What we say
In pristine condition and carved out of thick woodland, this is a heady mix of picturesque English heathland design with a twist of American flair with more flamboyant bunkering and threatening water hazards. From the moment you turn into the long, straight, two-mile drive, and enter the ancient forest at Les Bordes, the hustle and bustle of real life evaporates. You enter a world which many of us thought only existed in fairy tales.
In the heart of the Loire valley, less than two hours south of Paris, Baron Bich (of Bic biro fame) used to hunt red deer and wild boar on this estate.
Now, it is a place of extraordinary tranquillity, where songbirds and wind rustling in the trees are the only noises, where the immaculate conditioning of the course takes your breath away, and where the service and attention to detail leave a permanent pitch-mark on the memory.
Seventy full-time staff currently work at Les Bordes; this despite the fact that when I played the course, I was the only golfer there. They have 27 full-time green staff who, on the morning I played, were preparing the course just for me. Not even Augusta National can offer such service.
They fly the flag of anyone in residence on one of the many flagpoles, so I had a Scottish Saltire waving proudly in the wind as my car was parked. Though they have flags for most countries in the world now, there was recently a mad rush to a flag shop near Paris, when a guest from Madagascar arrived!
Les Bordes was sold in early 2008 to a small group of mainly English investors. The syndicate is headed by property developer, Tony Jimenez (‘Mr Fixit’ at Newcastle United for a while) and the investors are in the middle of spending about £15million on the course; bringing it back much closer to the Baron’s original vision of being “the Augusta National of Europe”. The course was originally built in 1986 by Texan architect Robert von Hagge. Prolific all over the world, it remains von Hagge’s piece de resistance.
The previous owners, a Japanese company, were determined to get bodies through the gates prior to selling, and so a couple of years ago you could actually pay a green fee and tee it up on the course. Though this was great for those who visited, the exclusivity tag was lost and the conditioning suffered. More to the point, the whole nature of the course had to be modified. Many of the bunkers were filled in and the rough was cut back because the original design was never built to accommodate loads of traffic. As a result the course became much more playable, but at the same time lost some of its aura. The good news is that the aura is returning in spades.
The course has received little investment in the last decade, but that is now changing. The railway sleepers (or “berlinoises”) are all currently being replaced, a massive investment which involves draining all the lakes. The rough has been grown again and the bunkers re-filled. Heather and gorse has been replanted in some of the waste bunkers. The course, as Von Hagge originally intended it, has got its fabled teeth back.
The course record for the first 10 years was held by Jean Van de Velde at one under par; and this despite the fact that many great players had played it. In fact, there is a board still hanging in the clubhouse on which the name of anyone who can break 80 will appear. “There was a Dutch pro,” says Mark Vickery, the Managing Director, “who was so determined to get on the board that he used to come back whenever he thought his game was in great shape. And, you will see others who are so determined to get on the board that they will start their round, and then keep returning to the 1st tee, after a few holes, whenever the thought of breaking 80 has been shattered.”
But, Von Hagge, (who is now 82) knew very well that difficulty on its own does not add up to a great course. The brilliance of his design is partly due to the variety you encounter during your round. It is all set in an oak and silver birch forest, but there are areas which feel like you are playing a heathland layout, and others in valleys, with mounding on both sides which feel very linksy. If you half-close your eyes on the par-3 8th, where you play over a lake to a serene-looking green (pictured on the previous spread), you could easily imagine you are playing the 9th on the Par-3 course at Augusta.
Von Hagge was not afraid to move ground; in fact he moved 500,000 cubic metres of the stuff when he originally built Les Bordes, raising many of the fairways above the wetlands, and creating mounding from the ground he dug out of the lakes. Every hole is wonderfully memorable, and while you need to make your score on the front nine, the experience builds to a terrific crescendo. Indeed, after you finish the front nine, you can’t believe the back will be tougher. But, it is and it will.
The 1st is a par 4 into the prevailing wind with an island green surrounded by sand; and from there you set off on an exhilarating adventure which has surprises around every corner. The signature hole is officially the 7th (a spectacular par 5 which dog-legs right to left) but it could just have easily been half a dozen others. The 5th, a really tough par 4, was Van de Velde’s favourite. The 10th and the 14th are both terrific risk/reward par 5s, the former played to a raised green and the latter to an island one. The 12th, 15th and 17th are all extraordinary par 4s, all of them into the prevailing wind. And, at the 18th, you have to drive over water and then your approach has to find a green which (like four others on the course) is fronted by railway sleepers.
In the 22 years it has existed, it is very difficult to find any critical comments about Les Bordes from those lucky enough to have played it. I eventually found a blog from someone who was disappointed to find evidence that a deer had crossed one of the greens, and another who thought the only weak hole on the course was the uphill par-3 16th (which I put down to his dislike for walking slightly uphill rather than his aptitude for spotting a strong or weak golf hole). There is no doubt this is target golf rather than pitch and release, but that is a fact rather than a fault. It should unquestionably, undeniably be in anyone’s top-five courses in the world.
“It’s almost like this place has got pixie dust sprinkled all over it,” adds Vickery, who arrived here via Disney in Florida, Westmoreland in Barbados and Goodwood in Sussex. “It really is quite strange how everything which happens here, and everything anyone does to the place, turns out for the best.”
They have one of the biggest putting greens in Europe, which has a Rodin sculpture at the top of it. And, an immaculate practice facility at the back of the clubhouse, which is as dramatic and welcoming as any I have ever seen. The new investors have also bought some adjoining land and have ambitious plans to build another championship course close by (which will again be built by Von Hagge) a five-star hotel and luxury housing. But all of this will be some distance from the original course, and a “curtain of nature” 100 yards wide will protect the fairways from any noise or disturbance. What all this will mean, however, is that the infrastructure will soon be in place for Ryder Cups or other tournaments. And the new ‘resort’ course (due to open in May 2013, and which the owners say will rival the original in terms of quality) will be open to the green-fee paying public.
The really charming (and surprising) thing about Les Bordes is that despite the very private and exclusive nature of the place, there is no show of ostentation or pretention. The clubhouse has huge old, oak beams and a rustic feel to it, with enormous fireplaces and deep leather armchairs. It is simply a beautiful and supremely tranquil place to relax and play golf.
Les Bordes Golf Club, situated in the Loire Valley, features three 18 hole courses, designed by Robert von Hagge, include tree-lined fairways and numerous water hazards.
- Costs -
- TG Rating
- Players Rating
- Address 41220 Les Bordes, , Saint-Laurent-Nouan
- Tel +33 254 877861
- Website www.lesbordes.com
|Green Fees||With a member only|
|Course Length||7,008 yards (6,408 metres)|
- Course has: Bar
- Course has: Buggy Hire
- Course has: Driving Range
- Course does not have: Practice Green
- Course has: Pro Shop
- Course has: Restaurant
- Course has: Trolley Hire
- Course has: Dress Code
- Course has: Club Hire
- Course does not have: Handicap
I have played on many golf courses all over the world this is by far the best for both design and condition. the setting of the course is serene.