Appeared in November/December 2008 LINKS
On March 22, 1926, renowned British architect Harry Shapland (H.S.) Colt responded to a letter from Kennemer Country Club to assess a potential site for a links course just across the North Sea on the coast of Holland.
Colt accepted the invitation and during his visit later that year, formed a fast friendship with Kennemer secretary A.A. Diemer Kool, who had sent the invitation. The bond wasn’t surprising considering their common background: Both had been lawyers before switching to careers in golf club management. (Colt was the secretary of Sunningdale Golf Club outside London, and learned the design craft there.)
During the construction of the course, which was completed in 1928, Colt sent many letters to Diemer Kool with his thoughts on subjects ranging from bunker placement to grass-seed varieties to Colt’s ongoing efforts to find a British golf professional for Kennemer.
In one of the letters Colt, who had a hand on more than 100 courses around the world including Pine Valley in New Jersey and England’s Wentworth, wrote: “Building a golf course is more like painting a picture than building a road or sewer.”
So it’s not surprising that Kennemer is as artistically alluring as a Claude Monet landscape. Less than two miles from the sea, the layout runs through dunesland, with indigenous low-lying brush and trees also defining the landscape. In prototypical links style, greens are open in front so players can utilize the ground game. Although bunkers are well positioned to ensnare the wayward shot, the fairways are generous.
But Kennemer is no pushover, especially when the wind blows. In fact, the course has been a regular host of the European Tour’s KLM Open on a 6,626-yard composite layout from the club’s three nines. Winners here include Seve Ballesteros and Darren Clarke, the most recent Kennemer conqueror in 2008.
Decades after Colt completed the original 18 holes, the club built nine additional holes in the 1980s using plans laid out by Colt’s associate, John Morrison. Each nine at Kennemer has two names: the A or Van Hengel (after a longtime member) nine, the B or Pennink (after John Pennink, who oversaw construction of the third nine) nine, and the C or Colt nine. The B and C nines make up the original course.
As he did on some of his other designs and renovations, such as Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland and Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland, Colt constructed a set of challenging par 3s. The standout at Kennemer is the Colt nine’s 6th, which plays 163 yards to a green that sits some 30 feet above the tee and nestled between two ridges. A ball even slightly short of the putting surface can tumble down the steep slope into a pair of bunkers.
“This should prove to be one of the best one-shot holes ever made,” Colt wrote to the club.
The two-shotters are strong as well. One of the best is the 421-yard 9th of the B nine. The green is clearly visible on a straight line from the tee, but the rolling, tumbling fairway actually doglegs around the dunes. Although the line looks so inviting, players must resist the temptation to hit a drive toward the green, with the clubhouse perched behind it, and instead take a safer tack.
Two holes previously, the B nine’s 7th showcases a Colt rarity: a greenside bunker guarding the front of the green. Colt preferred to leave the front of the green open to allow for a run-up approach, but on this 367-yarder he wanted a bit of visual intimidation. However, he didn’t stray completely from his philosophy: The bunker actually sits 20 yards in front of the putting surface, so players can still hit a variety of shots into the green.
The club’s 1,000 members take golf very seriously and are proud of their course. Inside the clubhouse, which has a thatched roof, the walls are adorned with prints, photos and original Colt plans of the course. There is also an extensive golf library from which members can borrow any of the books.
But the most intriguing part of Kennemer’s past doesn’t lie in photographs or books. Throughout the course lie approximately 120 bunkers, the kind used to protect people, not penalize them. Near the end of World War II, German soldiers built fortifications into the course under the mistaken impression that the Allied invasion of Europe would occur in Holland and not in Normandy, France, hundreds of miles to the southwest.
Most of these structures are now buried under sand and long grass and look like natural dunes. But a few remain intact, including one that serves as the office and locker room for the superintendent and his staff.
Although the German army dug up much of the course to build their bunkers, Colt’s plans and his extensive writings detailing the layout allowed the club to rebuild the layout very closely to the original design.
Should the course, one of Colt’s best works, be in need of any restoration in the future, Kennemer can always rely on its impressive written history with one of golf architecture’s masters of the Golden Age.
One of the best courses in continental Europe, this 27-hole layout near the North Sea proves that the British Isles don’t hold a monopoly on great links golf
By: Anthony Pioppi