Koninklijke Haagsche
The Hague, Netherlands

Seventh hole, 380 yards; Golf architecture at its highest level is about the diversity of challenges posed of the golfer. To appreciate Haagsche in this regard, just look at the green complexes in the four hole stretch from the sixth through the ninth. First there is the domed, exposed sixth green that sheds balls every which way, frustrating the good player who is likely trying to hit it with something like a long iron or hybrid. In contrast at the seventh, the golfer encounters a sunken green placed behind an eighteen foot tall dune that obscures a good portion of the putting surface. Assuming that the wind isn’t against, the golfer may only have a short iron in his hand but he certainly needs to hit the fairway, ideally the left side if he wants to have a view of the course’s smallest green at 4,400 square feet.  Next is the eighth, a long one shotter down off a dune where everything is in clear sight and where the green nicely accepts shots that hit short and chase on. Lastly is the uphill ninth, where the challenge comes in flighting the ball from a sloping stance in the fairway to a green with a dramatic false front perched on top a dune. Not only do all the holes look great as they flow across the tumbling terrain, they possess great golfing qualities with variety that only comes from such a landscape.

A tall dune short right of the green and sharp drop offs right and long make the seventh one of the tightest defended greens at Haagsche.

Twelve hole, 170 yards; A par three of such excellence that even the master par three builder Harry Colt would thrill to call it one of his own. Played from high point to high point across a shallow valley, the green epitomizes the requirement posed at Haagsche  for crisp, accurate iron play. Past the lone front right deep bunker, there is a eight foot deep swale where Gordon Brand Jr.’s ball came to rest in the final round of the 2010 Van Lanschot Senior Open. Lying on short, tight grass, Brand had every recovery option available to him, from a three wood all the way up to a wedge. His hooded mid iron was well executed as the ball bounced into the upslope but the green’s right to left tilt took the ball well past the day’s right center hole location. The resulting bogey helped pave the way for a win by his good friend George Ryall.

At 6,400 square feet, the twelfth green is the largest on the course, an unusual distinction for a medium length one shot hole. As is evident in the photograph above, the green is the high point of its surrounds and its pronounced back right to front left tilt makes recovery from any shot missed right particularly problematic. Less evident is the deep swale masked behind the front right bunker.

Thirteenth hole, 425 yards; Haagsche briefly opened for play in 1939 just prior to the commencement of World War II. Given that steel had replaced hickory as the preferred shaft much earlier that decade, Haagsche was always designed with steel in mind, something not true for a majority of Colt, Alison & Morrison courses. Hence, Haagsche has always enjoyed a certain robustness to it. New tees at such holes as the seventh and eighteenth have helped insure that its taxing nature hasn’t been dissipated by the recent advances in technology. Here is the only example where a green site has been moved to help allow a hole to retain its intended challenge. In 2007, Pont pushed the green back and right, thus adding another twenty yards. The green rests comfortably to the left of a dune and few, if any, would guess that it isn’t an original. This hole marks the start of three burly two shot holes in a row, a stretch that the members consider the Dutch version of Amen Corner.

As seen from behind, Pont moved the green back twenty yards and placed it at the base of a dune.

Fourteenth hole, 425 yards; Tucked in a chute, the golfer looks out from the tee and sees … nothing. Or at least, he sees nothing that provides much comfort. Out of bounds is clearly marked hard down the left and scant view of the fairway is afforded from the tee. Yet, reality is different as this plays as one of the widest fairways on the course.  In fact, for a forty yard stretch,  it is a shared fairway with the fifteenth and the landforms down the right offer a fine way for the golfer to play away from the out of bounds and still have his ball kick left and into the right center of the fairway, a prime spot to approach the uphill green. Placed in a saddle atop a dune, the green is the single hardest target to hit and hold at Haagsche. Anything short readily rolls back down the hill twenty yards while anything long is fed away by short grass to a depression nine feet below the putting surface. Holding this green in regulation is a sure sign of a golfer in fine form. Even the senior professionals at the Van Lanschot found it a beast with the fourteenth playing the most over par of any hole for the three rounds.

The white knuckle moment of the round occurs on the fourteenth tee whereby the golfer is afforded little assurity that anything good can possibly happen with his tee ball! Note the attractive green location up in the saddle ahead.

This photograph was taken three months later and from a forward position than the one above. Note the extensive clearing, especially on the dune to the right of the green. As compared to the other photograph that looks like a hillside shrouded in brush, the golfer once again is keenly aware that he is playing golf through rousing sand dunes.

 
Fifteenth hole, 415 yards; Another of Haagsche’s high spots, the fifteen tee affords a beautiful outlook down the length of the hole, which is in marked contrast to the view from the last tee. The task is obvious: Can the golfer use the land form on the left to push his tee ball to the flattish (and small!) area of the fairway from where most of the green is in view? No artificial contrivances by man – otherwise known as bunkers – were required to give this world class hole its spice.

As seen from near the fifteenth tee, the fairway contours and superb green placement are all that were required to lend the hole its timeless challenge.

Alison and Morrison ask the golfer to fit his approach shot onto a green between two dunes. Generally played from a hanging lie, a clean strike is not always achieved and the sight of the two balls finishing at the right front of the green's false front is a common one.

Give the club credit for continuing to remove brush and for opening up such green sites as the seventh and fifteenth.

Sixteenth hole, 385 yards; In an appealing way, Haagsche is anachronistic in that it doesn’t readily lend itself to today’s power hitting. Woe is the golfer bent on length and who insists on playing high trajectory shots in such a windy environment. Haagsche’s humpy-bumpy fairways and dunes covered in thick, low lying vegetation require precision and cunning ahead of brute strength. A hole like the sixteenth shows the risk reward tension frequently found throughout this design. Long down the right affords the more level lies into the green but that’s the side where the penalty is greatest should one miss it. Shy too far left though and the golfer may end up tangled in a gnarly lie or with a hanging lie with the ball well below his feet for his approach shot. And of course, the hole even plays differently from season to season. In a dry hot summer, just finding the tilted fairway becomes a real challenge with golfers gearing back to nothing more than a hybrid off the tee. Like with so many of the holes here, the golfer must continually recalculate both distance and line to best play the hole for the prevailing conditions.

Though the fairway swings right, a draw is often times the preferred shape tee ball in order to hold the fairway when it is baked out in the summer months.

Seventeenth hole, 170 yards; Colt, Alison & Morrison built as many par threes of merit as any firm that ever worked in Europe.  The first three at Haagsche (the fourth, eighth, and twelfth) are all of  high quality. However, the old seventeenth was a shortish par three to a small green that lacked their usual flair. Something must have happened to the original hole and change was called for. Try as Pont might, there was no historical information to guide reconstruction back to its original design qualities. Left to his own interpretation, Pont pushed the championship tee ten yards back and built a modified Redan that perfectly fits atop the ridge line. The high right hole locations are scary as a steep bank falls away twelve paces to the right of the green. All golfers delight in trying to access the back left hole locations by playing a draw and letting their tee balls feed right to left along the slope.

The newly exposed sand in front of here and the next tee are more examples of the club's on-going efforts to reinforce that the golfer is playing across sand dunes. For today's hole location, a draw at the middle bunker is the ideal shot as it will release and chase toward this back hole location.

Eighteenth hole,  550 yards; Some critics nominate this as the best closing hole in continental Europe, which surprises the author as the hole is quite different from the other holes at Haagsche. First, the golfer actually sees the clubhouse as it acts as a backdrop for the entire hole.  Second, with trees left and right, it is both more enclosed and indeed sheltered than the prior seventeen holes. Depending on the state of one’s game, the fairway can even appear narrow. Third, this is the flattest fairway on the course and the golfer may finally enjoy a level stance on back to back fairway shots.  Still, there is no doubt that the Home hole’s length creates a demanding finisher as it forces the golfer to keep executing to the end without the luxury of merely steering the ball down the fairway. Just as Byron Nelson – he sliced his tee shot out of bounds here and finished with an 80!  

Daniel Wolf's private residence was located where the clubhouse is today, though his actual estate house burnt to the ground on July 18th, 2002. For the short while that Mr. Wolf enjoyed his course, he also let his house serve as a clubhouse for his private course. This view from the elevated tee makes the fairway some fifty feet below look narrow and yet the golfer has to swing out in order to cover the distance in the prescribed number of shots.

Why isn’t Royal Hague regularly associated with the great links in the United Kingdom as well as Europe? To start, it never enjoyed the fanfare that a design of this magnitude would normally receive upon opening. The start of World War II saw to that. In addition, the Jewish heritage of the owner Wolf necessitated a hasty departure from the country and he passed away in 1942. After the war, his widow sold the course to the then homeless Royal Hague and Sir Guy Campbell brought it back into playing shape. After that choppy beginning, five decades of largely unchecked growth by mother nature narrowed the playing corridors and limited the course’s visual appeal. Some of Alison and Morrison’s work was shrouded under dense vegetation and worse,  altered by lesser architects. In 2004, the club wisely decided to return to its Golden Age roots with Frank Pont guiding them ever since. In particular courtesy of Pont’s work, all of the greens now feel as if they were done during the Golden Age.  Presently, he and the club are successfully returning  the course to its more open, sandier origins so well depicted in the black and white photograph found on the preceding page of this profile. Essentially, Royal Hague needs to be seen today as it is a markedly better course than at any point in the past several decades.

Harry Colt dominated golf in the Netherlands just as Tom Simpson did in Belgium. But in 1937, the older Colt wasn’t near the traveler that he once was and this project went to his two talented partners. When asked to comment on the difference between Royal Hague under the hand of them versus what might have been under Colt, Frank Pont notes:

Royal Hague is different from the other Colt courses in the Netherlands. First of all the bunkering is larger, deeper and bolder than on the other Colt courses. Not only that but very few bunkers were used on the course, only one fairway bunker and eighteen bunkers in total. This was less than half the bunkers that Colt would normally use on a course and a third of what he used at Kennemer. Furthermore the routing, and also the green locations were more adventurous, one might even say extreme, than Colt had shown in his work up to then. Royal Hague to this day remains a stern walk, and probably being a member there will add years to one’s life due to the healthy exercise.

As can be gathered from the quote above, Haagsche is a unique golf course and it doesn’t readily remind the golfer of any other course in the world. While enjoying a lovely jaunt through nature, the golf game is thoroughly examined from tee to green. Driving is both challenging and adventurous, iron play is demanding and all sorts of shotmaking is necessary to conquer the green complexes. This may well be the greatest canvas with which either Alison or Morrison ever were given. The age old hypothesis holds true here: Great property in the hands of great architects and an intelligent founder should produce one of the best courses in the world. And that’s exactly the outcome, as we are now freshly reminded.

What an environment in which to enjoy a game!