Golf was first played at Knocke-sur Mer at the turn of the century in 1899. Originally an off-shoot of the Bruges Golf and Sports club, it continued under the management of that club until 1909, when the two clubs agreed to separate and it became the ‘Knocke Golf Club‘.
The Knocke Golf links originally consisted of 18 holes and were considered, at that time, to be excellent laid out and remarquably variable.
From the very beginning the British influence has been prominent and since 1909 all the captains have come from across the Channel. The first captain, in 1909, was Capt. F.T. Bacon.
The ‘Compagnie Het Zoute‘ continued to invest and in 1909 built the Clubhouse on the Binnenhof, on the highest dune, so that it had a sea vista.
The English players nicknamed the villa ‘monkey house’ because of the climb to reach it. The villa remains to this day – close to the back tee of the 15th (championship course) – and is now known as ‘Dennenhul‘ (pine hill).
Play was suspended during the first World War, as the Germans used the course as a military field and bunkers and 280mm guns were installed for the defence of Zeebrugge and the Scheldt Estuary.
When it had been in existence for over 25 years, His Majesty the King, through the good offices of the then president, Sir Maurice Lippens, graciously allowed the club to assume the title of Royal in 1925. After the Second World War, an Englishman, Lieutenant Colonel Allen, drew up plans for two links courses which became the existing par 72 Championship Course and the par 64 Executive Course.
Many distinguished players have played at le Zoute, amongst them Henry Cotton, Arnold Palmer and General Haig. Additionally, the club has several times been honoured by visits from the Royal Family – King Leopold and King Boudouin.
First Pro : Charles Warren
By 1903 the club had become sufficiently important to provide work for professionals. Charles Warren, back from the Boer War, arrived in Knokke. He took the maintenance of the terrain upon himself as well as teaching the game and the making, the selling and repairing of clubs.
He married Valentine Stocks in 1905, nicknamed “Falle”, his caddy. She bore him four children. They served tea and cake to the players. Warren was absent from Knokke on more than one occasion when he was called up by the army and when he assisted in the laying out of Welen and Hainaut courses in Erbisoeul.
Two of his fondest memories were when he won the Belgian Open in 1912 and when he spent a month in the company of Duke and Duchess of York in 1928. They were drawn by the charm of the bathing spot.
Architect : Harry Colt
The course at the Brabantse Panne
The two important factors determining the quality of a course are the site and the design.
The chosen site bore the name “de Brabantse Panne“, and was situated between the “Binnenhof” in the north-west, the “Magere Schorre” in the south and the “Blinckaert” dunes in the east.
The contractor was Harris and he was English, likewise the company that supplied the grass seed for the greens: Sutton and Son. In 1907 the Lippens family chose the most illustrious
architect of that time : Harry Colt, an English advocate who had already built up a reputation for building the Rye links on the coast of Sussex. He was the secretary in Suningdale, and became a designer of golf courses. He designed Suningdale New Course and the two Wentworth courses, three gems. Colt was also invited by St. Andrews to design Eden Course, which he did.
His fame stretched across the sea – in addition to the 18 holes at Portrush that he reworked, he also created some masterpieces on the continent. He began with Zoute (1907) and thereafter le Touquet (la Forêt, 1908). In 1913, he realised the course of St. Cloud. Colt was an outstanding player – he was semi-finalist in the British Amateur in 1906 – and was also responsible for the design of the Royal Waterloo Golf Club in 1923 in collaboration with Charles Hughes Alison. (The Legend of Le Zoute through 100 Years of Golf).