Golf & Country Club De Palingbeek celebrates 20th anniversary
The initiative for starting a golf club in south-west Flanders originated in VERA, an association whose aim was to promote the economic development of the region. A golf course seemed a good way to enhance the region's recreational facilities.
A search for a suitable location began soon after. Following a good deal of prospecting work, the decision was taken to purchase the manor house and grounds (45 hectares) of the family COSSAERT in Hollebeke. An additional 27 hectares of farming land surrounding the estate was also purchased, bringing the total available area to 72 hectares. To gather the funds necessary to turn this ground into a golf course, a core group of 12 investors was sought and found, geographically distributed over the triangle Ieper (Ypres)- Kortrijk-Roeselare.
Everything was now ready to start the golf project. Golf architect Herbert BAKER was appointed to make the design. Discussions with various government agencies were started to obtain the necessary permits and permissions, including a change to the regional land use plan.
Construction of the course started in 1990. At the same time, steps were taken to convert the old manor house into a modern clubhouse. During the next two and a half years, an 18 holes course, a practice course (4 mini-holes), a driving range and a car-park were all realised. The 18 holes course opened for play on 1 July 1992.
In the 20 years since the club opened, much has changed. Not only has the natural beauty of the course developed, but under the visionary leadership of an inspired chairman, Willy DECEUNINCK, numerous improvement works have also been carried out.
In 1997 the practice facilities were extended for the first time, with the addition of a storage area for the members' golf equipment and a special training bay for the golf professionals.
In 1998 the club secretariat was likewise extended and a terrace was added to the back of the club house, offering spectacular views over the greens of holes 9 and 18.
In 2001 it was the turn of the clubhouse itself to get the renovation treatment. A second restaurant was added, with the same marvellous view over the closing hole. At the same time, the kitchens were extended and modernised, as was the gentlemen's changing room in the cellars beneath.
In 2003 the parking area was re-configured to make optimum use of the available space and the entire surface was re-laid with brick tiles. Out on the course (between 2003 and 2005), drainage was added to several holes where the wetness of the clay ground had been a problem.
In 2007 new workshop, garage and messing facilities were constructed for the green-keeping team, complete with an ultra-modern hangar for the club's well-equipped machine park.
In 2009, reshaping and revetting work was carried out to the green of the 8 th hole - the course's signature hole - and its adjoining lake was drained and dredged.
Last but not least, in 2011 the ladies' changing room was extended and modernised, and a new bar terrace was added to its roof. The ideal in place for a glass and a bite to eat in the summer, watching the players trying to cope with the challenge of the course's final hole!
3. HISTORIC SITE
The club stands on a historic site. During the Middle Ages the location was known the Devil's Castle, supposedly a lair for smugglers and bandits who plied their 'trade' with nearby France. By the 16th century, a fine renaissance style castle had been built on the same site, residence for the now more genteel Lords of Hollebeke. During the 18th century, this castle passed into the hands of a succession of French nobles, but it was subsequently destroyed during the wars which followed the French Revolution in 1789. In 1850 one Senator de Neckere, a member of the Belgian parliament, rebuilt the castle in a neo-renaissance style. His enjoyment of his new home was short lived: when he went bankrupt in 1875 it was purchased by the Mahieu family, rich industrialists in the textile sector, with factories just across the French border in nearby Armentieres (of 'mademoiselle' fame). Not content with de Neckere's handiwork, in 1901 the Mahieu's demolished the existing structure and replaced it with a magnificent white sandstone castle in the French style, surrounded by an equally magnificent park, complete with lakes, fountains and bridges.
During the First World War the front line ran through the castle park (which is now part of the golf course) for four long and violent years. The castle was first occupied by the British 2nd Cavalry Division, including a number of Indian units (most notably the 127th Baluchis), but was later captured by troops of the 2nd Bavarian (Beieren) Corps, in which one Adolf Hitler was later destined to serve. The Germans immediately christened the building 'das Bayernschloss' in honour of its captors, whereas the British referred to it by the more prosaic, descriptive name of 'White Chateau'. The castle changed hands no fewer than eight times in the four years that followed, in the course of which the once impressive building was transformed into a shattered ruin. This almost unrecognisable pile of bricks and stone was finally captured by the 47th (London) Division on the opening day of the Battle of Messines in June 1917.
And to prove that history does indeed repeat itself, the rebuilt mansion house was the scene of further fighting during the Second World War, when troops of the Royal Scots Fusiliers made a last-ditch stand during the Retreat to Dunkirk in 1940.
A number of sites on the course relating to these events are marked by special commemorative stones, which refer to an accompanying historical pamphlet. These include:
Hole 1: The last stone remnants (with plaque) of the Mahieu family castle, destroyed during the First World War.
Between holes 2 and 3: Christ's Tree. This tree, in the form of a cross, is believed to be the only survivor of the devastating First World War bombardments of the castle and its park. Nearby stands the wreck of a British bren-carrier, destroyed here in 1940.
Hole 9: The Ladies tee is built on top of a German underground bunker dating from 1915.
Hole 10. Alongside the left-hand side of the fairway stand the remains of another German bunker, the 'Bakofen' (Baker's Oven, a reference to its shape).
Hole 11: Near the roadside stands a memorial to the two sons of the Mahieu family who died in the service of the French army during the First World War, one as pilot, the other as an artillerist.
Hole 12: Just to the right of the green stands Oak Dump Cemetery, the last resting place of 109 British and 2 Australian soldiers from the Great War.
Hole 15: Near the hook of the dog-leg, a plaque marks the site of a still extant mine-shaft, driven by the Germans in 1915.
Hole 18: In the woods to the right of the fairway, there are the remains of a British observation post, now home to a colony of bats!
Our golf club has considerable ecological worth. The board of governors is very aware of the need to maintain the club and its surroundings in an ecologically-responsible and environmentally-friendly manner, with due respect for nature and for the specific regional characteristics which are to be found in and around the site.
The club has its own Environmental Committee, including external representatives from various local 'green' organisations, such as the City of Ieper, the Ieper Environmental Council and the Province of West Flanders. This committee keeps a watchful eye over the further natural development of the course, with particular reference to the bio-diversity of the roughs, lakes and woodland zones. Mowing regimes and pest-control policies are also carefully monitored. Major projects, such as the remodelling of tees or lakes, are discussed and agreed in advance. At the present time, the club is taking steps to acquire the Green Label for Golf and Sustainability awarded by the Flemish Golf Federation to clubs with a correct environmental focus. The club's green-keeper Mr. Krist CALMEYN - who is both a landscape architect and a nature guide - is closely involved in all these matters.
The total area of the course amounts to 72 hectares. This includes a central woodland area of 10 hectares, which contains a series of cascading lakes (a remnant of the old Mahieu chateau park). Because of its high ecological value, this zone is not currently open to the public.
Elsewhere on the course there are 2 man-made and 5 natural ponds and lakes, one of which guards the famous 18th green.
The course is also home to several locally rare species of fauna and flora. Particularly noteworthy in this respect are the different species of newt, which include the smooth, palmate and great-crested types. There are only five types of newt in Belgium, and a combination of three in a single site is something of a rarity. The sizeable population of the great-crested newt is of especial significance.
As far as butterflies are concerned, the club can boast the relatively rare Black Hairstreak butterfly, which lays its eggs exclusively on blackthorn bushes (of which the course has a plentiful supply!). The more common Orange Tip is another frequent visitor, attracted by cuckoo-flowers that are to be found in the many wild-flower zones that have been specially planted around the perimeter of the course.
Several of the plants on the course are also relatively rare in this part of Belgium; above all the spotted orchid, the bee orchid and the woodland horse's tail. The wooded areas on the course also offer a fine selection of less rare species, including the woodland hyacinth, which makes a stunning display during its flowering season in late spring.
Add to this an extensive range of wild mushrooms, a bird population with more than 70 different species and the afore-mentioned colony of bats, and you can see that the Palingbeek's boast of being an 'environmentally-friendly' club is no idle one!
5. FUTURE PLANS
Our club currently has 780 members, with a steady (if not spectacular) annual growth. If this trend continues, there are plans to extend the course with a further 9 holes in the years ahead. The necessary ground has already been purchased and the long and arduous task of obtaining all the necessary permits and permissions has begun.
Golf and Country Club 'De Palingbeek' is a pleasant, family-oriented, social golf club, with an active board of governors and a warm and friendly membership. To assist with the integration of new members, there is a Starters Club, which regularly welcomes 40 to 50 new 'beginners' each year.
The course itself is one of the most beautiful in Flanders, situated in an area of great historic interest and natural charm, with no fewer than 2,000 mature trees, 20,000 shrubs and 7 lakes. There is even a view of the famous 'Mount' Kemmel (up which the 'Grand Old Duke of York' is once supposed to have marched).
The club has an extensive competition calendar, and offers younger members a free babysitting service during weekend competitions.
Members who need to fine-tune their game have a choice of no fewer than 4 golf-professionals, under the expert leadership of Scot David PETRIE and his Compatible Golf Academy.
Members and guests who are less good on their legs than they once were can hire both one-seater and two-seater golf buggies. The use of pull-trolleys is free, as is the use of practice balls.
The golf shop, under the eagle eye of Chantal GASPARD, offers a small but high-quality range of clubs, clothing and accessories.
The same quality is also evident in the club's catering facilities, run by Emmanuel VAN PAEMEL and Charlotte DECEUNINCK. The club can boast two restaurants, a bar and two stunning outdoor terraces, with marvellous views over the greens of holes 9 and 18. The service is warm, friendly, and correct. Conference and meeting facilities are also available.
Golf and Country Club De Palingbeek is a flourishing club, where everyone who loves the game of golf is welcome. The green fee for visitors is reasonable, the course challenging but fair, and the welcome always hospitable. It is ideal for a sporting holiday or in combination with a visit to the nearby city of Ieper (Ypres) and the other historic 'art towns' of Flanders.