A special team of Golfweek’s Best course raters were on an 8-day trip through France in June 2018. Golfweek Rater Jonathan Cummings weighed in on the trip.
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Think of France and what first comes to mind? Playing golf, of course!
True, at least, for a group of lucky Golfweek raters who enjoyed the first ever rater panel outing to France.
Okay, okay, so there may have been one or two other “petites” attractions.
First stop, Bordeaux, and a few days at Golf du Medoc Resort in Louens. A wonderful countryside hotel and spa, Medoc boasts top-notch reviews for modern French resorts for both accommodations and recreations. The rave reviews are well deserved.
For most, the pressing question in Bordeaux is, “Red or white?” But for many of the Golfweek raters, the question was, “Coore or Whitman?” And, like the wine, you can’t go wrong with either.
The Chateaux course on the Medoc grounds is Bill Coore’s only European effort to date. Built in 1989, the course surveys a heathland setting with fairways wending through low-lying bramble and heather. It has large, rumpled greens, most with open entry points in front allowing an optional approach from the ground. Coore visually and tactically enhanced fairway turn points with raised bunkering just beyond tee ball landing areas.
Whitman’s Les Vignes, the second course on the Medoc grounds, is also well worth a round. With its pine-forest parkland setting and stern bunkering, Les Vignes demands straightness, especially off the tee, but it also rewards a risked shot or two.
After golf, the rater crew devoted evenings to exploring the many museums, cathedrals, 18th century architecture, and shopping areas of Bordeaux, along with sampling a few of the many wonderful restaurants that line the downtown streets.
Wine has been fermented in Bordeaux for approximately 2,100 years. The invading Romans brought vine buddings from Spain, planting them in the fertile Gironde estuary areas, producing wines mostly for their soldiers. Today, Roman remains can be found scattered throughout the Bordeaux region including in the ancient town of St. Emillion, the next stop on the rater tour.
Grand Saint-Emilionnais Golf Club, designed by Tom Doak, commands 252 acres of untouched scenic parkland. Located on an old family estate surrounded by vineyards, the setting is serene and post-card beautiful.
Kristel Mourgue D’Algue and her brother, Andre Mourgue D’Algue, owners of the course and vineyards, warmly greeted the visiting panelists then teed it up with them as well — quite the honor as Kristel once won an NCAA championship while studying in Arizona and Andre once battled to a half with Tiger Woods in amateur match play. The Mourgue D’Algue parents (both famed European golfers) and sister-in-law Phillipine, have combined over the years to win 80 professional, collegiate and amateur golf tournaments.
To say the least, golf is in the Mourgue D’Algue blood.
In Saint E, the panelists found a course with a wonderful collection of well-varied holes. They enjoyed a fine walk over a diverse tract featuring hills, valleys and creek crossings all over open and forested portions. The undulating greens were somewhat incongruous to the softer surrounding landforms as well as being quite slow, but like the wines of the region, the greens will mature with age.
After golf, the raters were treated to a tour of the 17th century Chateau Pichon Longueville vineyards where we were cultured in the intricate process of making wine.
We learned that almost all wines of Bordeaux are blended — no fertilizers are used anywhere in the process and harvesting is still done almost exclusively by hand. Roses that frame the vineyards are not just pretty faces, but act as a sort of “canary in the coal mine.” The roses react before the vines, forewarning of potential impending fungal diseases. It was also interesting to learn that weeds are water controlling agents and so are often encouraged between the vine rows. Also, there is an entire industry in producing French oak for the barrels. Our tastings at the tour’s end were obligatory parts of the required learning….
Au revoir Bordeaux. Bonjour Paris.
After a quick high-speed train ride, we were delivered to The Hotel Bedford, our inn for the next four days. The Bedford is one of many upscale boutique hotels in the charming Madeleine quarter. Family-owned since the mid-18th century, the hotel once housed occupying German officers during World War II. Centrally located just north of the Seine and the Place de la Concorde, the wide-eyed raters found themselves within easy walking distance of many of the downtown Paris attractions. For those who had had enough walking, there were dozens of nearby intimate open cafes, all with chairs facing the street.
But then, back to work for the raters. On the evaluation docket the next few days were a pair of fine Tom Simpson designs in the Paris area – Chantilly Old and Fountainbleau. Each is characterized with wonderful green complexes boasting tight flashed bunkering and well-contoured greens. Both are parkland courses, although Chantilly opens in a few places where each of Fontainebleau’s holes is surrounded by dense forest. Many of Chantilly’s fairways are lined with tall thick hay that can be confounding if you veer a bit. The twelfth at Fountainleau, a short par 5, is particularly memorable with its twin crossing bunker rows and exposed rock fields fronting the green.
It is interesting to note that Simpson, a Renaissance man, involved himself not only in golf but other artistic pursuits including needlepoint. He was a collector as well, amassing over a lifetime an impressive collection of Persian rugs, wines, cigars and even walking sticks. Wonderful old Simpson photos adorned the walls of both clubhouses.
Evening in Paris is devoted, of course, to FOOD!
Back to The Bedford, the raters soon dispersed to sample some of the many wonderful restaurants of the Opera, Invalides and Latin Quarters.
Hors d’oeuvres of foie gras and garlic butter mussels seemed to lead off every menu. Light entrees and main courses included oysters, smoked sabayon, truffles in artichoke soup, brioche, vichyssoise, marinated duck, succulent lamb and veal dishes and various fish prepared like you’ve never seen. And desserts… ooh la la!
Our final French golfing morning took us to the southern part of Paris and Le Golf National – Albatross, home of the 2018 Ryder Cup. The French Open was slated to be played at Albatross in a few weeks, so the course was about as stern as it could get. It demanded many forced carries to tight quick greens, often closely protected by penal flashed bunkers and primary rough so thick and deep that you could lose a ball just feet from the fairway. And if you strayed further into the really deep rough…mon Dieu!
Raters jokingly referred to the course as the TPC Versailles.
A final delightful evening enjoying the tastes and sights of Paris and the raters reluctantly packed up for the trip home.
The old French adage comes to mind; “mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup.” To which the Golfweek raters added, “profiter du golf.” Or,
Eat well, laugh often, love abundantly and …. enjoy golf. We certainly did.