Belgium, and in particular the southern region of Wallonia, boasts a strong golfing heritage that is only just being uncovered by the game's enthusiasts from around the world.
Belgium may be renowned for its classic comic strip character Tintin, the popular mysteries of Maigret, its exquisite chocolate and its hundreds of different beers. But it also offers a range of superb golf courses that test the abilities of golfers of all standards.
The French speaking region of Wallonia prides itself on its ability to offer visitors an easy-access golf outing combined with a gastronomic and cultural experience that is second to none - and all reasonably affordable. And you can be on a Belgian golf course within a few hours of leaving your front door.
Perhaps the best way to take advantage of a Belgian golf holiday is to rent a car upon arrival at the airport for the picturesque journey south into the heart of Wallonia, where a wide number of excellent and affordable courses, beautiful chateau hotels and delightful medieval towns await. Cruising through Wallonia is an extremely pleasant experience, as you meander through an area with a strong military history that played host to the battle of Waterloo as well as some fierce fighting in both World Wars.
For the accomplished golfer, one of the toughest challenges in Wallonia exists at Golf Club de Pierpont, a half-hour drive from the fortress town of Namur, and 12 minutes away from the Charleroi Brussels South airport. Pierpont is an "inland links," a course that bares its teeth when the wind picks up and offers a good challenge off the back tees.
The course itself is only 11 years old, but the fairways and surrounding land are steeped in the history of the Napoleonic Wars. So much so that its clubhouse was originally a 17th century farmhouse that offered retreat to Dutch troops during the Battle of Quatre Bras in 1815. Historian David Hamilton-Williams has authenticated Pierpont with the Napoleonic campaign of that year and refers to the thousands of slain troops that now act as "silent witnesses" to any golfing mishaps on its fairways.
About an hour due east of Pierpont, near the town of Marche-en-Femme, you can enjoy an altogether different golfing experience at the Five Nations Golf Club, with a course that offers ample evidence that Wallonia is by no means flat. It is carved out of extremely hilly terrain that demands a buggy for even the hardiest of players. There are very steep climbs between most of the greens and tees that would be enough to test the calf muscles of an experienced mountaineer - or the patience of the most stoic and dedicated golfer.
Most of the tees on the front half are extremely elevated, providing stunning views of the tight, tree-lined landing areas. The first tee in particular has a quite beautiful panoramic view across the local terrain that takes in the pretty village of Méan. The landscape of the Gary Player design evens out around the turn as you approach its glorious chateau-style clubhouse, but from the 13th onwards the terrain again becomes the major challenge.
The club's signature par-3 14th is certainly not for those without a head for heights and requires a mere wedge onto a small target set way below. One can experience a similar challenge just half an hour from Five Nations at Golf de Durbuy, situated just outside the 14th century town of Durbuy, which prides itself on being the smallest town in the world.
Durbuy is another wooded course and, although it does not have quite the mountainous landscape of Five Nations, it is a more mature layout with a demanding combination of hazards. Buggies are also recommended - mostly to take the time out of the round - but trolleys can also be used for those who prefer to tread the fairways.
Continuing northeast through the Ardennes region of Wallonia brings you to the famous town of Spa, renowned for its emphasis on "wellness" and home to the famous Francorchamps racetrack. Spa, which boasts the original "spa," is a stylish resort town by anyone's standards and this is amply reflected in the quality of hotels and restaurants though still affordable for those on a tighter budget.
Spa is also home to the Royal Golf Club Des Fagnes, a wealthy private members' club that allows visitors during the week. It is a superbly maintained, undulating parkland course built in the 1920s by Tom Simpson. It has hosted the Belgium Open on several occasions and in 1997 was rated amongst Europe's Top 100 courses by "Golf World" magazine.
One hour north of Spa lies the Henri-Chapelle Golf Club, which arguably boasts the finest all-round golf facilities in Wallonia. Another extremely hilly club, it features 27 holes alongside a six-hole track that always proves extremely popular with those just launching their golfing careers.
The 18-hole Les Viviers course, which has an abundance of water, again offers magnificent views across the Ardennes and Eifel plateau, while one of the club's proudest facilities is its state-of-the-art golfing center, where players of all levels have access to video coaching and use of its range year round.
These are just a handful of the wonderful golf course gems that are spread across Wallonia and, whatever your golfing fancy, there is no doubt that this picturesque, cultural and gastronomic - and largely undiscovered - region of Belgium will exceed your expectations. Source: Belgian Tourist Office Brussels & Wallonia, UK
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
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