Recently, the European Tour announced that France had been awarded the 2018 Ryder Cup. It’s a big deal. The Ryder Cup is televised in over 200 countries and pumps millions of dollars into the local economy. It’s also expected to kick start a whole new generation of French golfers and courses. (As part of the agreement, the French Golf Federation has promised to build 100 urban- based short courses and raise membership from the current 400,000 to 700,000 golfers.)
The Ryder Cup will be played at Le Golf National outside of Paris, a frequent site of the French Open. Le Golf National is home to two eighteens and a nine hole loop and it is the L’Albatros layout that will host the Cup. It is an inland links style course that is heavy on the mounds and carries over the water. (green fee is €80) What sets it apart and golf in general throughout France is what I like to call the Ooh-la-la factor. Le Golf National is just around the corner from the stunning Palace of Versailles and just 30 kilometers from the Arc de Triomphe. In France, golf is always close to something spectacular.
For history and architecture, try one of the country’s chateau and golf experiences. There are about 20 sprinkled across France and include places like Chateau des Vigiers in the Perigord in the southwest corner of the country. It features a handsome four star hotel with a history that stretches back to the 16th century, plus a Donald Steel designed course that weaves between the Chateau’s lush orchards and plum trees.
For sheer beauty, check out Golf de Sperone which tickles the very edge of the rocks on the southern end of Corsica. Just a wedge shot away from the cliff top, medieval town of Bonifacio, much of the back nine plays directly above the sea, peering out to the languid Mediterranean and the Italian island of Sardinia.
The north of France has been home to good golf for over a century. One of the best is the Granville Golf Club in which this year is celebrating its 100th birthday. Snaking along the edge of the sea, overlooking the historic Bay of Mont St. Michel, the club’s links layout was designed by the British architectural team of Colt & Alison. A few of the holes might look familiar to golfers from Southern Ontario. Harry Colt also designed such classics as Toronto Golf Club and Hamilton Golf and Country Club, home of this year’s RBC Canadian Open.
Another Normandy course to watch for is the Omaha Beach Golf Club, which rises up above the English Channel and the Port en Bressin. The club is home to two courses, both just a couple of kilometers from the famous D-Day landing beaches.
My favourite place to play in France is in the Riviera, especially in and around the ancient villages which cling to the arid hills above Cannes and Nice, all connected by hairpin roads first built by the Romans. The town of Grasse is especially intoxicating. It is the world’s perfume capital and the place where Chanel 5 was first concocted and where the major scent houses offer public tours. The outskirts of the village are blanketed in fields of roses and lavender and the sweet essence sweeps out across the valley. I teed it up at the St. Donat Golf Club which is tucked just a couple kilometers south of Grasse. It is a 16 year old, Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that rolls past the pines, a fast flowing river and a couple of man-made ponds. What makes the place though is the setting. St. Donat zigzags up and down a bowl and the horizon is dotted with stone homes that date back to Napoleon’s regime. An 18th century church is tucked among a small stand of trees behind the 10th tee. (green fee is €78)
Other good courses in the area are Roquebrune, Beauvallon and Royal Mougins – if you’re feeling flush, cap off the day off with dinner at Moulin de Mougins, one of the country’s top restaurants or try its less formal sister restaurant l’Amandier, both of which are perched at the top of the village of Mougins.)
After the golf, I headed down to the coast and Antibes to the Picasso Museum, housed above the Mediterranean in the Chateau Grimaldi. In 1946, the 65 year old Picasso was newly in love with Francoise Gilot, a painter 40 years his junior. Working out of the Chateau, Picasso launched into a ferocious binge of creativity, creating 25 paintings, sketches and drawings, all of which he left to the Antibes museum. In 1948, the Riviera’s other art icon, Henri Matisse travelled from his hill village home in Vence to see Picasso’s new paintings. He took particular interest in `The Reclining Woman’. “I understand what you’ve done with her head but not what you’ve done with her bottom,” said Matisse to Picasso. Ooh la-la indeed.
For more information about golf and France, go to www.Franceguide.com.
By: Ian Cruickshank