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Women's Golf Returns From France/ Belgium

 The Harvard women’s golf team recently took a 10-day trip to Belgium and France thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Harvard Golf. Below is a day-by-day summary of the team’s trip.

Day 1, May 28, 2010; Brussels / Travel (Sarah Harvey ‘10)

Our international golf trip began around 7:00 p.m. Thursday evening, as the two freshly-graduated team members—captain emeritus Claire Sheldon and fellow-2010er Sarah Harvey—ventured to Logan Airport with the team's newly appointed captain Mia Kabasakalis in tow. Coach Kevin Rhoads and Director of Golf Fred Schernecker met the girls there, and the five soon checked into their overnight flight to Brussels, Belgium with a connecting flight in London, UK. 

Fueled purely by the adrenaline generated by the promise of hearing sophisticated-sounding European accents, the jet-lagged group hopped off their plane in Brussels and were met by rising junior Christine "X-tine" Cho. We connected with Kevin’s friend Mimouch de Broux who would serve as the team's delightful hostess for the first four days. Mary Jane, our tour guide for the historical cities of Belgium, joined us as well.  

After a quick stop at our hotel to pick up Chloe "the Frenchie" Altcheck '13, we hit the mean streets of Brussels, stopping at hot spots around town yet looking very obviously American in Harvard attire. Everyone was impressed by the beauty and history of the city including palaces, cathedrals, plazas and markets. Especially impressive was the beautifully historic town hall. 

After taking in some sights and learning an impressive amount about Belgian history and politics, we returned to the hotel to unpack and clean ourselves up a bit before heading out for a delicious dinner with our host family. Mimouche and her husband Raymond arrived at the hotel to whisk us off to a local restaurant, where we met their equally gregarious children Christophe and Stephanie. 

Making personal connections in new places enriches the experience and we can’t thank the de Broux family enough for all of their help and friendship during our tour. They made Belgium special for all of us. 

After consuming what must be considered the greatest lasagna known to mankind (or at least to the Harvard women's golf team) and various other Belgian dishes, the team returned to the Montgomery Hotel. Already a little disoriented by the long flights, our internal clocks were even more challenged by the daylight that lasted past ten o’clock. Well fed and happy but weary it was time to end the day to rest and re-energize. We happily and immediately fell asleep.

Day 2, May 29, 2010; Brussels / Ravenstein (Christine Cho ’12)

On Saturday, the team traveled via the efficient Brussels train system to the Atomium, a national landmark of Belgium that was built for the Expo of 1958. The Atomium is one of the last vestiges of that Expo. Climbing to the top of the unusual structure provided a breathtaking view of Brussels and the surrounding countryside. The Atomium featured a variety of exhibits on Belgium’s culture and history. 

After exploring the atom-structured landmark, the team prepared to play the Royal Golf Club of Belgium, also known as Ravenstein. Often recognized as the best golf course in Belgium, the team had the privilege to play there thanks to the de Broux family. As members of the club, Mimouche and Raymond helped coordinate a friendly match for the day with members of the Ravenstein golf club. The match was titled Belgium vs. America and played in four balls.

Before the match, however, Fred and Christine encountered some minor logistical issues that had to be resolved. Due to a European golf tradition requiring men to wear knee socks when wearing shorts, Fred had to adjust his attire to be able to play. Christine was in need of a set of golf clubs due to a delay in her luggage arrival. Once again, the de Broux family was there to enhance the experience. Mimouche presented Fred with a pair of brilliant, cobalt blue-colored, knee socks and provided Christine with a temporary set of clubs. The knee socks proved to be a highlight of the day and multiple pictures were taken in commemoration.

Ready to play, the pair set off in the first match of the day against Ravenstein secretary Charles Marien and American-turned-Belgian Kevin Rhoads due to a shortage of players. The duo managed to win their match over the Belgians 2 and 1.  However, the first group’s victory would prove to be unrepresentative of the match overall.  Despite strong rounds by players Claire Sheldon and Mia Kabasakalis, the Harvard team faced impressive competition from the Belgians. Steven, a17-year-old club member, fired six birdies and an eagle during his play.  Harvard ended up losing the match but nevertheless had an enjoyable and memorable time playing on the beautiful course with its members. The team ended their day with a gathering at the de Broux family’s house and a delicious homemade meal of chicken curry.  

Noteworthy was Kevin’s skill as speaking in extraordinarily slow, partial sentences that were understood by all. Fred didn’t quite pick up on that talent—Mimouche gave up on him. Chloe was our intrepid interpreter.

Day 3, May 30, 2010, Ghent and Brugge: (Claire Sheldon ’10)

During our third day in Belgium (Sunday), we departed from Brussels on our way to Zoute, stopping in Ghent and Brugge for a day of sightseeing. Though cold and somewhat rainy at the start of our day, the weather steadily improved so that we finished the day under clear blue skies when we arrived in Zoute. But still, Ghent looked purely medieval when we arrived—dark skies hanging over gothic cathedrals. Here, we spent the first part of the day wandering streets lined with buildings dating back to as early as 900 and learning about the city’s history from our tour guide, Mary Jane.

We loaded back onto the bus for a quick drive to Brugge—sometimes called “The Venice of the North” because of the canals running through the city. As a resident of Brugge, Mary Jane was a particularly valuable resource during this portion of our trip. As we entered the city, she told us of the Begiunes, who are sisters of the Roman Catholic Church and live just inside the city walls. The Béguinage of Brugge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as is the historic city center. As we walked toward the city center, we stopped for lunch and admired the many shops (particularly the chocolate and waffle shops) that lined the cobblestone streets. We had heard that Brugge featured some of the best chocolate and waffles, and we were determined to try both before the end of our day.

We spent the next few hours admiring the ancient city. I particularly enjoyed seeing Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture inside the Church of Our Lady. This sculpture is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s famous Pieta and was the only sculpture of Michelangelo’s to leave Italy during his lifetime. 

After seeing the historic city center, we stopped to buy some chocolate from a local vendor, and shared a true Belgium waffle. 

We drove to Zoute—a seaside port and resort town—and checked into our hotel before dinner near the beach. We ended the day watching Saving Private Ryan in preparation for our trip to Normandy. 

Day 4, May 31, 2010; Zoute (Mia Kabasakalis ’11)

Kevin’s friends—Mimouche and Raymond—continued their generosity and thoughtfulness. They arranged a wonderful day for us. We were greeted early Tuesday morning by three Belgian golfers—Alex, Nicholas and Max. They shuttled us to nearby Royal Zoute and spent the day with us on one of the best golf courses in Belgium. 

Upon arriving at the golf course, we were welcomed by several other members who accompanied us in a spirited and friendly match. The group was divided into four foursomes, split among the Belgians and Americans. Chloe and Claire played with Max and Antoin. Sarah played with Ann and Jean. Mia and Christine played with Alex and Oliver. Fred and Kevin played with Lulu and Veroniq. Everyone was eager to play the beautiful course and enjoy the company of their playing partners. Meanwhile, Mimouche and Emily (assistant professional at Ravenstein) were kind enough to pick up Jane from the airport and drive nearly two hours to Zoute.

Our hosts proved worthy competitors as the Belgians beat the Harvard teams in two of four matches and tied one other match. 

Zoute’s President –Leopold—was a truly gracious host for the day. We could not have felt more welcome and we appreciated all of his efforts as well as those of our many new friends. Mimouche made the many logistical challenges look effortless and showed us a fabulous day.

After the round, we enjoyed drinks and lunch outside the beautiful club house. After lunch, several team members, exhausted from the day's matches, decided to take naps while Chloe, Jane, Christine and Kevin ventured into town to try the famous Zoute Belgian waffles, in which they were not disappointed.

Day 5, June 1, 2010; Le Toquet (Chloe Altchek ’13)

After a restful night at the Adagio Hotel, we woke up at six to get on the road. The arranged breakfast didn’t appear which dampened the mood as we waited for the bus half-asleep and hungry. While we were waiting, a delivery man dropped a crate of warm croissants on the front desk intended for the breakfast we were missing. The bus arrived a few seconds later. We each grabbed a croissant, quickly loaded the bags and fled the scene (stolen goods in hand). 

Our travels were to take us down the coast into France. During our three-hour bus ride some watched The Longest Day in preparation for our visit to Normandy, some slept, and some beat Fred in scrabble. On the way to Omaha Beach—our ultimate destination that day—we stopped off to play golf at the La Mer course of Le Touquet. 

It was a bit overcast and chilly with moments of rain and moments of sun. Regardless, we had a lot of fun playing the links style golf course. Ironically, though we could smell and feel the affects of the North Sea, it could not be seen from "la Mer" (the sea).   The course played like a Scottish links-style course routing in and amongst sand dunes on links-type land. 

(EDITOR: It seems that Chloe forgot to mention the results of her match—Chloe & Mia played Fred and Jane. In the face of 2 down with 5 holes to play, Jane and Fred (mostly Jane) mounted a furious charge. Chloe and Mia showed their strength and resolve by carrying the golf bags to the bus at the end of the round.)

All very hungry, we stopped at a decidedly un-French location—Buffalo Bills—for a quick lunch before our three-hour ride to Omaha Beach. When we arrived at the Omaha Beach hotel, we ate a tasty dinner at their brasserie, watched The Count of Monte Cristo and slept soundly after the movie's satisfying ending.

Day 6, June 2, 2010; Omaha Beach / Normandy (Jane Lee ’12)

Wednesday’s itinerary was highly anticipated as it was the day we would be visiting historical D-Day sites in Normandy.  Appropriately, our tour was sandwiched between Memorial Day and June 6th. We had prepared by reading the book The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan and by watching movies and shows depicting the Normandy invasion—Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers during the evenings.

Our tour guide, Olivier, came to meet us at the hotel. As our driver Hicham navigated the bus through the beautiful hedge-rowed countryside, Olivier began to relate the history of the first site we were going to visit—Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc is a rocky peninsula of land surrounded by high cliffs where the Allies believed the Germans were keeping guns powerful enough to reach Omaha Beach to the east and Utah Beach to the west. In order to destroy these guns, the Allies sent 225 US Army Rangers to scale the 100-foot cliffs and secure the German garrison. Without the arrival of planned reinforcements, only ninety soldiers were left after the two days of fighting to defend the point.

In first-hand accounts of the Ranger mission, Pointe du Hoc is often described as looking like the lunar surface as the result of bombings. When we visited we could see why. Even sixty-six years later, the landscape of the isolated point is pockmarked with deep craters and strewn with concrete rubble from the fighting. We explored inside the German bunkers protected by six-foot thick concrete that have survived to this day and walked along the edge of the cliff.

After Pointe du Hoc, we made our way to Omaha Beach to see perhaps the most famous site of the Normandy invasion. In movies, the fighting is often portrayed in close-ups with soldiers, equipment, and chaos filling the screen. But when we first arrived at the site, many of us were struck by the immensity and the emptiness of the beach. Seeing the contrast between the beach in its natural state and the beach during the D-Day invasion as portrayed in films and pictures was a powerful and moving experience.

The third site we visited was the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. We went to the museum to learn more about the invasion and the cemetery itself. When later asked what they found most moving about the American Cemetery, many team members commented on the way that the visitor center focused on individual soldiers’ stories in addition to painting a general picture of the historical context. It was good preparation for seeing the cemetery itself. Yet when we walked through the trees to face an endless stretch of white marble grave markers, I don’t think any of us anticipated the air of reverence and solemnity that seemed to permeate the entire site. Here again, we were able to clearly see the individual sacrifices in each of the markers we read. But when looking at the rows from afar, we were also able to see the enormity of the loss at Normandy as a whole.

It was early afternoon by the time we finished our tour. Even in such a short span of time, everyone learned so much. A huge part of what made the experience so meaningful was Olivier’s excellent commentary and guidance, as well as the preparation Fred asked us to do beforehand. I don’t think any of us would have gotten so much out of visiting these sites if it hadn’t been for these two things, which actively engaged us in one of the most important events of World War Two.

Later that afternoon, the team made its way to the old Norman town of Bayeux to experience history of a more ancient flavor. We first lunched outside at a restaurant called the Reine Mathilde and also stopped at a local candy shop before heading to the nearby Bayeux Cathedral. It is an impressive structure due to its Romanesque spires and beautiful stain glass windows; and also impressive for its age—it is almost 1000 years old! After the cathedral, we made our way down the street to see the Tapestry of Bayeux, which is what the town is perhaps most famous for. It is a seventy-meter-long embroidered linen banner that depicts the story surrounding William the Conqueror in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The tapestry is displayed in a U-shaped room. Each of us had an audio device that narrated the story for us as we walked along the tape! stry. It was a fascinating object to see up close and with an equally fascinating history.

After an excellent day of learning and sightseeing, the team capped off the evening with a delicious dinner at a small restaurant called L’ecailler in a seaside town near the hotel. It was one of the most memorable and meaningful days of the trip, and I am so glad I was able to experience it with the team! Thank you to everyone who made it (and every other day on the trip) possible! 

Day 7, June 3, 2010, St Nom La Breteche (Sarah Harvey ‘10)

The team rose early to meet their chartered bus at the entrance of their hotel following a quick breakfast. The drive from Normandy proved to be a great time, as the girls (with Kevin and Fred in tow) enjoyed views of the French countryside, various gaming opportunities on Fred's iPad, and the splendor of additional rest on their way to St. Nom. Eventually the group arrived at their highly-anticipated destination, greeted by the beautiful array of flowers and gardens surrounding the golf course at St. Nom.  

After storing their luggage in the locker room, the girls had the pleasure of meeting Sol de Swann and his beautiful wife Michelle--whose accessories and outfit were openly admired by each female in the pack (Sol and Michelle’s son played golf at Yale). The hosting pair lunched with the team before sending the two foursomes off the first tee.

The teams for the day pitted Mia "The Meeptator" Kabasakalis, Sarah "The Harvmeister" Harvey, Coach Kevin Rhoads and Chloe "The Frenchie" Altcheck against Fred (the giant) Schernecker, Christine "It's X-time" Cho, Janie "One Putt" Lee, and Claire "The Bear" Sheldon. While team 1 managed an under-par front nine, they suffered epic losses on the back nine (in great part due to an unfortunately-timed slice-fest from both "The Harvmeister" and her teammate and longtime friend "The Meeptator." Thus, the mediocre showing from team 2 on both the front and back nines of the beautiful course managed a tie between the second team and the obviously superior team 1.

After completing their rounds and taking countless photographs of the course's stable, picturesque bridge and along the flowered paths of the St. Nom courtyard, the team gathered their belongs and boarded their second bus of the day, heading to their final destination: Paris.

On the way, a quick ten minutes from St Nom, we stopped at the Palace of Versailles. We were all awestruck by the grandeur and scale of the palace and its grounds. It was a splendid, sunny afternoon and several team members considered a quick swim in the reflecting pools.

Upon arrival in Paris during the final rounds of the French Open, the group quickly unpacked and prepared for a fun meal with some of Kevin's friends. Two of Kevin’s friends are professional golfers and they were competing at Euro Disney in an event; and the third, Adrian Lacoste, is a golf enthusiast and Harvard women's golf supporter. The meal even included the French delicacy of escargot, much to the delight of "The Meeptator" and much to the chagrin of Christine "X-tine" Cho, who had a rather difficult time removing the snail from its shell (chaos, and a buttery mess, ensued). The group followed their feast with a walk around Paris and some gelato, after which the friends parted and the girls walked safely back to The Muguet Hotel.

Day 8, June 4, 2010, Chantilly (Claire Sheldon ’10)

Our streak of perfect weather in Paris continued throughout Friday as we went to Chantilly to play our final round of golf during the trip. Instead of eating breakfast in the hotel like we had most other mornings, we walked down the street to a small patisserie for fresh baked croissants. The team agreed—these were the best croissants we’d ever had. As we drove out of the city to Chantilly we passed fields filled with beautiful poppy flowers and an amazing castle near the club.

Chantilly is said to be one of the top golf courses in continental Europe. After our experience there, I think we would all heartily support that statement. We played a double-best-ball match between our two groups: Kevin, Jane, and Christine against Fred, Mia, Sarah, and me. My team struggled, a result of the challenging golf course with firm greens, tall fescue rough and well-placed hazards. We also expended more energy reminiscing about our final round and the four years leading up to it than our swings. We thought (and hoped) that the other team might also be struggling to play well on the demanding course, but this was far from reality. Christine shot a 2-under 69 that included 6 or 7 birdies, and Jane and Kevin each shot 71.

After the round we were welcomed warmly by the President of Chantilly and shared a quick drink on the terrace with him before beginning the drive back into the city.

We learned on the trip that Chantilly is the French word for cream—an appropriate name for the course. It was the cream of the crop and also a wonderful topping to the trip.

The Friday evening traffic made our drive especially slow, but luckily we had Scrabble on Fred’s iPad to keep us well entertained. The two-and-a-half hour drive completed, we quickly showered and got ready for dinner and a little sight-seeing in Paris.

Incoming freshman Fritzi Reuter traveled from her hometown of Stuttgart, Germany to join us for the night and following day. Together, we all went to The Arc de Triomphe and climbed to the top of the 160ft war memorial monument for an incredible view of the city. We then had dinner nearby and returned to the hotel, exhausted from a very long day.

Day 9, June 5, 2010; Paris (Mia Kabasaklis ’11)

We woke early Saturday morning, excited to begin our day of sight-seeing in Paris. Unfortunately, Christine awoke with food poisoning and had to spend the day in bed. Thinking of our teammate and vowing to take extra pictures, we left the hotel for their first stop—a Parisien cafe around the corner from the hotel for coffee and croissants.

With stomachs full, we walked to Musee Rodin, a Rodin sculpture garden and museum highlighted by The Thinker and Hell’s Gate. The museum was absolutely beautiful, filled with stunning roses everywhere that smelled even better than they looked.

The next stop was the Musee de l'Orangerie, a museum that houses Impressionist art. While filled with large collections of Cezanne, Picasso and Renoir (among many others) the most impressive pieces were the paintings of water lilies by Monet. Upon entering the museum, visitors are immediately awed by Monet’s paintings that fill two large oval rooms. Each room contains four panels that surround the room. The viewer is situated in the middle, with an impression of being immersed in water that is simply breathtaking.

After the l'Orangerie, the group traveled to Notre Dame, an incredible piece of architecture that Claire said was her favorite of the entire trip and brought meaning to her studies of architecture at Harvard. For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant near Notre Dame—the meal was very good (Paris definitely did not disappoint in the food department!) Kevin, Sarah and Mia made the mistake of ordering chocolate milkshakes that didn't quite taste as they should. 

After lunch, we spent the afternoon wandering in District 6 and shopping. We returned to the 6th district for dinner, upon the recommendation of Mia's Parisien friend, Elsa. The restaurant, Chez Fernand, was a huge hit and everyone agreed it was the best meal of the trip.

It was a bittersweet night as it was the last dinner everyone would have together—not just on the trip, but also with the seniors. The next morning, Jane and Christine left for LA and Claire, Mia, Fred and Kevin flew back to Boston. Sarah was to remain in Paris for an extra few days. We were sad to leave after having such an incredible time. Everyone remarked about how they had never spent such quality time together—there was no school to worry about, they were just able to play golf, immerse themselves in the culture and enjoy each other’s company.

We agreed it was the trip of a lifetime. We are so thankful to our Friends for helping us make this trip and the experiences possible—we could not have done it without you!