Golf clubs, golf shoes, passport! Well, not quite, but playing on a golf course that spans two countries must be quite an exciting and unusual experience. It would certainly spice up the usual after dinner golf stories. Imagine – 'I was two down with two to play in the Netherlands, drove straight down the fairway and the ball landed in Belgium!' How far must that drive have gone? Every golfer's dream! At Maastricht International Golf, a 27 hole complex due to open in 2007, golfers will be able to fulfil that dream. The project has been many years on the drawing board due to the complexities of gaining planning permission for a course that straddles the frontier between the Netherlands and Belgium.
The course forms part of a huge 103 million euro development.With housing along the fairways; a hotel on top of the hill, overlooking a wonderful section of the golf course; apartments in a castle at the highest point around Maastricht, this is a project with challenges that still excite the most experienced of golf course architects.
There will be an 18 hole golf course, a 9 hole compact course, along with a feature state-of-the-art driving range on three levels with 60 bays. The fascinating point of interest with Maastricht International Golf is that 13 holes are in The Netherlands with half the driving range and five holes in Belgium along with the other half of the driving range. You will play holes 1-7 in The Netherlands, into Belgium for holes 8-12 before reentering The Netherlands with passport duly stamped to complete this unusual round of golf.
The site is locally known as De Dousberg, or The Mountain, standing at a heady elevation of 91 metres above sea level, pretty high for The Netherlands.
With its Limburg landscape character it is unique in the surrounding landscapes as it contains rolling contours not dissimilar to a traditional English setting. As part of the design research, I went with Dimitri van Hauwaert of Diamond Golf Architects, my co-designer, to Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire and Castle Howard in North Yorkshire to look at the landscape characteristics before embarking on the earthworks and landscaping proposals.
There are many complexities to this extraordinary site with numerous public footpaths, historically used by the Romans, a significant archaeological site, badgers, Heze worms and other important species, and the Heze Water, a ditch between the Netherlands and Belgium which we have to reinstate despite it running uphill! There is also a large soak away area between two fairways taking the run-off from a nearby housing development which we are not allowed to alter, a groundwater level about 30 metres below the surface, a ski slope to be accommodated, a public swimming pool to protect and shield from golfers, and an area of landfill over which we are not able to carry out any earthworks.
Site earthworks had to be created with a balance of cut and fill which was carefully worked out prior to breaking earth with – you guessed it – different regulations for the amounts and depths/heights of excavation and filling in both Belgium and the Netherlands.
The work has been carried out over several years, beginning in 2002, although the original plans for the development of a golf course on the site were laid fifteen years ago. A flexible design style that permits the site to play a large part in dictating the characteristics of the course is essential when designing a complex course like Maastricht where the topography, site constraints and landscape character have such a huge bearing upon what is ultimately produced.
But design creativity and flair must be balanced with practicality and budgetary constraints, so we agreed a fixed price with Dutch contractor Mourik – who is doing a great job, despite the difficulties of the site. Not to mention having to take instructions from a Scotsman and a Belgian! We think that Maastricht International Golf will become an extraordinary golf course for the Netherlands. And for both my and Dimitri's portfolios, it has double the advantages, as it can be entered twice under two countries – two for the price of one!