Kennemer Golf & Country Club
During the Golden Age in golf course architecture, many of the same master architects that worked in the United Kingdom came across the English Channel to Continental Europe. Two in particular were Tom Simpson and Harry Colt. They divided Paris rather equally but further north, Colt’s work dominates in the Netherlands while Simpson’s does in Belgium.
Of the ten courses built by the firm of Colt, Alison & Morrison in the Netherlands, eight still exist to this day. In many ways, his work here is better preserved than in the United Kingdom, making a tour of his Dutch courses a must for any student of architecture. The fact that his work has been well looked after here is particularly surprising, given the horrors of World War II and the German occupation of the Netherlands.
Take Kennemer for example as it was Colt’s first project in the Netherlands. At one point, there were a staggering 122 German bunkers on its property as well as anti-tank walls. After the defeat of the Germans, the course was slowly nursed back to life. The club covered over many of the German bunkers by dunes and today’s course is a pure golf landscape with no hint of the grim times of the 1940s.Several of the bunkers remain in use today, one asthe maintenance facility andthree as shelters around the course.
Crucial to the re-birth of Kennemer in the 1950s was the club’s archives of Colt letters, hole descriptions and diagrams.Itis morecompletethan any such collection at anyColt club with which the author is familiar. To this day, the club shrewdly uses its archives to guide future decisions.
At Kennemer, Colt faced a challenge of working with one piece of property of two different types – dunes and field. The course starts from the high point of the property in front of the noble yet comfortable thatch-roofed club house in the dunes and tumbles away. The third hole makes the transition within the hole from dunes to field, and the next three holes are all in the field, near the rialway line at the edge of the property. Colt then brings the golfer back into the dunes, before he re-enters the field at the eleventh and twelfth, where, interestingly enough, the transition is made from right to left (rather than from the standard tee to green). The right side of the eleventh and twelfth holes features the edge of the dunes, while the left side belongs with the field holes. The golfer then returns to the dunes for good for the run home from the fifteenth. As with both Friar’s Head and Bandon Trails, and unlike, say, Spyglass Hill, the golfer knows that when he leaves the dunes he will return – a reassuring thought that does not lead to despair while playing the less dramatic, but still good, holes along the railway.
One little known fact is that Colt actually routed all twenty-seven holes at Kennemer. His 1937 routing for the third nine proudly hangs in the clubhouse foyer. This nine wasn’t actually built until 1985 by Dutch-born Frank Pennink, who adhered to Colt’s routing with one exception. Interestingly enough, his one deviation is the most controversial hole on the property, that being the sixth. Colt had it as a dogleg to the left but Pennink built it as a dogleg right, in part by making a Ëœv’ cut into the dunescape that the author believes Colt would have been unwilling to do. As such, the hole makes for an interesting study in design techniques and how the evolution of golf course architecture was affected by earth moving equipment.
The three nines at Kennemer are referred to as the A nine that Pennink built and the B and C nines that Colt built. In recent years, the Dutch Open has used an amalgamation of holes fromeach nine. Pennink’sA holes at 3,555 yards are the longest of the three nines, which is no surprise since it was built fifty-seven years later than Colt’s two nines. TheA nine is used in its entirety as the front nine for the Dutch Open. The professionals then play the first three holes from theB nine followed by the last six holes of theC nine. This makes for a wonderfully diverse test but the great shame is that the seventh and ninth holes from theB nine don’t receive the attention that they deserve, as we see below.
With a tip of the hat to Colt, the Holes to Note section details Colt’s B and C nines first, followed by the A nine that Pennink built.
Holes to Note
First hole, 450 yards; First, there was colf and colfers as early as the thirteenth century, followed by Kolven in the fifteenth century. Paintings dating that far back provide the evidence that the Dutch have played a ball and stick game for centuries. Aware of the strong Dutch ties to the roots of the game and combined with the gazes from the knowledgeable members in the nearby thatched roof clubhouse, the golfer needs to summons courage to make a bold positive swing.
Secondhole, 160 yards; The strengths of the par threes at Kennemer come as no surpise given Colt’s predilectionfor finding par three green sites first. Of course there is the famous fifteenth as already seen above and in regards to the longer one shot eighth green site, Colt wrotethat it featured ‘excellent places for bunkers and hazards all round the green.’ Here at the second, Coltleveled offthe top of a dune, creating a plateau green requiring no other hazards. Frankly, this hole should be better recognized as a standout holebut the even more dramatic fifteenth hogs the spotlight. Like the the eleventh at Shinnecock Hills and the fourth atTurnberry, holes of this length situated in windy localesoften make for oneof the day’s most engaging shots.
Thirdhole, 530 yards; Originally, Colt had this as a par four to a green approximately eighty yards short of today’s. Pennink moved the green back in the mid-1980s, placing it on top of a ridge line. As seen with his work at the eighth and eleventh at Royal St. George’s and again here, Pennink had the curious ability to a) change holes from one par to another and b) have the newly created holes fit withtheir surrounding holes. In 2006, Colt expert Frank Pont was brought in to make the third green blend in better with the other Colt green sites. Trees werereplaced by a bunkerinthe left front of the green. In addition, Pont created a deep grassyhollow behind the right of the green, similar for instance to the one behind Colt’s eighth green.All in all, the vistor is surprised to learn that today’s present green site isn’t Colt’s, a compliment to all those that have had a hand in the hole’s evolution.
Fifth hole, 345 yards; Doglegging rightalong the perimeter of the property by the rail line, there is no reason for the hole to be as good as it is as Colt didn’t have much with which to work. However, a bunker shortleft of the green just where a big drive might finish coupled with its green that angles away behind a depression and one finds a very good hole of modest length.
Seventh hole, 370 yards; From the day play commenced at Kennmer in 1928, this has been one of Europe’s most respected holes. In its first several years, it was particularly fearsome as golf was still played with hickory shaft clubs. After three holes in the only calm portion of the property, the blind tee ball here signifies a return into the Kennemer’s famed dunescape. Colt put a ridgeline to maximum effect when he cutfour deep bunkers into its face and then placed the green fifteen paces behind it. Overtime, three of those four bunker were consolidated into one long one. However, keen to remain true to its Colt roots, the club is working with Frank Pont to return the bunkers to how they were in Colt’s day.
Ninth hole, 425 yards; Once while playing the Composite Course at Royal Melbourne, Tom Watson walked past the sixteenth hole on the East Course which was not in play and remarked something along the lines, ‘That’s the finest hole I’ve never played.’ That sentiment applies equally well here as this sterling links hole which isn’t used as one of the eighteen holes for the Dutch Open. Regardless, one can imagine Colt’sjoy as he was routing the course at finding a high spot in the corner of the property. Seizing upon it as the ideal place for a tee, Colt then ran the rest of the hole back toward the clubhouse. Its fairway is a marvel,complete with the kind of two to four foot ripples and swales that are nearly impossible for man to create and that yet lend so much golfing interest to any hole.
Tenth hole, 355 yards; The tenth green and flagare readily visible from the dune top upon which Colt placed the tee.Unfortunately, thefairway would not be within a straight line drawn from tee to green,as Colt swung it out to the left.For decades, golfers have hadto make themselves aim away from the flag, never an easy task. Far too often, golfers arelured fromthe tee in the generaldirection of the green, leaving them an approach shot from a far worse angle than if they had resisted and played the hole out to the left.