Frank Pont and Hendrik Hilgert of Infinite Variety Golf Design are approaching completion of a renovation of the Le Vallon course at Golf Club Hulencourt, near Brussels, Belgium.
“Frank and I were approached by representatives of Hulencourt in the middle of 2017,” said Hilgert. “They had become aware of our bunker restoration at Golf und Landclub Köln-Refrath – a former German Open venue designed by Dr Bernhard von Limburger in the 1950s.
“On our first site visit we were impressed with a few aspects of the golf course, in particular the lovely rolling terrain with beautiful long views and the excellent maintenance conditions,” said Hilgert.
“However, the bunkering was indeed a major weakness. So, we agreed with the club to make the bunkering more strategic, more beautiful and more interesting while at the same time reducing the total bunker area and maintenance cost.”
Infinite Variety also recommended the renovation of all green surrounds. “The greens themselves offer good variety and interest but the surrounds were a bit weak,” said Hilgert. “There were many symmetrical mounds around the greens, which meant that the game around the greens lacked challenge and interest.
“We advised the club that we should redesign all the green surrounds by removing the mounds and creating swales and hollows. As a result, we are effectively raising the greens without touching them and providing more challenge and variety for all shots around the greens.”
Three greens are being rebuilt. The fifth and twelfth are in new positions closer to lakes, bringing the water more into play. The eighteenth is being relocated to extend the length of the final hole.
“There is now quite a challenging finishing hole,” said Hilgert. “We have built a new back tee and rebuilt the green in a different position, turning this into a 470-yard par four that plays uphill and into the wind on many days. Also, we have put a bunker into the fairway which leaves a fairway width of 20 metres on the right and 15 metres on the left. When played conservatively, the player may elect to hit to the wider part of the fairway to the right of the bunker, however from there, the shot into the green is uphill into an elevated green that is well defended by an imposing bunker on the front-right. The bold long hitter will target the small piece of fairway to the left of the bunker. If you manage to position your ball in that area, the second shot becomes much easier as the angle and the view into the green is much better. It is now a very strategic finishing hole that is very visible from the clubhouse terrace because we raised it by 1.5 metres.
“We are rebuilding all tee areas with the objective to tie them into the landscape and to stagger them so that the back tees have the challenging line, while the forward tees have the easier angle,” said Hilgert. “Also, we are adding black tee boxes on many holes, which will extend the length of the course to almost 7,400 yards.”
Work on nine holes took place from May to September 2018 and reopened for play in May 2019. Construction on the remaining nine began in April 2019 and is expected to be completed in August and reopening in summer 2020. The club’s nine-hole short layout, Le Verger, is not part of this renovation project.
SBA Golf & Groen is handling construction and there are several shapers involved in the project, including Lowie Bussemakers from the Netherlands for fine shaping around greens. BunkerMat is being installed in all bunkers. Head greenkeeper Marc Thiebaut is managing the project for the golf club, with owner Patrick Solvay heavily involved.
“We feel that the course will not have any weak holes in the future,” said Hilgert. “The second has become both beautiful and challenging. The hole is now defended by three diagonal bunkers on the left side from front to back and the green is severely raised and has deep run-offs both on the right and in the back. In addition, there is a pond on the left which does not really come into play but adds beauty to the hole.
“Another highlight is the beautiful par-three fifth with the green defended by a big water hazard in front and green contours that are sloping towards the water and a steep slope from the front edge down into the water, so a front pin will surely provide some drama.
“The thirteenth is a 568-yard par five with a dogleg to the right,” continued Hilgert. “The view from the tee was quite lame due to a big mound in the dogleg corner, which blocked the view beyond the first half of the hole. We have moved the tees, taken away the large mound and cut some trees. The result is that from all tee boxes you now have a beautiful view of the entire hole including the green in the distance and a beautiful fairway that is rolling up and down through the landscape. Reaching the green in two will require two superb shots as the green is elevated, angled to the playing line and well defended by a big and highly visible bunker. Three strategically placed fairway bunkers add to the beauty and challenge of this hole.”
The layout is already considered a top 10 course in Belgium, but Hilgert sees potential for it to go much higher following the renovation. “The course will be visually much more exciting, and it will provide a much sterner challenge for the better players,” said Hilgert. “Members are already saying that they are enjoying the course even more than before.
“The club is absolutely committed to excellence in course quality. Whenever a decision has to be made, the club is always determined to go for the high-quality solution, even if this means additional time and cost for the construction process. For example, we are effectively sand capping all green surrounds by installing a 15-centimetre greens-mix layer in an area of roughly 1,000 metres square, hence the quality of the new green surrounds is outstanding and much better than it could be on any other course that is not situated on sandy soil.
“This is a project which we massively enjoy,” said Hilgert. “We have been given the opportunity to substantially improve this golf course, which has a sound routing but will benefit enormously in all other areas from the work that is being done. So far, a number of the classic Belgian courses were ranked ahead of Hulencourt, but in our mind the new Hulencourt will be a class act and stand its ground relative to the best courses in the country, providing challenge, fun and beauty from start to finish.”