimum yet still developing an old style, any re-turfing or bunker faces was carried out using 100% festuca from a local source with the intention to significantly reduce the need for cutting the bunker faces on a regular basis - a new way forward for Royal Antwerp and one which is welcomed by the greenstaff.

As mentioned earlier, the old bunkers sometimes prevented balls from falling into the sand. The new style will collect balls within the hazard within a flat base. The re-shaping of the sanded areas will allow the mowers to go slightly closer to the bunkers keeping the grass short so that balls will be collected in the sand.

When forming the bunkers, the noses and banks needed to reflect an aged look. This is common with other developments where there is as much work if not more to the bunker banks and faces that the bases to make them look right.

This is where you need architects with the experience and the vision working alongside a contractor with the experience and understanding to create these rough and irregular shapes. At Royal Antwerp we used Andrew Jeffery of Golftech Gmbh with shaping by Shaun Hancox and we are all delighted with the outcome - it pays to use experienced contractors!

Sometimes to aid the aging process in the new bunkers and to keep in character with the site, patches of established fescue turf were taken from nearby parts of the site and carefully placed into the banks sometimes with patches of heather. This is something which is not new and I have been lucky enough to have had experience of similar projects in the UK on such important courses as West Hill and Worplesdon as co-Director of Gaunt and Marnoch.

At Royal Antwerp there were originally pure blocks of heather which have been lost through tree invasion. Royal Antwerp have a heather re-establishment programme with large areas being-stripped of the existing nutrient rich soil and grass dominant turf to reveal the heather seed bank below which can lie dormant for 75 years. To a golf architect this is like finding goldÂ…what a fantastic feature to have on your course and if you have it please do not ignore it, use it, it will enrich the course and the whole golfing experience.

If you are not sure about your courses attributes and potential then seek the advice from an experienced golf architect.

Check out the Royal Antwerp website to see more photographs of the transformation of the bunkers.


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